Sunday, October 31, 2010

180. I Choose Candy

So, unfortunately, I have become one of Those Mothers. You know, the ones who wait until the very last second to buy the Halloween candy because of their (in my case, justified) fear that they will eat all the candy themselves?

Last night, The Husband and I had the same conversation we have every October 30th. It went something like this:

The Husband: Did you buy Halloween candy yet?
Me: No. And why is it my job anyway? You can’t drive to Target?
TH: Oh, come on, don’t be ridiculous! You know I’d buy the wrong kind and then you’d be mad.

It’s true: he would buy the wrong kind. I drive to Target and am immediately sorry—there is not a parking place to be had. Uh-oh. When I finally do park on top of someone else’s car, I walk in and realize that every customer in the store is doing what I’m doing: panicking. Moms and dads and toddlers and babies and grandmas and teen-agers and twenty-somethings—everyone is here and accounted for, shoving each other out of the way in a futile attempt to locate the “best” costume or the “best” candy. It is October 30th; let’s not fool ourselves, there is no “best” left. There is not even a “second-best” or “eight-best” or “fifteenth-best”: no. There is only worst.

I maneuver past a man holding what looks like a giant beetle-goat-hybrid costume (“Sweetheart, they’re out of StarWars Luke Skywalker costumes for Jacob, can he be a beetle-goat-hybrid instead?”). I stare at the vacant shelves in disbelief—is this the first sign of the Apocalypse?

The next aisle over, I find the distinctly unappetizing leftover candies, the ones No One Else Wanted. There are a few ripped jumbo bags of Easter Skittles (I am well-aware that that is the wrong holiday), some sort of generic brand licorice that is clearly a knock-off of “Good-N-Plenty” (“Great-N-Abundant”), Organic pepper-flavored gummy balls (not surprisingly, there are several bags of these languishing on the shelf), some sad little mini chocolate bars with images of skeletons wearing devil costumes, and an abandoned bag of pretzels. As I consider the bag of pretzels, a woman clutching a tree costume grabs them out from under me.

Sigh. What am I going to do?

Target has never let me down before. I push my way through the hordes and back to the front of the store. I quietly ask to speak to a manager. A small boy all of fourteen years old steps forward and says politely, “I’m Toby, the week-end evening Shift Manager,” his voice has not changed yet, it’s high and squeaky and sounds like my six-year-old’s voice, “how can I help you, m’am?”

I explain my situation (summed up in four words: “desperation; name-brand candy”) and he nods sympathetically. Then he turns to a tiny girl who I assume must be his little sister and says, “Heather? Can you radio back to Carl and find out what’s going on with remaining pre-packaged candy in Pumpkin-Land?”

I’m liking Toby more by the minute. After a brief pow-wow with Heather about the crisis that they are now referring to as the Candy Situation, I’m whisked away to some secret back warehouse room entrance. I don’t know if this is a good idea. It’s kind of like seeing Mickey Mouse take his giant (fake) head off: disconcerting. Maybe we should forget about Halloween this year and turn all our house lights off and pretend we’re not home? Could we get away with that, or would genius neighborhood children see through our flimsy sham and retaliate by toilet-papering our house?

Carl, in all his pimply glory, meets us at the door. Toby leans in and says Something Important to Carl, who now looks very somber and serious. Toby turns back to me, hands me a coupon for 20% off and a free popcorn at their snack bar, and says apologetically, “I’m so very sorry for the inconvenience. Carl here has located a last shipment of a few boxes of candy; I hope you’ll find what you’re looking for there.” He smiles, and I notice he has what looks like a Reese’s Piece stuck in his braces.

“Thank you, Toby,” I murmur admiringly. Carl leads me back to the main receiving area, which is stacked full of cardboard boxes. We come upon some boxes that someone (Carl?) has hastily torn open, and there—lo and behold—are several giant bags of Peanut M&M’s and KitKat’s tumbling out. I gasp. It’s like Target had reserved special boxes of candy with the words “MOV’s Favorites—hold thru Sat!” emblazoned on the front.

Carl shakes his head. “I am so sorry, m’am, this is absolutely all we have left. I hate to say it, and don’t take it the wrong way, but maybe next year you might want to consider shopping for your candy a little bit sooner than October 30th…….. say, maybe August or September so you’d have the best selec…..”

I cut him off. “Carl, I appreciate your concern, but this is perfect. I’ll take all the M&M’s and KitKat’s you have.”

After I pay, I drive my SUV around to the back loading dock. Carl meets me at the curb with ten enormous boxes that could each fit a couch. I guess I’m all set for next Halloween, too.

("Mother Of Vampires")

Friday, October 29, 2010

179. The Curse of Virgo

So there I am, shopping at Macy’s. Suddenly, I notice that of the three navy blue cashmere sweaters I am pawing through, one is out of order. It should go S-M-L, and instead, SOMEONE (not me) has relocated M to the front, so now the order is M-S-L. This is (obviously) unacceptable. I move M back to the middle where M belongs. A woman (cute, young-ish, wearing a silver top and tight brown skirt with a ruffled hem) taps me on my shoulder. “Ma’am? Do you work here? Can you tell me where to find the Ralph Lauren section?”

This is the Curse of Virgo.

I don’t want to put all the cashmere sweaters back in order; I’m compelled to, whether I like it or not. I decide I do not want to be mistaken for a Macy’s employee: clearly it’s time to leave. The Sock Department is on the way out, right next to the door. There are three stray pairs of suicidal socks that have jumped from their respective overcrowded hooks to their demise on the dirty floor. Of course I must pick them up and re-hang them (tell me, what choice do I have? it’s the right thing to do). This time it’s a man that taps me on the shoulder. “Selena? You need to get back to the Shoe Department, stop wandering into Socks.” (I am picking up on a distinct hierarchy here, with Socks being waaaaaaaay below Shoes in the pecking order. The way he says “Socks” is exactly like someone might say “expired cottage cheese” or “poopy diapers.”)

I look him in the eye (he has “manager” written all over him) and I say what anyone would say under the circumstances, “No problem, it won’t happen again. Oh, and it’s Serena, not Selena.”

He smiles at me. We understand each other.

I hightail it out of Macy’s and over to Chowder City to get a cup of yummy clam chowder. As I walk up to the counter to place my order with the “To Go” girl, I notice that the stack of paper menus has not only tipped over, but some of them (gasp!) have fallen on the ground. Queen Virgo picks them all up, and arranges them neatly (some were upside down) and sets them precisely on the counter. The waitress notices. She says, “Are you Lisa? Is today your first day as hostess? Manuel was looking for you.”

I laugh, and shake my head no, all the while thinking, If I make small talk with Manuel and he finds out I picked up all the menus, will that maybe get me a free chowder?

(And as a quick aside, what's with me being mistaken for retail clerks and hostesses all the time?  Why am I never mistaken for a doctor or lawyer or Gwyneth Paltrow or someone like that?  Is it time to ditch the "Hello, Kitty" barrettes that were always meant to be ironic anyway?) 

The Curse of Virgo follows me. I try to leave my Virgo-ness at home or in the car, but no. The Virgo Tendencies cling to me like a cheap fleece jacket straight from the dryer sticking to, well, everything else in that load of whites. Virgo-Virgo-Virgo. Nothing messy, nothing out of place.

As you can well imagine, this Virgo Hypermania did not go over so well when I was a flight attendant for United Airlines. The other flight attendants and I would finish up the service and then have a little time to relax in the back galley. One flight attendant might, I don’t know, decide to drink a coke. She would pour about half of the can into her cup of ice and sip it, enjoying the sweetness and the necessary jolt of caffeine. Then, maybe, a passenger would call her over to ask her something important (like, May I have a pillow or Are we passing over the Grand Canyon right now?). I personally had no time for fruitless pillow searches or ho-hum scenic distractions: no. I had enough distraction right here in my own back galley: she had left her coke on the counter.

Was she coming back for it? If so, when? Who knew? Was she done? Your guess is as good as mine. I stared at the (hypothetical) soda (but it wasn’t that hypothetical as this scenario in its countless variations played out on almost every flight). I watched the remaining fizzy bubbles ... stop ... fizzing. The ice had melted down to tiny reflective shards.      

Honestly, what choice did I have here? The choice had already been made for me, and most likely had absolutely nothing to do with being Virgo. That’s right: I threw it away. Blip! Gone. Into the trash.

She would (predictably) come back. Her name was Suzette (or Sophie or Lucy or Frank or Diane or Jeannie or J.J.) and she would say (barely masking the dismay in her voice), “Did someone throw my soda in the trash?! I wasn’t done with it yet! Who did that?”

I would look away. Queen Virgo, guilty again.

Don’t think it ends there; the passengers didn’t much care for my Virgo-ness either. “Can you help me lift my small tote bag into the overhead bin?” a kindly older woman might ask. “Not before you zip it closed and get that stray dog-fur off of it—wow, your dog is a shedder!”

The first time I was written up, unpleasant words like, “judgmental” and “disrespectful” were bandied about, as in “The passengers are complaining that you are being judgmental.” I would roll my eyes and sigh, “They're wrong, I'm not being judgmental, and by the way, I resent you writing me up, and your pencil is not very sharp, why don’t you sharpen it?  Also, I'm curious:  did you even go to college, because I don't see a degree on that cubicle wall.”

The Curse of Virgo, as you can ask any of my many friends born between August 22nd and September 21st is: we like everything perfect. No, it’s more than that. We demand that everything be perfect. If things aren’t perfect, well, then you’re just lazy.

Fear not, though, my lazy friend! Queen Virgo is here to save the day, organize your kitchen and purge your files: it’s what I do. I have this innate sense of the way things should be, the way things could be, the way things must be (hint: they're all the same way—my way). It takes every ounce of my being, every fiber of my soul, to not pick up the dollars in the Starbucks tip jar and line the George Washington visages up the same way and put the dollars back into the jar. (Really? You would give the poor girl a wrinkled dollar that looks like it went through a particularly defeating spin cycle? Why not a crisp dollar? I’m not saying you have to iron it, but please think about it for next time ... ).

You know what would make my life soooo much easier? If everyone were a Virgo like me. My friend, M, who is my co-worker at the high-end kitchen store, is also a Virgo. He tells me there are classes for “Former Reforming Virgos.” Huh? (I guess one good thing about a class full of Virgos is: no one’s late.)

What do you mean, I ask M, reforming Virgos? I happen to like myself and all my quirky (some would say “cute”—that would be what I would say, while others might use a word similar to “annoying”—The Husband might say that if polled) ways.

“Well, I don’t know how to break this to you, MOV, but not everyone is as enamored of Virgos as we Virgos ourselves.”

“I don’t really understand where you’re going with this ... ”

M leans in; he has a secret to share.

“MOV, you know I think you are great, but other people, they just, well, they mock Virgos.”

“What?!?” I screech. My mind is numb: why would someone purposely ridicule a Sweet Helpful Virgo like myself? I can’t fathom it.

M continues, “You know how Virgos are obsessed with order and neatness? Well, I hate to tell you, but the rest of the world seems to be consumed with chaos and messiness.” He frowns an exaggerated frown to get his point across.

But is he making it up, the part about the class, I mean? If there is a class, should I take it? Would that be akin to a self-imposed intervention? What is so horribly wrong about being a Virgo?

"You know, MOV, I took the class, twice.  It would really help you.  I have completely let go of that whole clean/ neat/ perfect Virgo thing.  It's like I'm a new person."  He smiles broadly then does his best "Price Is Right" spokesmodel gesture, showcasing himself to reinforce that, yes indeed, he is truly a New Person. 

This lovely and exquisite hand gesture violently knocks M's scalding hot coffee all over the back counter and immediately drenches a stack of important fliers (10% Off Coupon!). I do what I do best: grab a sponge and clean up the mess that has now dripped onto the floor. M doesn’t notice: he’s too busy frantically drying the fliers with paper towels, one-by-one, lifting the fliers into the air and flapping them around like warning flags in a vain effort to make them pristine and dry once again.      

("Messy Or Virgo")

Thursday, October 28, 2010

178. Politically Corrected

So my friend Donna mentions that she started volunteering every morning at a public school in an adjacent town. I ask what her specific job is at South Depressingville Elementary, and she says she's the Parent/ Teacher Liaison (her task is to get more parents directly involved in the education process). Donna is originally from Barcelona, so she’s fluent in Spanish which is the main reason they need her: to translate.

When she's done telling me about this latest selfless philanthropic venture, I say, “Donna, I’m so impressed. What a great thing to do. What exactly inspired you to take this on?”

Without hesitation, Donna replies, “I’m doing it because the kids are poor.”

I am nodding and understanding, but then I think: Wait! Did she just say POOR? Are we allowed to say poor now? I thought we were supposed to say economically challenged or financially disabled or underprivileged or a victim of the current financial crisis ... but poor? Poor’s acceptable now? Huh. Poor does sum it up, doesn’t it. Poor is a powerful word for a powerless people.

The next thing I think is, Woohoo! I guess I can say poor now! And not just as in poor me or Tall, stop hitting your brother—that’s a poor choice or even in the old-stand-by-fall-back poor timing. No. Now I seem to have permission to use the dictionary definition, which is “lacking worldly goods, penniless, moneyless, destitute.”  Imagine: I can say what I mean. I feel liberated.

Wait.  Donna, does this apply to everything in my life now? Has the Earth just had a major shift on its axis and so now people won’t be offended by me talking? What should I do with black? is black okay? Colored must still be bad (I know colored used to be okay). African-American? That always seems silly to me, because unless your parents just moved here from Ghana 5 seconds ago, you’re pretty much American-American. (That’s what I’m going to say from now on when people ask me my original nationality: American-American!) Chances are, most people who go around saying I’m African-American have lived here their whole lives, as have their great-grandparents.

I didn’t even mention Mexican yet. Is Mexican all right? Or do I have to go with the multi-purpose catch-all Hispanic? My sister Oakley gets so mad at me whenever I say the word Mexican (as in, “I asked the Mexican gentleman standing outside the U-Haul place if he could help me move my new couch for 25 bucks”); she says How do you know he’s Mexican? (uh, the Mexican flag on his t-shirt gave it away?)  She says He could be from Uruguay or Puerto Rico or Bolivia or El Salvador, you're insulting him, MOV. So next time I ask the person in question (“De donde es Usted?”); he answers, predictably, “Mexico”.  (And honestly, would I be pissed off if someone thought I was from Canada? eh, no.) 

I am told that even though I think Mexican is a good idea, I am wrong.  Mexican is still, under no circumstances, okay. No. The word I am apparently looking for is Latino. Sigh. Does that mean my Mexican mover-guy is from Latin? As I asked in 7th grade when I was required to take “Intro to Latin”, where, exactly, is Latin? I can’t find it on any map. Am I allowed to say that I'm Atlantic because I live near the Atlantic Ocean? (Granted, I wasn’t born in the Atlantic Ocean, but at least it’s a place I can find on the map.)

What about fat?  Is fat okay? I’m kind of tired of saying heavy or heavy-set or curvy or weight-challenged or even the Ultimate Lie: big-boned. I just want to say fat. I'm not trying to be offensive. Heck, I have days when I feel fat, days when only my “fat pants” fit. I don’t go around saying, “Wow, I feel extra voluptuous today, I will wear my anorexic-averse pants”. Oh, and that begs the question: are we allowed to say anorexic? As in, “he is a skinny little skeleton person, he looks anorexic”? Or is that still off-limits?

Ugly. I guess ugly is never good. We'd better stick with unattractive.

I'd like to have the word lazy back, please.  Not tired, or unmotivated, or lacks initiative, or energy-depleted, or even likes to lounge.  In some cases (okay, many), the right word is actually lazy

That brings me to stupid. Can stupid work? because sometimes stupid is just the word I’m looking for (“that driver who just cut me off is stupid!”). We tell our sons not to use the word stupid. We make them substitute the generic and totally-wrong-word-choice “silly” instead. But silly is happy or absurd; silly is not strong enough to be stupid.     

How about mean? “That girl was mean,” seems to be treading into forbidden territory. I have always been trained to say, “that girl was a tad bit unpleasant” or “I think that girl’s not having a good day” or “that girl was in a bad mood”. No one ever tells me it’s okay to say what I’m really thinking: what a bitch.

Greedy. I love that word! When a small child at the park last year kicked my son Short and grabbed a cookie out of Short’s hand and immediately ate it (causing Short to cry, no surprise there), the child's mom shrugged and said matter-of-factly, “Victor is not a good sharer.” Victor is not a good sharer?!? Victor is greedy!

And Victor's mom?  What a bitch.

("Mostly Offensive Vitriol")

Monday, October 25, 2010

177. The Kid Plays Soccer

So I did not set out to be a Soccer Mom, and I still resist the title. I could be Art Mom or Writing Mom or Watches Too Much Reality TV Mom, but Soccer Mom? The fact is: Tall is fabulous at soccer.

After his game last Saturday—the game where he scored 5 goals in the first quarter—he yelled out at the top of his lungs, “I’m fabulous at soccer!” As you can imagine, this did not go over very well with a number of people, namely:
  • all members of the opposing team (and their parents)
  • all (now disgruntled) members of his own team (and their parents)
  • his coach
  • his little brother (Short)
  • his own parents
  • random people who happened to be sitting in the adjacent park enjoying the day
I try to tell him after the game that he is bragging. I tell him to stop bragging right this second. Then, as an afterthought, I add, “You do know what the word bragging means, don’t you?” To which he responds,

“Of course. It’s like being a tattle-tale.”

No no no no no. “Tall, bragging means saying how great you are, saying that you are the best person on the team….”

“I am the best person on the team,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Tall!” I glare at him.

“Everyone tells me I am. They walk up to me at half-time and say, ‘Hey, Tall, you’re the best person on the team.’ Then I say, ‘Yeah, I already know that.’ See, Mom? Everyone knows it’s true.” He shrugs: case closed.

“No, Tall,” I hiss, as I pull his sleeve to get him closer to me, “That’s not nice. Cut. It. Out. Do you understand me? Other people on the team are good, too.”

“Really? Who?” he asks in earnest.

“Uhh, uhh, your friend, Player. Player is quite good. Player made several goals today too!”

“Not as many as me,” he shrugs again. If he were 16 instead of 6 he’d say, “Are we done here?” Now, he says, “I gotta go practice my moves, Mom.”

He waves to Player. “Player! Come kick the ball with me! Come on!”

Player comes running over. They immediately start a mini-scrimmage. The two of them are a force to be reckoned with.

I walk over to Coach. She has her Blackberry out and is quickly punching tiny buttons (to me it looks like she is playing PacMan, but she could very well be transferring stocks and or/ buying a new car). “Hey, Coach, uh, can I talk to you?”

“Sure, sure, hold on one sec…..” beep—beep—boop—ring! “Sorry about that, what’s up?” she smiles a big cheery grin, revealing the type of teeth Orthodontists use in their advertisement photos to represent “After”.  

“I just wanted to, uh, you know, apologize for Tall because, he, uh….” I start.

“Apologize?!?” she says, alarmed. “That kid is fantastic! Player and I were just talking about him,” (Coach also happens to be Player’s mom), “and I really hope he continues because he truly has natural talent.” She is nodding now, nodding, nodding, willing me to nod as well.

I start nodding. “Uh, yeah, uh, that’s great, but the part I am worried about is, well: the bragging. I was never very good at sports, so I didn’t have much to brag about in that arena, so to speak, no pun intended, but I just don’t want him to alienate people and, you know, not have any friends.”

Her Blackberry chooses this moment to beep, and she ignores it (thank you, Coach, I can be your new best friend now). She puts her skinny arm around my shoulder and says, “MOV, Tall is a great kid. If you just explain to him that it can hurt other people’s feelings, I’m sure he’ll stop doing it. Honestly, it’s such a Catch-22 because I hear you and your husband tell him he’s good all the time, probably to build up his self-esteem and motivate him, and now that he feels confident, you are sending him the opposite message.”

Damn. She’s good.

“You should be a shrink on the side, Coach!” I say, laughing.

Coach is laughing with me, rich peals of laughter. Then she stops cold, tucks her dark brown hair neatly under her baseball cap with the eagle on the front, and says completely deadpan, “I'm a psychiatrist, I thought you knew?”

Now I am laughing so hard that tears are streaming down my cheeks. That Coach! Funny funny funny! Gotta love her!

She fumbles in her Levi's pocket (for her Blackberry again?) and hands me a small piece of paper, maybe a coupon for sports equipment or Taco Night. I wipe the tears and smudgy mascara out of my eyes and look at the little card. Huh. It’s about the size of a business card.

Coach Swanson
Crazy Town
By appointment
Most insurance plans accepted

“When did you get these printed?” I say, still not understanding.

“What do you mean?” Coach asks.

“I thought….. I thought….. I thought you were a…… crossing guard at the school?” as the words tumble out, I am realizing how ridiculous they sound. In retrospect, I am sure she was thinking, eight years of med school versus a two-hour training seminar and a multiple choice test to be a crossing guard and no one can tell the difference?

Coach, thank God she is a nice person, says very patiently, “I volunteer as a crossing guard on Monday and Wednesday mornings right before I go to work. I am a shrink. I specialize in life coaching, such as job transitions and changes in family status, like adopting a baby or things like that.” She smiles again, and I think wow, all my friends are really really smart and I’m kinda……………not.

“Mom! Mom! Can Player come to our house for the rest of the afternoon?” Tall comes running over, his face full of sunshine.

I look at Doctor Coach. “Fine with me,” she says.

I turn to Tall. “Okay, Player’s mom said it’s fine.”

Tall taps my arm and motions for me to lean toward him so he can tell me a secret. “Mom, you know what? You were right: Player is very good at soccer, too.”

And if the bragging behavior returns………….. I guess we'll know who to call. 


176. Why I Wouldn't Make A Good Psychiatrist

Because the whole time the so-called “patient” (henceforth to be referred to as “The Whiner”) is going on and on about his oh-so-terrible “problems”, I would most likely be thinking about something else, things like how-that-might-make-a-good-blog later, or if I did completely plagiarize The Whiner’s story (uh, is that breaking Important Privacy Laws? if yes, should I care?) would The Whiner possibly read my blog later and be mad at me? Also, I would be wanting to dress up his story a bit, any parts that I was not totally in love with, how could I make his whiny version of the story better, and actually should I make it more like it happened to me and not to him (“the waiter spilled a whole octopus on my head, but even though I was mad, it was okay because they ended up giving me a free dinner and then a gift certificate for a future free dinner”—The Whiner obviously is more focused on the octopus part and I, Dr. MOV, am more focused on the free-dinner-aspect)?

If I was zoning out and ignoring The Whiner’s rants, I might be thinking about the next car I would buy (I have heard, and since found this to be true, that a beginning psychiatrist can expect to make approximately $350,000 per day. I think that is more than adequate, and I could afford to buy at least one new car a week if I had completed—or even started—actual psychiatrist school). I would buy a red car, most likely a vintage Corvette. I would get special personalized license plates: GR8LSNR.

When it would be time to write out a prescription, I might write something in secret code to the pharmacist (it would read “take 4 Xanaxmyphonaglycose every two hours” which the pharmacist would realize means “this patient is a total wack-o! oh, and check out his goofy haircut too! Luv ya, MOV”). But, before I would hand out the piece of paper so The Whiner could get his drugs, I would practice signing my name over-and-over-and-over-and-over on the special little notepad, until my secretary would come in and tell me that we were being audited and had to account for the prescriptions that were not filled (is she for real? can’t I just order more? My name is on there! And speaking of my name, that’s the thing that’s troubling me: should I do a loopy “M” for the first part of my name, or would a jagged and sharp “M” look more respectable?).

Now my next patient comes in and starts whining about her problems too (she is Whiner 2.0). I’m sleepy. I sit there nodding like I am so very entranced by Whiner 2.0’s situation, but honestly, I’m working just to keep my eyes open. If I close my eyes for maybe, what? a minute, two minutes tops? can I pull that off as if I’m actually concentrating really really hard? Think of cars, MOV, think of the red Corvette, wake up before you get fired (again)!

The other thing is: I hear they (doctors) set their own hours. How cake would that be? And herein lies the problem: I would set my hours for, oh, 2 PM—4:15 PM. Yep, that should cover it.

As for what the various Whiner and Whiner 2.0’s talk about, instead of being sympathetic and offering support and good advice (“What do you think you should do?”), I would most likely do what I have perfected to a fine art form: judge. As in, the-reason-you-are-not-able-to-meet-anyone,-Whiner,-is-because-you-live-in-your-mom’s-basement-and-you-smoke-pot-every-day,-Loser! This is probably not The Most Helpful Thing Ever to be thinking when you are someone’s psychiatrist, and, in fact, it probably did not even make it to the Top 10 List of Essential Psychiatrist Phrases (these, by the way, must be committed to memory). Oh, the Top 10 List? well, since you asked:
  1. How does that make you feel?
  2. What would you have done differently?
  3. Did you get anything out of that experience?
  4. What would you do next time?
  5. Why were you sad?
  6. Why were you mad?
  7. Why were you feeling guilty?
  8. Can you forgive him?
  9. How do you interpret that?
  10. You know payment is due today, and I don’t take your insurance?
I want to be nicer, I do. I decide to practice on various people in my life. When my son Short accidentally kicks The Husband in his, ahem, “privates”, I immediately switch into My New and Improved Compassionate Psychiatrist Self and ask The Husband with genuine love and concern, “How does that make you feel?”

I don’t receive what I believe to be an appropriate response. Huh. This is going to be more difficult than I thought.

Later, in a fit of anger, Tall rips up a drawing that Short was working on. Short (predictably) goes ballistic. After I spend a good twenty minutes restoring peace and order to our household, I say with compassion in my voice, “Can you forgive him?”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” yells Short, about two inches from what’s-left-of-my-now-pierced-and-shriveled-in-protest eardrum.  Psychiatry is not for sissies.

I decide I’ll have better luck at work. I’m at my job at the high-end kitchen store when The Boss is in the breakroom complaining to Celeste about a customer who is a suspected shop-lifter but has the audacity to keep coming back and trying to return the stolen items. I interrupt their private conversation and say to The Boss with as much earnestness as I can muster, “What would you have done differently?”

She looks at me, throws her head back and laughs a hearty laugh. “You want to know what I would do differently, MOV? is that what you just said? I’ll tell you what I would do: I would send YOU to deal with her! Ha! In fact, she is waiting for me at the cash register with yet another phony return, so since YOU seem to have all the answers, she’s all yours.” The Boss smiles a big (shall I call it “sinister”?) smile, winks at Celeste and then looks back at me, and finally adds in a saccharine tone, “Let me know what happens.”

Glad my decades of Psychiatric Improvised Training are paying off, I march on out to the cash register, and pull the next helpful phrase out of my hat, “Why were you feeling guilty?” The woman does not react as I had anticipated. She does not offer a full-blown confession and then give back all the stolen goods; no. Instead, she says, “Are you calling me a thief????????????”

Later, I try my last phrase on a random stranger at the café where I’m standing in line to buy my lunch. She is telling the cashier that Macy’s is having a really great sale. I lean in and say, “What did you get out of that experience?”

She practically hugs me as she wrestles with her giant shopping bags and starts pulling out shoes and scarves and toys and picture frames. “I got a lot out of it! My Christmas shopping is all done now!”

I obviously have a new best friend, for this random stranger has given me a magnificent idea for those on my Christmas list: coupons for Meaningful Psychiatry Sessions with yours truly (at a reduced rate, of course).


Saturday, October 23, 2010

175. Out In The Cold

So I’m at Desserts of Decadence ordering my usual panna cotta.  I’m not really paying that much attention (other than deciding between vanilla-, coffee-, or mango- flavored panna cotta choices), but out of the corner of my eye, I finally notice two of my friends sitting at a table next to the window.

I am so conflicted:
  • Do I say hi? 
  • Do I pretend not to see them (but come on, really: the place is so small that would be like not noticing if a llama sauntered in)?
  • Do I ignore them?
  • Do I join them?
  • Do I see if they want me to join them, but then if they do, maybe are they just being polite?
  • If I do say hi and then we’re done saying hi, am I allowed to sit at the next (good, window) table? or would that be rude, like I was trying to eavesdrop?
I brought a magazine, am I off the hook? Can I peruse my magazine, even at the very next table, and not be accused of Attempted Eavesdropping? Really, what are Alexa and Jean talking about that is so scintillating that I would want to eavesdrop in the first place? Did one of them just go to Chicago for work? Whoop-de-do, who cares. Did one just spend the entire afternoon at the doctor's on the follow-up visit after her son broke his leg? Not exactly headline news.

Jean, Alexa: you gotta give me something better than this. How about one of you has a compulsive gambling problem! Yes! That’s it. But, oh, I know, let’s make it more respectable: stock trading. But you are buying really bad stocks that keep going lower and lower ....

Okay, now for the other one. Got it: your husband’s niece, whom you detest, has come to visit for three days, but now she's having some sort of deal where she, uh ... where am I going with this? where she just got kicked out of college (!) and now she's been staying as a guest with you for two weeks and you can’t take it anymore! Brilliant.

Jean sees me. “MOV! Hello!”

“Hi Jean, hi Alexa, great to see you, what’s new?”

We chat for a few minutes, and then there is the awkward time ... the exact thing I was worried about. They do not ask me to join them, and now I am stranded. Every table is within listening distance and we three are the only ones here. Wherever I sit, I will hear them and they will hear me (well, if I start talking to myself out loud, which—who knows—I just might, given the circumstances).

Should I tell the waitress I want my order to go? That’s dumb, the panna cotta comes in little crystal bowls, I hardly think they want me walking off with that.

I finally settle on going outside on the patio. Genius. It’s a sunny beautiful day, so who wouldn’t want to go out on the patio? Even if I'm sitting close to Jean and Alexa’s window (and really, is it their window? no—it belongs to Desserts of Decadence), I will not hear one peep of their conversation, I will have no idea what they're talking about, unless I spontaneously learn to lip-read (is that a hidden talent I possess? now might be a good time to find out).

I am *&%$@ freezing.

Here I am, trying to be a nice friend and sit away from them so that they don’t feel bad while they have their long drawn-out toasty conversation about her gambling problem and the other one’s bitchy niece, but it is, and I’m guessing here, approximately 31 degrees outside. It’s one of those rare fall afternoons that at first looks warm, but then is not bikini-weather after all. It is fur parka time (with mittens).

Alexa sees me through the glass, and I can tell she knows it’s cold. Now I have to fake it that it’s fine, warm even. Really, MOV, rudeness is looking appealing (read: warm) right now. I think eavesdropping should not be a prosecution-worthy crime if there is a weather issue involved.

Alexa taps on the glass (like I'm a puppy at the pet store?) and does that universal hands-up-to-the-crossed-arms-shaking motion: Brrrrrrrrr. Then she mouths, “Aren’t you cold?” (I guess I can lip-read after all). I shake my head no, no, uh-uh, good-naturedly, and then I smile a big (fake) smile. Then I mouth, “I love cold!”

Her face looks puzzled. She shrugs. (Maybe her lip-reading is not as advanced as mine and she thought I was mouthing, “I love you!” instead.)

Next I flip open my magazine, a highbrow literary masterpiece that is sure to impress Jean and Alexa, if they should happen to glance in my direction again (“Star” magazine), and a sudden gust of wind blows those annoying subscription cards into the air like postcard-sized dandelion spores. The waitress walks out with my panna cotta, and a card hits her in the cheek.

She laughs (really—what else can she do here?), and she sets down my dessert, the crystal bowl catching the sunlight and temporarily blinding me.

I hand her three crumpled dollars, and (desperately trying not to chatter my teeth) I say the only thing I can at this point: “Shannon, please bring me some coffee right away. Extra hot.”

("Mouthing Off Viciously")

174. Paper Towels And Soap

I’m at Target, my favorite store.
I stare in my cart, and count not three—but four!—
Large packs of paper plates and bowls
(My “green” pals would call me an a- _ _ _ _ )

Yep, I’m a hypocrite, it’s true;
I’m wasteful sometimes, what’s new?
Stand at the sink the entire day,
Washing dishes? Uh-uh, no way.

Other items in my cart—let’s look:
Star, People, US………… not a book!
Did I really study English Lit?
Did I graduate, or am I full of s_ _ _ ?

Don’t forget paper towels and soap,
I could save lots of money, I hope
(Approximately $8922 per year
You think I joke, but I’m being sincere)
If I got rid of my compulsion to be clean and dry,
If Society could turn away a critical nose and eye.

It’s not just me now, who has to be clean,
Also my sons, they want to be seen
In public, in school, anywhere;
Can’t be dirty, we don’t dare……..

“Let me be grungy!” they beg, caked in dirt,
Wearing smelly socks and a muddy shirt.
I tell my sons, “Take a bath, you must!
If you don’t, friends will turn in disgust.”

So now back to the items I plan to buy
Toilet paper, more shampoo (big sigh),
Kitty litter, Kleenex, pull-ups for night,
Paper napkins, toothpaste (“Ultra-Brite”).

Who says we have to spend money this way?
Let me be dirty! (I sense your dismay)
Soap and paper, paper and soap……….
Can I give it all up? Yeah, I mean, nope.


173. "Mom of the Year" Intervention

So my friend Sandra sends out an email (she has no time to relay the news via telephone) to announce that she’s been named one of the finalists in the “Mom of the Year” competition.  She is really really proud of herself because she’s been working so hard to accomplish this personal goal. In the email, she lists all the things she’s been doing, as if she is trying to convince me (or perhaps convince herself?) that she deserves to win.

“Good news, MOV! I made it to finalist status for the M of the Y prize. In case you weren’t aware, these are some of the things I've been up to:
  • I'm President of the PTA;
  • Room mother for both my kids’ classes;
  • Soccer coach for my son’s team;
  • Field trip leader;
  • Lunchroom volunteer;
  • Foreign exchange host family;
  • Ballet assistant teacher for my daughter’s dance class;
  • In charge of Art Project (you know, where all the kids at Crazy Town Elementary do an individual tile that will be made into a giant collage on the library wall);
  • Leader of our church youth group;
  • Book fair captain;
  • Sunday school teacher;
  • Summer Mission volunteer;
  • Carpool coordinator;
  • Plus, as you know, even though I hate to cook, I make all our meals from scratch.
  • Oh, yeah, and I work 60 hours/ week at my paid job (attorney for Coca-Cola, in charge of patents).
Do you think you could submit a letter of recommendation for me? They really liked my overall application, but now they want personal letters from 10-12 close friends, detailing what makes me ‘stand out’ as a mom.  They have not announced this year's prize yet, but last year was a cruise around the world.  This year, they have even bigger corporate sponsors, so I'm sure it'll be something nice.

Thanks, MOV! I appreciate your help.  We'll talk soon. 

PS—need letter by Wed afternoon please”

I'm exhausted just reading her email.  Geesh, what the hell does Sandra want me to add to that? I think she has gone too far.

Not only do I ignore her plea for a letter of recommendation, I call 10-12 of her closest girlfriends and stage an Intervention. We meet up on Tuesday evening, under the premise that we all have our “letters” to submit to her and then she can advise us if they are acceptable. Her husband is in on the Intervention, so he and the kids head over to Grandma’s house.

We knock at her door and she calls out, “Come on in, guys! I’m back here in the family room. I’m just glazing the final tiles for Art Project and loading them into the drying racks, and then we can get started.” Her messy ponytail is speckled in pink glaze. She takes a swig from a can of Red Bull and motions for us to sit down.

Johanna begins. “Sandy, stop. Put down the glaze.” Johanna was the PTA President last year, so Sandra has a lot of respect for her. “This is crazy! You can’t do everything!”

Sandra looks up from the tiles. “Johanna, you can help me, but honestly you’re dressed too nice to put glaze on.”

I speak next, “Sandra! That isn’t what she means! This is an Intervention. No more ‘mom activities’. No more contests. You have gone over the edge.”

Marie adds, “We all know you're a great mom and a great friend. That's why we pitched in and got you this………..” she hands her an envelope.

Sandra hesitates, then takes the envelope. “I……I……I don’t understand. What're you trying to say?”

“It’s over,” begins Chrissy, “we want the old Sandra back, the one who got more than 3 hours of sleep a night, the one who didn’t even know the difference between a basketball or a soccer ball, the one who thought field trips were trips to actual fields.” Chrissy begins to tear up. “Open it, Sandra,” she motions to the envelope.

Sandra opens the envelope. A plane ticket falls out, along with a hotel brochure.

Nora clears her throat. “Sandy, we’re sending you to Lake Austin Spa & Resort for one week. It’s where I went when I was recovering from my surgery.” Nora blinks. Even though she says “surgery” like she had a lung removal or something, we all know the “surgery” she's referring to was her recent boob job and tummy tuck. “The staff is very warm and welcoming. You can get some rest.” She smiles and I wonder why she didn’t have them throw in a free face lift, because that's what she could really use.

“It’s so much pressure being a mom!” says Sandra, exasperated. “I mean, I was a lawyer for 15 years before I had kids and I never knew this kind of pressure. Everywhere you go, there are these media images of the ‘Perfect Mom’; no mere mortal can possibly measure up!” A tear rolls down her glaze-smeared face.

“I know, I know,” I say, and I think of all the times I, too, have tried to be Martha Stewart. “That’s why we picked Lake Austin. It will be so relaxing and no one will talk about having to live up to society’s expectations of being a ‘Perfect Mom’! Take yourself out of the competition—it’s not worth it.”

“You don't need some committee to tell you you're a good mom!” chimes in Tina.

Sandra is nodding now: she knows we’re right. “Okay. I hear you. This is silly. I don’t want to be judged anymore!  It's so hard to do everything myself.  I would just really love some help.....”

Someone opens a bottle of wine and then another, and before you know it, we are all sloshed and crying. 

“That’s right, sister!” Yvonne shouts, clapping her hands spontaneously. “No prize, let me repeat, no prize, is worth what you are putting yourself through!”

Sandra smiles, then finally examines her ticket. “You booked my flight for next week-end! That's the same week-end they were supposed to announce the winner. Okay, I'll stop thinking about it, stop obsessing.  I am officially dropping out of the contest!”

A cheer erupts, and everyone is toasting their wine glasses.  We know in our heart of hearts that Sandra will not regret her decision.    

Johanna gives Sandra a hug. “I’ll drive you to the airport.”

The next week-end rolls around and Johanna calls me from the airport parking lot. “MOV, I just dropped her off. She was so excited to go. She didn’t even mention ballet class one single time.  Oh, and guess what she said right before she got on the plane?  She said, 'You guys are the best friends I could ever have.'  Isn't that sweet?”

I knew Johanna was happy that we could be there for Sandra in her darkest hour. 

“Good,” I respond, relieved.  “Sandra deserves the best.  I'm glad that we got her a spa vacation.  What a wonderful escape! This is definitely better than anything the contest people could dream up for a prize.”

“Yeah, really, tell me about it,” Johanna laughs.

When I get off the phone, I decide to check my email. Since I was the one to book Sandra’s reservation, it appears that I am suddenly part of Lake Austin’s general email list. The title of this latest email is “Coupon, and Special Programs”. What the heck, I think, clicking it open. There, in 16 point font, is the headline: “This week-end we are proud to host the annual ‘Mom of the Year’ awards. Grand Prize: a lifetime contract with a nanny, maid, cook, chauffeur, and of course, the additional cash prize of one million dollars.”

I gulp: Sandra might not be very relaxed and happy after all.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

172. Mix It Up

So we’re in Pennsylvania for the week-end, staying near Famous University. Although the town has a more than adequate supply of Laundromats, there seems to be a dearth of nice restaurants to go to for Sunday brunch. And herein lies our dilemma: do we eat at the Magnolia Grill because they are supposedly well-known for their brunch and relive our previous night’s disappointment, or do we venture out of our comfort zone and try something new?

The Husband takes it upon himself to stop by the hotel front desk to ask for recommendations. As a former hotel employee myself, I can predict with startling accuracy what the girl will say if she has been exposed to the minimal amount of training on Company Policies and Procedures, “Our Hotel Restaurant is excellent, you should eat there.”

The Husband is vehemently opposed to hotel restaurants. I, on the other hand, a former flight attendant, have an innate fondness for hotel restaurants, especially ones that have things like “mimosa” right at the very top of their brunch menu.

“Sweetie, we can have brunch right here!” I say excitedly, like someone who just found a forgotten ten dollar bill in her jacket pocket.

He ignores me and turns back to the front desk girl, who is all of 19 years old and probably wouldn’t know a good brunch if it smacked her upside the head. “Olivia?” he begins, reading her ID badge, “what else does this town offer for breakfast?” (I know, but Olivia does not, that this is code for: your hotel brunch is overpriced and probably not that good anyway.)

Olivia looks up toward the ceiling, as if there might be secret writing up there: Try Summer House! Or The Red Barn and Silver Owl! Sam’s Diner? There’s an International House of Pancakes on Route 13. Instead, she says with all the enthusiasm of someone getting a root canal, “You can walk to Mix. Mix is kinda popular.  They specialize in brunch.”

“Is there a Ritz Carlton near by?” I blurt out, hopeful, imagining how great their brunch would taste right now.

She shakes her head. “I’ve never heard of it. No…….no, there’s not one in Famous Town.”

Mix it is. We know nothing about it, except that you can walk there. What kind of name is “Mix” anyway? It sounds like it should be a bar (huh, maybe I will like it after all).

“Let’s eat there,” says Tall, “It’s got to be good if it has a name like ‘Mint’. Maybe they serve mint milkshakes? Mom, could I order that?”

“Tall, the hotel lady said the restaurant’s called ‘Mix’, not ‘Mint’.”

“Oh,” he murmurs, already disappointed and we haven’t even seen the place yet.

We find it quickly, as Olivia has given us excellent directions (turn left at the Chevron station, go past the dry cleaners, and there it is—right next to Starbuck’s; I make a mental note of the Starbuck’s presence should we need a back-up Desperation Plan). Contrary to Olivia’s fully-formed 19-year-old opinion, Mix is not “kinda” popular—Mix is kinda deserted.

Not a good sign at 11 AM on a Sunday morning for a place that supposedly specializes in brunch.

Because we are adventurous (read: stupid), we walk in anyway, undeterred. The bored girl walks over to us and seats us right away (“just sit anywhere”). A few minutes later, another girl, acne-speckled but cheery, appears. She sets down four ice-waters, too full and sloshing around, instantly drenching our paper placemats.

“Have you dined at Mix before?” inquires my-name-is-Sofie-according-to-the-nametag. And then (and this should have been our warning right here), “Do you know how it works?”

Works? What does that even mean? How does any restaurant work: you order, the chef makes the food, the waitress brings it out, you pay. Not too difficult a concept to understand.

“Sure….” I begin, when The Husband cuts me off.

“No, we don’t,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” this is what Sofie actually says to us at the so-called restaurant: here’s-the-deal, “These little sticks,” she is currently setting down what appear to be tongue depressors stolen from a doctor’s office, “have your seat number and table number on them so I know who ordered what.”

I glance around. We are the only ones in the restaurant. Will it be that hard to keep our complicated 4-person order straight?

“Okay, so then you go over to the buffet,” (now I am relieved, as buffet usually means things like bacon and eggs Benedict and chocolate éclairs, at least in MOV Dream Version Perfect Brunch Place), “and then you pick out the ingredients.”

This is when she starts to lose me: ingredients. Shouldn’t the chef automatically know what to put in the various dishes? Didn’t he have to go to Chef School? And if I have to choose the ingredients, why didn’t I just stay home and have a bowl of Cheerios (ingredients: Cheerios, milk, maybe a banana).

“…..then when you have selected all your ingredients like cheese or broccoli or strawberries or almonds or gummy bears,” she is still droning on, and wait—did she just say gummy bears? in an omelet?, “you go over to the chef station and choose a swizzle stick that is the right color for you entrée.”

Is she serious? Am I being punk-d? Where is Ashton Kutcher?

“….the green ones mean omelet, the red ones mean pancakes, the blue is waffles, the yellow is French toast, the orange is bacon, the black means whipped cream, oh, and purple stands for fruit smoothie.” She smiles, triumphant that she has somehow remembered it all without using notes. (This is a bizarre system, and I will get into all that, but between you and me, shouldn’t yellow mean eggs and red mean bacon?)

“Got it?” mumbles Sofie.

Got it? The waitresses at the Ritz Carlton café never say got it: they say things like my pleasure or one moment please or I’ll be right back with that.

The Husband nods. Apparently he’s “got it”.

I glance down at my tongue depressor stick. The stick is not the only one that is depressed, I think as I survey my meal options. I flip the stick over and see a hasty 15 scribbled on it, and underneath a number 2, like some sort of math equation (15 divided by 2 is 7.5—yay! You can be in General Mathematics 101 at Famous University!).

Sofie turns on her heels to get us some coffee.

“Wait, miss!” I call out, and then when I have her attention, “I don’t understand the system.” I’m embarrassed to say that even thought I’m a card-carrying Ultra Virgo whose middle name is Obsessive Organization and I should technically embrace and potentially even love the colored stick idea, I am confused.

Sofie sighs, annoyed. I can read her face: what’s not to understand?

She quickly repeats the spiel, then smiles a fake smile, her lips turned up but her eyes still cold.

Now I’m the one to sigh. “That seems like a lot of work. Can I just verbally tell you that I want a pancake and then you can verbally tell the cook, or is he deaf and that’s why you all devised the color-coded swizzle stick system in the first place?”

“M’am,” she says, clearly irritated but doing her College Best to be patient (I can tell you right now, our surly Miss Sofie would not last one week at the Ritz Carlton saying my pleasure), “it’s easy! it’s fun! you get exactly what you want!” She is obviously reciting the restaurant’s brochure motto at this point.

“All I want is a pancake,” I continue wearily, “if I give you any ingredients, they are likely to be flour, eggs, butter, and milk.”

Then Sofie surprises me, “I’ll be right back with that.” 

The Husband shakes his head and leans in to me. “What’s your problem?” he snarls. “Why do you have to give the girl such a hard time? She didn’t invent this concept.”

“Well, it’s a stupid concept,” I respond flippantly, not realizing that I have said the equivalent of a 4-letter word in front of our sons.

“Mom said ‘stupid’!” squeals Short, thrilled that the forbidden word has made an appearance at our table—what’s next? shut up?

“I mean ‘silly’,” I correct myself. “This silly place would never fly in Crazy Town.”

“Are you kidding?” replies The Husband, “It’s a chain. They have one in The City,” (The City is a 10-minute drive from Crazy Town), “are you saying you’ve never heard of it?”

“No. Geesh, why are you attacking me? This is supposed to be a fun week-end! I just want to order my pancake.” I frown.

Right then, the girl appears out of nowhere and places my pancake in front of me. The cook must’ve thought it was for a child: there are chocolate chips on it making a face, two eyes and big broad smile.

“Bon appetit!” says Sofie politely.

“Thank you,” says The Husband, attempting to be my ventriloquist.

Sofie walks away and I hear her say something that sounds like, “My pleasure.”

(“Makes Omelets Vicariously”)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

171. Oh, Katie Jones!

(Fun flashback moment)

So I used to fly with this flight attendant named Katie Jones, and she was such a cool girl. She was beautiful, a slightly shorter Demi Moore clone, with a magnetic personality—a certain charisma about her. If she was sitting next to me on the jump-seat, a five hour flight seemed like ten minutes. Whenever I saw her name on the flight paperwork, I thought, hurray! I get to fly with Katie!

Now, Katie Jones, as I soon enough discovered, was not the most unusual name in the world. Can you see where I am going with this? Yes, there were two Katie Jones.

I got on the plane one afternoon, expecting to find my pal, sweet and perky Katie with a scarf tied in her swishy ponytail. Instead, I met the other, shall we say, less pleasant Katie Jones (the one I instantly dubbed “The Impostor”) because although they shared a name, that’s where the similarities ended.

The Impostor was tall, skinny, had short spiky red hair, and a permanent scowl tattooed on her face. How she got a job that is essentially 99% customer service and 1% napping in airport lounges is beyond me. She was (surprise!) divorced. If she wasn’t busy bashing men, she was bashing Republicans, passengers, gays, small children, elderly people, Disney characters, real estate agents, Chinese people, and people with fake British accents (I kind of agreed with the last one, I must admit).

She made my life miserable at every turn. Can I help you set up the galley, Katie? No. Then: why didn’t you help me set up the galley? Shall I pick up trash now, Katie? Sure. Then: why are you doing everything out of order from the service guidelines? I’ll just run the pilots their meals, I’ll be back in a minute. Then: where were you?

Wait—since when is being bi-polar a job requirement here? 

If I tried to make small talk with Katie, she merely ignored me or talked over me. She claimed it was turbulence, but I swear the tomato juice she spilled on me was done on purpose. As for someone to spend time with on a Paris layover (as if I wanted to spend even one additional minute with her), she was what was referred to in Industry Slang as a “slam-clicker”—slam the hotel door shut and click the TV on.

In short, The Impostor Katie Jones was: a bitch.

I wondered about this awful Katie Jones. Was “Jones” actually her maiden name or did she retain her married name? (And if it was her married name, can she please give it back and return to being Katie Winesterfinklmeyeropolous so I can keep my Katie Joneses straight, thankyouverymuch.) Really, she didn’t look like a Katie (whatever a Katie may look like: she’s not it). She needed to be a “Matilda”, yes, that would suit her. Matilda. That sounds like a mean name. Would she be mad or would I get fired if I just started calling her Matilda?

The other Katie, who I was fortunate enough to have had a few Hawaii layovers with, was simply a joy to be around, positive and cheery. We would hang out together in Detroit or Boston or Portland or wherever United Airlines would send us, eating in greasy diners and touring local museums. She would buy small souvenirs for the goofy boyfriend she’d show me pictures of. She was outrageous and provocative and a great listener; she noticed everything, could make me laugh about nothing—my face would hurt from smiling when I spent the day with her.

It was rare for me to fly with either Katie Jones, which is why things were so confusing for me. Both women went by “Katie” with a letter “K”, although one was Katherine and the other was Catherine (that’s right, spelled with a letter “C”) on the paperwork.

I knew this. Each and every time I flew with Impostor Katie Jones or Hawaii Katie Jones, I told myself to remember which was which with the tricks the memory coaches suggest: think of a clever sentence or word-game to reinforce it! How about—I’m glad to “C” (see) her—so that’s the correct Katie. Or wait, was it that it’s O“K” (okay) to fly with Katherine? Argh, I always got my mnemonic devices mixed up. This was really not helping: thanks a lot, memory coaches.

Finally, I told myself it will NOT be the Katie Jones you want, so don’t get your hopes up. If it happens to be the right one, then fantastic.

It WAS the right one! The Hawaii Katie Jones! Yay, I’d do a little dance—I jumped up and down like a kindergartner going out to recess.

One day right before our onboard briefing, I confessed this bizarre dilemma to another flight attendant friend Keith. Keith dared to tell me he knew yet another Katie Jones, based in Chicago. Geez, how was I supposed to keep all the Katie Jones straight? Was I going to fly with her next? Did United Airlines only hire people named Katie Jones? Was Keith’s real name secretly Katie?

Keith put his hand on my shoulder and said, you know what, MOV? you think your name is so unusual, but I recently met another MOV based in Denver. As if to underscore the point, the co-pilot walked on board at that very moment, saw my name tag and said, “Huh, MOV. I know you—aren’t you based in Denver?”

No, I’m not. He must have me confused, maybe with a flight attendant who works for Delta.

(“Mistrusting Other Variables”)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

170. The Letter "S" Broke Off My Keyboard

So it finally happened: the letter “S” broke off my keyboard from overuse. This, as you can imagine, was quite frustrating. I called the technician immediately but as it’s a common occurrence, he told me I’d probably have to wait several days before he could help.

I thought, how bad can it be? I’ll just keep typing and emailing and going about my daily business without the letter “S” until the service guy has a free hour or two to fix it.

The first thing I needed to do was send an email to my girlfriend Tammy to see if she wanted to meet up for coffee and shopping:

“Hi Tammy!
I heard about a _ale at the mall. The ad indicated a _ample _ale. Do you want to meet up around noon or even earlier? I really want to get new _hoe_. You know me, I love to _hop!  And _hopping when there'_ a _ale, perfect! 

Of course, Tammy was confused, and now thinks I’m an alcoholic who likes to garden.

Speaking of gardening, my next order of business was an email to my landscaper, Mr. Kerr.

“Mr. Kerr,
Can you _top by on Wed? You don’t have to bring your whole team, only your _elf. It’ll be a _mall job. I think you can handle it by your _elf.
I would do the job on my own, but I can’t find my _hovel. I thought the _hovel wa_ located in the backyard, but I looked for it and found nothing.
And, I’d like you to _pray for bug_. (Do you do that? _pray, I mean. My neighbor told me he noticed you _praying, _o I thought I would go ahead and have you _pray for me too.)
And, don’t bother to _weep when you are done. I can do all the _weeping needed.
Thank you.

I was so surprised when he didn’t email me back. Still in full-blown “home repair” mode, I thought I’d send a quick email to my contractor, Roberto.

I have a problem with my kitchen _ink. The _pout'_ leaking. Can you fix the _pout? I think the _pout'_ ugly anyway, maybe you can _witch it? Bring _crew_ with you (the cabinet door'_ falling off, it definitely need_ _crew_).
(Oh, and if I’m not here, go ahead and take a _eat on the porch and wait for me.)

Huh, never heard from him either.

A little while later, I posted my latest blog:

“199. Boy_ At Play

I am watching my two _on_ playing and I wonder: why are they _o violent? I don’t remember playing that way with Oakley when we were little. My boy_ really love to do a mock _word-fight. ‘On guard!’ they bellow to one another, ‘on guard!’ Then they hop around, with their fake vinyl _word_. I want to yell, you don’t need _word_! What i_ the allure of _word_ and gun_ anyway?

When we are out in the yard, they take any kind of _tick they can find and make it into a _pear. ‘Look, Mom, I have a _pear!’ They want to _how me their new weaponry. I try to _idle up to them and recommend they put the _harp object down. I make up an excu_e, but they know it’_ a _ham. ‘Why don’t we kick the ball?’ I query.

No. My boy_ don’t want to do that, they would rather _talk an innocent little chipmunk. I watch them follow the tiny animal; the chipmunk doe_n’t realize he’_ being _talked yet. Tall _lip_ quietly next to the chipmunk, and accidentally land_ on a _lug. ‘Yuck!’ he yell_, ‘Mom, what happened to that poor _nail? Look, no _hell.’

I hate _nail_, and I hate _lug_. _hell, no _hell, I can't really tell the difference.  But I have to be _aint Mom, and do a funeral for a _lug. We bury it in the _and. We are all _eeking a quiet moment to reflect, and Tall whi_per_ in a _oft tone, ‘Maybe we can go to the _nail _hop and buy a new _nail?’

Great, I think, that’_ what I need: another pet.

(‘Murdering Other Varmint_’)”

Afterwards, I decided to email my good friend Gracie who just had a baby.

“Hi Gracie!
Congrat_ to you and Tom! I am dying to meet the new baby. Do you put him in the baby _wing I gave you? I hope you like the blanket I knitted with the dolphin and whale. I wa_ going for a beach theme, I hope you like the _hell motif, too.
What fun to _waddle him up and hold him to your _kin. I’ll bet your family want_ to _coop him right up. What a joy to watch him _mile and _mile all day long.
I_ your _car from your C-_ection very noticeable? I’m lucky, I never had a _car. I think I would hate to have a _car, I really hope you don’t have one.
Remember, life with a new baby might not be a _nap. When you’re running out of _team, give me a call. I’m happy to _it for you, e_pecially if your nerve_ are _hot. (I forgot to tell you I love the photo where you have on the _age color jacket! The _age look_ great on you!)
Much love,

Next, I emailed my sister Oakley to firm up our Christmas plans and find out more about my brother-in-law’s bike accident:

“Hello Oakley,
I’m looking forward to meeting up with everyone for the holiday_! Maybe we can do a fun winter activity like playing in the _now? If the weather’_ really cold, I’d love to _kate. Or _led.  I really love the _now!   
Do you think there’_ enough _pace for the entire family to be there?
Hey, did I tell you I joined a _printing group? We get together every morning at 5 AM to work on our _printing. I am a great _printer now! I run by, and Zoom! In fact, I am very very fa_t. _o very fa_t! I love how I feel, now that I am really fa_t.
By the way, Mike called and told me about the accident. He told me he wa_ all _hook up. Were you in _hock when it happened, Oakley? Did you _cold him for not wearing a helmet? Next time he goe_ out for a _pin, _imply tell him to put one on. I had to have a _tiff drink after he told me the new_. I’m glad he’_ in _table condition now.
Love to you both,

She emailed back right away, asking who Kate was and had I been drinking? She also attached an article on dieting. I totally don’t get her sense of humor.

Then, I sent an email to my bank to let them know I was having difficulty with my ATM card:

“Dear Crazy Town Bank,
My ATM card i_ not working again. Whenever I _wipe it, nothing happen_. I have tried to _wipe it over and over, but I think the magnetic _trip i_gone? Can you _hip me a new one? You can _end it UP_ if you want.
Thank you.

They replied that they’d be happy to send me a new debit card, but they cautioned me not to over-handle it.

Later, when my computer technician finally called back to set up a time to fix the broken “S” on my keyboard, I told him I didn’t need it repaired after all. Might as well save a little money, as I'm obviously getting along fine without it.

(“Moratorium On Vowels”)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

169. You Can't Go Home

So we spent the weekend in Pennsylvania revisiting my childhood home and I have just one question: did I really live here? because I remember almost nothing.

We drove to 819 Featherstone Court where I (supposedly) lived from age 5—10; this was the primary purpose of our multi-hour car trek. Somehow I was magnetically drawn to return to this era of my ordinary and uneventful youth; I needed to come back.  As we approached the house, I searched in vain for something I would recognize—a tree, a patio, a garden—anything.

I turned to the Husband (who lives so close to his childhood home that he can drive past it daily if he wanted to) and said, “Maybe there’s another 819 Featherstone? Maybe we have the wrong one.”

It’s not that the new owners had changed the house drastically (comparing the Real Life version to the blurry Photo Version my mom had taken many years prior), it’s just nothing about it seemed familiar. I had expected, wanted even, to feel overcome with emotion, but instead my brain tricked me: I was overcome with neutrality.

If my chronological memories were sheets of paper and every day was a page, here were 1825 pages to paw through from my youth in Pennsylvania. After I had unearthed the correct pages, I found the once-vibrant ink was faded to the point of being illegible.

I berated myself: why could I remember the Maui hotel and yet Pennsylvania could not be found amongst the torn pages of my mind? We had vacationed in Maui eight years ago, for one week. A mere short story of seven days compared to the unedited manuscript of 1825 days, and yet I could recall in excruciating detail the exact texture of the bedspread, the precise arrangement of flowers in the wallpaper, the surly attitude of the bellman, the refreshing temperature of the pool, the taste of the fresh mango I ate for breakfast.

These 1825 days in rural Pennsylvania: did they happen to somebody else? Where did they go?  I close my eyes and see the papers stacked neatly in front of an open window—a sudden gust of wind scatters them, they cannot be retrieved. 

(Adjacent to the house was a large hill, the hill we would go sledding on.  I remembered falling on that hill, twisting my shoulders and landing hard and bruised in the freezing snow.  Success!  A memory!  But why did I remember only the bad things?) 

The house itself was unremarkable at best, an ordinary split-level relic of bad architecture from the 1970’s. It had been painted an unfortunate shade of blue. I could see a wooden deck tacked haphazardly onto the side, a weak afterthought:  maybe-we-can-sit-out-here-and-enjoy-the-view. 

We sat in front of 819 Featherstone Court for what seemed like a long time but was probably three minutes.  The Husband prompted, “There’s a lady staring out the window at you; maybe you should knock on the door?”

I could see her, too, sitting in what I knew to be the living room—the same living room where my sister Oakley had vomited all those Easter jelly beans years ago. 

Knock on the door?  Huh.  This was not in my Original Plan, but it seemed like an idea. Not a good idea, not a bad idea, just a neutral idea to go with my overall neutrally-themed mindset.

I knocked, and then to prove that I had not been watching her watching me, rang the bell. An average woman a little older than me answered. “Yes?” she queried politely, as if she had been disturbing me instead of the other way around.

“I grew up in this house,” I blurted out, willing tears to come but instead being washed over by a startling wave of neutrality, “my name is MOV and I haven’t been back in 30 years.”

Now if we were in a movie, this is the part where the dramatic music would reach a crescendo as The New Owner would open the door, reach out and hug me, and usher me in as if we were long-lost soul sisters, the missing pieces of each other's puzzles.

This is what happened instead:  she said, "Oh."

Long awkward silence.

And then finally, with a tone indicating she was unimpressed and underwhelmed, “I’m Becky. When did you live here, then?”

We chatted pleasantly enough for a few minutes while The Husband and our sons grew restless in the car, but it wasn’t like I was talking to the woman who cooked on my stove and took baths in my tub. It was more like I was talking to the checker at the grocery store. “Beets are on sale, toothpaste's on aisle three, that coupon has expired.”

Which begs the question: if I don’t remember it, can I just reinvent it? Later we drove by a stunning brick Colonial in an adjacent neighborhood: can I just claim that one for my own? It’s much prettier than the split-level. If I don’t recall it anyway, can I go ahead and trade in my memories, sort of upgrade them?  I can imagine myself living there, I can imagine playing in the yard.  Is imagination better than memory?

What purpose does memory serve anyway? 
The town itself is well-known as the home of Famous University. Everyone in Famous Town assumes that’s why you’re here: to visit Famous University. They don’t expect that you lived here when you were five.

“Would you like to buy a Famous University sweatshirt, maybe in green or navy?” the hotel front desk clerk chirps while she shoves one across the counter towards me.

I glance at their mascot emblazoned on the front of the sweatshirt, Big Animal. He looks mean.  “Uh, no, no thank you,” I smile weakly.

“You know, Ryland’s Souvenirs doesn’t sell them any cheaper, if you’re comparing prices.” She blinks, daring me to argue.

“I’m not. Comparing prices I mean. I just don’t want one.”

“Oh, you already have one. I understand. I forget that most people already have a shirt from Famu.” That’s what the locals call it, Famu, but they say it like “Fay—moo”. “You can always order another one, maybe as a gift for someone special back home?”

“Yeah, I’m all set for now,” I confirm.

The clerk nods at me, she’s happy now. Sure, sure, I have one, if that’s what you want to believe, just give me my damn key so I can check in.

Later that evening, we try to replicate more wrinkled pages of my childhood by dining in the café my mom and I used to frequent, Magnolia Grill. The four of us walk in and ask the hostess for a window booth.  The Husband searches my face for some expression, “Well?” he whispers, leaning in. He’s looking for legible ink, at least a few vague scribbles.

My memory is Switzerland: no opinion, no preference, no distinction, just utterly and painfully neutral.  The pages, what's left of them, have turned a grubby shade of beige.  I give a non-committal shrug. I face a new and pressing question: am I a victim of amnesia? or early-onset Alzheimer’s?

The server takes our order and proceeds to lose it (aha—maybe the lost order is cozying up somewhere with the lost pages of my mind). We re-order and after a long wait, we finally receive our burgers which are practically oozing grease. The check comes to $73 for the four of us. We walk out of Magnolia Grill into the cool night and I’m actually relieved to finally have an impression of something, even if it's bad.

If it’s true that we have selective memories, why wasn’t my brain selecting any of these memories?  I realize that Pennsylvania was merely the backdrop for my childhood, the set design, if you will.  But not remembering the set design for "Miss Saigon" or "The Phantom of the Opera"—isn't the set design the whole point?  Why had the pages of my personal script disintegrated to the verge of the unrecognizable?  Was I merely a reluctant participant in the events of my own life?  

Being a mother of two small boys, I immediately project my situation on to them. If I remember zilch from these so-called “impressionable” years, would they also remember virtually nothing from their childhoods?  Why was I working so hard to give them a charmed life, a Norman Rockwell existence full of fun and laughter and books and museums and summer camps and sports?  Why? Why did I do it?

Will they notice? Will they remember? Or will their pages be ripped and faded too?

(“Mustn’t Overanalyze Vacation”)

Friday, October 15, 2010

168. Jellybeans Are Delicious

When I was growing up, my mother loved to decorate for various holidays. When December rolled around, she would do an installation-like piece of wall art composed entirely of holiday cards forming a giant Christmas tree. Valentine’s brought with it a multitude of cut-out hearts for mobiles, not just in the de rigueur crimsons and fuchsias, but in unexpected color combinations of pale mist green and neon orange. Birthdays were an extravaganza all their own with balloons, banners, and enough confetti to make a cruise ship proud.

Is it any wonder that we gobbled up the special edibles of the seasons, too? Cookies decorated like flags, pumpkin cupcakes loaded with candy-corn-dotted icing, cakes resembling Santa’s reindeer, mini-pies shaped like four-leaf clovers. My sister Oakley and I eagerly turned the pages of our Holly Hobby calendar looking for the next holiday, the next candy fix.

Ah, there it was: Easter.

One year I remember helping my mom get all the bunny decorations out of a big musty box that was stored in the closet of the catch-all guest bedroom. My heart soared as I saw the painted eggs, luminescent green plastic grass, and our hand-woven baskets. My mom smiled and said aloud, but more as a reminder to herself, “Oh, I need to put out the jellybeans—I bought several large bags yesterday.”

I gleefully followed her to the kitchen to retrieve the colorful chewy jewels. My mom had an intricate hand-cut crystal bowl that my grandmother had given her, and she deemed this a Worthy Enough Occasion to get it out. Oh, the excitement! Oh, the anticipation! As she expertly cut the plastic bags open with a small pair of kitchen scissors and began to fill the giant bowl, one thought dominated my brain: can-I-have-some-candy-right-now-please-please-please?

He mind-reading skills coming into play, my mom offered, “MOVee, do you want a jellybean right now? You like the licorice ones, right?”

“Yes! Can I have three?” It was more a statement of fact than a question as I was already busy dipping my grubby paws in the bowl, sifting for the elusive onyx-colored ones.

“Sure, but really, you don’t need to touch them all. Try not to get germs on every last one of them.” Her critique didn’t faze me, it just meant I would have to eat all the ones in the way, too. Small price to pay for licorice.

My mother (wisely) lured me away with lunch, and I soon forgot about the sugarfest that sat waiting on the living room coffee table. Oakley, about four-years-old at the time, had just woken up from a nap. She wandered into the living room and was playing contently with the stuffed rabbit decorations for a good twenty minutes.

It was painfully quiet. My mother went to retrieve my sister for lunch but there was no need: Oakley wasn’t hungry anymore. Instead, her little mouth was ringed with unnaturally bright streaks of pink and green and orange and blue and purple. She had eaten all the jellybeans in the bowl. Every. Last. One.

Clearly in denial, my mom looked near the heavy bowl, which was overturned at this point. “Oak?” she began softly, “Did you spill the bowl and then, uh, kick all the jellybeans under the couch?” Then my mom actually got on her knees and bent down to look under the couch. Even at the I-still-believe-in-Santa age of nine, I knew there would be no jellybeans under the couch, unless a half-eaten one had possibly rolled out of Oakley’s mouth during her gorging.

“Yesh, Mommy,” said the terrible-liar-with-teeth-the-color-of-rainbows, “they mostly fell somewhere.” And then, “I don’t feel very good. I feel kind of…… sick.” She clutched her bloated tummy while I shook my head in a cocktail of disbelief with a schadenfreude chaser.

I didn’t eat them all, Mom,” I gloated, ever the competitor (or in this case, the non-competitor), “I only had four or five, like you said I could.” Why not get in a quick moment of kissing-up to help secure whatever the Next Great Prize would be in my 4th grade life?

“Yes, I know,” she uttered, swatting me out of the way like an annoying fly, “I think your sister is going to throw up.”

“No, I won’t throw up, I don’t feel that—” following this tumble of words was a torrent of Easter vomit, both pretty and ugly at the same time, all sparkly fluorescent colors of undigested shiny little pebbles. The sticky mess coated the front of Oakley’s floral dress as well as my mom’s unfortunate left sleeve. Now when we see the image of Christ suffering on the cross, my sister wonders if jellybeans were involved. 

After that fateful day, she couldn't bear to look at jellybeans, let alone eat one. Well-meaning friends, neighbors, and clueless teachers would provide them, and not wanting to revisit this lovely piece of her personal history, she would wordlessly turn a whiter shade of pale.

A decade later, when Oakley was fourteen and I was nineteen, we were engaged in some sort of teen angst/ drama. She had “borrowed” and ruined one of my favorite outfits and I was set on revenge. I didn’t have to look far. There was a boy from school that she had a huge crush on. The phone rang one afternoon while Oakley was at swim practice and I answered it.


“Is Oakley there?” said The Crush.

“No, this is her sister though, do you want me to give her a message?”

“Oh, actually, can I ask you a question then, if you don't mind?” he began, his nervousness practically seeping through the phone wires. “I, uh, I……. I sorta want to get her a little, uh, a small gift...... for Easter, and uh, do you know what she might like?”

Without hesitation, I replied, “She adores jellybeans.”

(“Malnourished Over-sugared Vixen”)

167. When Google Tries To Boss You Around

So I’m trying to do a simple Google search for the best type of maple syrup to buy and guess what? Google tells me what I really want is Mapquest. No, I said maple syrup, you fool, not Mapquest. This is a disturbing trend: the oh-so-helpful-Google, like that friend-that-always-tries-to-finish-your-sentences, wants to guess what I want ahead of time.

Stop it. I’m looking for angel food cake recipes, not Angelina Jolie. And just because I type the promising t-r-a, don’t assume I want to book a trip with Travelocity when I’m merely checking traffic. Look out if you make the mistake of innocently typing the letters p-e-n-i in a vain attempt to find the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. Some interesting ideas pop up, so to speak, and none involve five-star hotels.

Too bad if you are looking for macaroni and cheese recipes, because Google decides It wants you to shop at Macy’s. Hunting for some great quotes by Fred Flintstone? It thinks why not take a peek at your free credit report. Searching for random facts on Shamu, the killer whale from Sea World? You must really be comparing various brands of shampoo, at least according to Google.

When did Google turn so Orwellian?

Project Runway fans want to go to the Project Runway website? Not without a detour to Progressive Auto Insurance. Gardening services? How about facts on the Garden State instead (that would be New Jersey, and, as I just learned, a movie starring Zach Braff). Ah, these interesting tidbits you pick up in your (silly) endeavor to look up what you want.

Surf boards morph into the kitchen store Sur La Table. Your desire for astronomy is better suited to astrology. Who needs moving services when you can go see a movie? Looking to translate something with language translations? Oh, why bother when you can just order a new sweater from Land’s End. Prefer to get rid of pesky mosquitoes? Not before reading about the controversy of the mosque at Ground Zero.

That’s it, Bossy Impatient Google, enough I say! I just want to type what I want to type. Don’t tell me what I want: just give me five seconds to finish my thought. Grrrrrr.

And my day is complete: I request information on the miracle cleaner called Goo Be Gone, and instead the presumptuous and narcissistic Google gives me its best choice: “Google”.

(“Maneuvered On Vectors”)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

166. Just Pretend You Don't Know Me

Apparently, my very presence embarrasses my 6-year-old son, Tall. I drove my younger son to preschool today (no bus, as we were running errands and simultaneously running out of time). By some inexplicable miracle of clocks and physics and the precise alignment of multiple moons of Jupiter, we arrived on time. Early, even.

Short and I pulled into the parking lot, which is adjacent to the playground shared by the preschool and the elementary school. As we got out of the car, I casually scanned the faces of the playground kids to see if I recognized anyone. I was somewhat surprised to notice Tall running around (as the reigning Queen-Of-Clueless-Parents, I have no idea what time my kids go to recess nor art nor lunch nor library nor anything else). Short and I did a quick detour and approached the gate. “Tall!” I waved at him enthusiastically, “Tall! Hi! How are you!”

One of Tall’s (soon-to-be-“former”) friends tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out the Nuisance that was mom and little brother. Tall finally glanced in our direction and immediately gave a look that can only be described as the look you would give if a garbage truck dumped a full load of smelly trash all over your front lawn, during a monsoon. The look was: disgust, mixed with inconvenience and dismay. But mostly disgust.

Tall sauntered over, laced his fingers through the chain-link fence and whispered (lest anyone hear us) through gritted teeth (lest anyone attempt to lip-read), “Do not embarrass me again, Mom. I am playing soccer with my friends.” Emphasis on friends, equivalent to I-can’t-talk-on-the-phone-with-you-now-because-my-boss-is-standing-right-here.

Wait, the friends were the boss now?  I thought I was the boss.  Since when had I been demoted?

And what’s with the “again”? How many times had I embarrassed him this week? Or were we just talking about today?

“Oh,” I stammered, with no hope of a better response springing to mind, “Uh, we, uh, we just wanted to say hi.”

I took Short’s hand (after enduring a lifetime of Tall’s withering attitude, he was somehow immune to his condescension). I started to think about my appearance. Was my shabby outfit the culprit for the “embarrassing” comment? I was wearing a mostly clean purple t-shirt, unwrinkled khaki pants (not too tight), and my new denim jacket with silver snaps. Huh. As far as I knew, that was acceptable. And for once, I had actually washed my hair, brushed it, and accessorized with a chic black barrette—no baseball cap here! Lipstick was even involved. The overall indisputable verdict: I looked fine, possibly even semi-attractive.

Later that day when Tall came home from school, I asked him what was going on. I decided to forgo the accusatory tone that I have perfected so well in the past six years. “Tall?” I began calmly, “Why didn’t you want us to say hi to you today? Why would that be embarrassing?”

“Huh? What are you talking about?” he said, distracted, as he threw his red fleece jacket and StarWars backpack in a heap.

“At the playground. When Short and I said hi.”

“Wait…. so you just wanted to say hi? That's it?  You weren’t going to come on the playground and actually try to play with me?”

Why would he have that bizarre notion? Since when did I show up at school unannounced and join him for an impromptu game of tag on the playground? and certainly not ever in my new denim jacket that I did not want to get sand all over!

“No, Tall, we were not going to come in the gate….. I don’t think people are allowed to come in that way anyway without signing in at the office. We just wanted to say hi to you.”

“Oh,” he murmured, “I didn’t know that. Huh. I guess that would’ve been okay, you know, if you didn’t try to give me a hug or make a joke or meet all my friends or take a picture of us or anything……….” his voice trailed off as he considered all the other Potential Ways Mom Could Cause Embarrassment. “Saying hi is all right,” he finally determined after lengthy consideration, “just don’t do it again.”

(“Mores Of Vastness”)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

165. We Broke Up (It Was A Mutual Decision)

So I broke up with my Jogging Club (now known as my “ex”-Jogging Club). We have only had three runs (dates) together, so it’s not like we were super-serious.  I never uttered the word “exclusive” or anything. 

Like the previous two nights-before-a-run, I tossed and turned all night, overcome with anxiety.  How did I get suckered into this crazy realtionship?  You know it is not healthy when
  1. you can't sleep and you actually have nightmares (the moon coming alive like a person and speeding past you taunting “you're the worst runner, ever”, anyone?);
  2. you won't admit that you are secretly scared of the dark;
  3. being around them makes you want to throw up;
  4. you dread seeing them;
  5. you make excuses not to see them;
  6. you would definitely prefer a hot-fudge sundae to every laying eyes on a pair of running shoes again. 
I knew that today was the day, but I couldn’t bring myself to break up over the phone or (worse) by email. I prefer a face-to-face (or in this case, my face to their very fast backsides running away).

We met at our usual time: o’-dark-thirty. I approached Nicole, Jill, and Brianna as I was still rubbing sleep out of my eyes. They were perky as usual (how much coffee can one actually ingest before a jog?). They were so cheerful and in the dark (literally) about our relationship, so I decided to wait until the end of the run before breaking the news.  At the very least, I could get one more work-out in.

I gathered my (flickering) courage and said, “I think we shouldn’t see each other anymore.” What I really meant was, I think I should see my pillow a lot more.

“What?” said Nicole, shocked, “I mean, why? I thought you were having fun! I thought we were having fun! This is completely out of left field!”

Brianna interrupted, “Yeah, this was great! Why would you want out?”

Unlike my feet, my mind was racing. I stammered, “I, uh,’s not you, it’s me,” even though I knew it was a cliché, even though I knew it was not true: it was them.

I continued, “It’s just……well, I think we have different needs,” as in, their need for waking up at 5 AM and my (silly/ unnecessary/ selfish) need for sleep.

“But we were just getting to know each other!” added Jill, a little too quickly (the phrase “misery loves company” again sprang to mind).

“I know, I know, you guys are great. Honest. I just feel like, well, we are at different places in our lives……..” my voice trailed off. The rest of my thought was: you like to run, and I like to press the snooze button and go back to sleep (to finish my fun dream about angry moons chasing me).

Nicole said (with a touch of desperation in her voice) “That’s okay, we understand. It’s fine. Hey! We can still run together on week-ends! We can run at 6 or even 7 AM if it's a week-end!” This, as we all know, is the equivalent of “we can still be friends”. Uh, no, we can’t. I am breaking up with you, dear Jogging Club, as much as I love you and respect you and want to be like you, I am just not ____________ (insert name of famous runner here, Carl Somebody? See, how pathetic I am? I don’t even know the name of the runners I should be inspired by).

Then Jill had a brilliant idea, “You know, we can get together in the spring,” why, Jill, is that Prom? “you can run with us at 5 AM because it will already be light out. That makes a big difference.” (Is she psychic?  Does she see right through my fear of the dark?)

“Sure, Jill, sure. That sounds like a great idea. I have your email and your cell number, I'll call you.”

And just like that, I won’t.

(“Misery Or Vigor”)

Disclaimer to the wonderful Jogging Club who could very well be reading this: you guys are great. I am just making fun of the situation and myself and if I didn’t work nights at the high-end kitchen store, I would totally be committed to running with you. Really. Call me.

164. Counseling Session With Excuses

I called a therapist who had been recommended by my friend, Balance. She told me that Dr. Cass was excellent and specialized in relationship issues. I was hoping she could help me resolve my situation with my former chum, so I decided it was worth a shot. After enough planning to stage a military coup, we finally settled on a time that worked for all three of us for the appointment. Here, you can listen in on our session:

Dr. Cass: MOV, pleasure to meet you. And it is a pleasure to meet you as well, Excuses.
MOV: Thank you, Dr. Cass.
Dr. Cass: Now, MOV, I know we talked briefly on the phone and at our initial private consultation, but why don’t you fill us in on why Excuses is part of this meeting?
MOV: Well, honestly, she and I have had encounters in the past, and whenever I see her, she just complicates things.
Dr. Cass: And you, Excuses? How do you respond to that?
Excuses: MOV, I thought we were friends. I’m not really sure why you wanted this meeting, what I’m doing here, what the problem is.
MOV: I want you to be more responsible. I want you to be nicer to people, and treat them the way you would want to be treated. Because right now, the way you act towards others……… it’s just not acceptable.
Excuses: Well, I try to be nice to everyone, but lately it’s like, no one seems to want me around.
MOV: Yeah, duh. What do you expect? Frankly, Excuses, I’m surprised you even made it here today. What, is this like the 8th time we’ve had to reschedule?
Excuses: That’s not really fair. My car was broken, and then my dog was sick….
MOV: That’s exactly what I mean: you give your word on something, and then you try out wriggle out of it. What’s up with that? Do you know that people don’t even trust you anymore?
Excuses: What do you mean, they don’t trust me?
Dr. Cass: Yes, MOV, can you elaborate on that a bit?
MOV: Well, it’s to the point where people avoid you. They see you coming, and they cross the street to get out of your path. Teachers, especially, hate you. Back in school, any time homework was due, you conveniently “lost” it or “forgot” it…….. there was always something.
Excuses: I’m just really really busy. Like right now. Maybe I should just go. I’ve been swamped at work, so I have a lot of papers I should get caught up on.
MOV: Why don’t you consider this as sort of an “intervention” to put you back on the right track in your life. How many people do you alienate on a daily basis?!
Excuses: You know, I forgot to put money in my parking meter, I should run.
MOV: The office is on a residential street! There are no meters! Another example of your kooky behavior. Don’t you think people see right through you? Even my six-year-old wants nothing to do with you.
Excuses: Dr. Cass, do you have any Tylenol? I don’t feel good. I think I am coming down with something.
Dr. Cass: (gets up to find Tylenol) Here. Here you go. Have a sip of water too.
Excuses: Thank you.
Dr. Cass: Sure.
MOV: (mocking) Oh, poor me, I think I’m coming down with something.
Dr. Cass: I’m really sensing some hostility here. Excuses, would you care to respond?
Excuses: You know, traffic will be bad this time of day, and I have to be somewhere at 2:30, so I’d better get going.
Dr. Cass: What is going on with you two? What is really at the base of all this?
MOV: Here’s the deal, Dr. Cass: Excuses just seems to pop up right when I might have my hopes up about something, or if I am supposed to meet someone, or if I have something really important planned or if I’m relying on someone. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just, whenever she’s around, things fall apart.
Excuses: You’re mean. Maybe people just don’t want to be around YOU.
MOV: Wow, I can’t believe you just said that. I’m “mean” just because I’m telling the truth? At least if I can’t do something, I just say “no” instead of leading people on with “sure, yeah, I’ll do it” and then later change my mind and leave them in a lurch.
Excuses: I just remembered that I need to pick up my dry cleaning and they close early on Tuesdays. I really have to get going.
MOV: That’s fine. I can’t say I’m surprised. Oh, and one more thing: you will NOT be invited to any more of my parties. You are the worst at parties, RSVP-ing yes and then at the last second not showing up. You really inconvenience a lot of people, and I’m sick of it!
Dr. Cass: Well, this was a very short session. Shall we reschedule?
MOV: I can do any day next week, after 1 PM.
Excuses: Oh, I’m taking a yoga class, and it is every day right at 1 PM. Sorry, that won’t work for me.

So there you have it. Another day ruined by my old archenemy, Excuses.

(“Ministry Of Vengeance”)