Saturday, July 30, 2011

476. That Time I Won Employee of The Month

It was an ordinary day. I made myself a triple espresso and went to work. Customers started streaming in the door as we unlocked it at 10 AM. We were busy, and I lost myself in trying to be the very best high-end kitchen store salesperson I could be.

I sold knives and sets of pans. I gift-wrapped cookbooks and bridal presents. I handed out samples of grilled chicken in Valencia sauce. It was an ordinary day.

A lady in a large straw summer hat walked up to the counter with a vanilla-scented liquid soap refill and some ceramic storage containers she’d found on the sale table for about $15 (marked down from the original price of $75).

“Hello! Are you ready to check out?” I chirped merrily, like someone whose triple espresso was just kicking in.

“Yes, but I want someone nice to help me.”

(*Editor’s note: We all know that MOV makes a lot of stuff up. However, this last part was, surprisingly, not manufactured in MOV’s bloggy brain just to make a good story, but instead is absolutely, so-help-me-God, 100% true: The customer said, “someone nice.” Yes, this implies that she thinks MOV is not someone nice.)

What could I do? I laughed.

“I’m nice!” I flashed her my big white-teeth smile, the one my sons are mildly afraid of when I read them stories about The Big Bad Wolf complete with voices and wolf teeth.

“No one in this entire store has been very helpful to me since the moment I walked in,” she pouted, crossing her arms across her chest.

“Well, Holden is very nice!” I said, attempting to flag down one of my managers so I could pawn off this bizarre customer onto him. Holden sent me a mental telepathy message that he was busy with another customer (or maybe that was actually him on my ear-piece walkie-talkie: “MOV, I’m busy with another customer,”).

Straw hat lady turned around, looking for Holden, who was not there. She turned back to face me and blinked.

“So, is this all you need today, then?” I started scooping the items up to scan them, and at this point straw hat lady impulsively added a rooster apron to the pile.

“No one was nice to me,” she insisted, scowling, as she shoved the apron toward me, making me not want to be very nice to her.

“I love these canisters!” I said abruptly. “I almost bought them!”

She glared at me. She did not want me loving the same canisters she had picked.

At this point, I realized I was getting nowhere trying to be nice to her, trying to make up for the phantom sales associate who had apparently been mean to her.

“Why is everyone here so rude?” she hissed.

Why are you so crazy? I said to her in my head.

“Your total is $23.88.”

She swished her credit card through the machine, and her receipt printed out.

I looked down at the heavy canisters. They were made of white ceramic and were intended to hold flour, sugar, and coffee. The normal MOV, the “nice” one, would usually go in the back stock-room to wrap something fragile like this in “pillow paper,” (which is essentially spongey brown paper on a roll with tissue paper in between). We use it at the high-end kitchen store to pack hand-blown wine glasses, French porcelain serving pieces, ceramic cheese platters, or anything else in danger of breaking.

I wasn’t feeling very nice at this moment.

At the register, we have newsprint paper to wrap pasta sauces and jars of jam. Good enough. I quickly wrapped her canisters in the cheap newsprint.

Next, I automatically reached for one of our woven fabric bags with the bumble bee logo on the front. These bags are not only sturdy, but also beautiful, and people inevitably keep them to use for their groceries or library books. I stopped myself. Straw hat lady had not been very nice saying that I was not nice the moment she met me, so why on Earth did she deserve one of our signature re-useable bags? She didn’t.

I opened up the plain paper bag instead and carefully slid in the canisters, all the while thinking, Hey, if you had been half-way nice to me, you would be getting pillow paper and an expensive fabric bag, you big ol’ meanie!

What I said: “Here ya’ go, thank you, have a great day,” as I handed her the heavy bag. She took the bag, grunted at me, then walked out of the store.

“MOV, I need to speak with you.”

Holden had appeared out of nowhere. He was holding some sort of official-looking form in his hand. “Right now, please.”

I could feel my face flush red. Had I not been polite to snotty straw hat lady the entire time? I rewound the scene in my head, like Customer Service Groundhog Day: Are-you-ready-to-check-out, I-love-these-canisters, thank-you-have-a-great-day. What could possibly be wrong? Did I sound like I was being sarcastic to her? Was Holden a mind-reader now? Was he going to write me up?

Was he going to fire me?

“Holden, uh, I need to restock bags, can we talk a little later?”


The other employees had wandered up to the cash register area, like a little party. Great, witnesses. They were all going to see me get fired so they could gossip about me later and inevitably post it on their Facebook pages.

Holden cleared his throat and started reading off his form:

“We would like to thank MOV for her four years of dedicated service and exemplary service here at the high-end kitchen store. It is salesclerks like MOV that make our store the number one store in the district …”

This was a very strange way to fire someone. Was this a joke? The other employees were grinning and nodding at me in that sincere way they sometimes have. Words were dancing in the air, pirouetting and doing grand jetes, lovely phrases fluffing up their flattering tutus …

“… and in conclusion, we notice and appreciate how MOV goes above and beyond with all her customers, making each one feel happy and want to return again and again …”

Who was MOV? Who was he talking about?

“… and that’s why, you, MOV, have been voted as Employee of The Month! Congratulations!”

The other employees started clapping. I thought they might throw confetti or even produce a big cake.

“You deserve it!”

“Customers love you!”

“Way to go!”

“MOV, do you have anything to say?”

I smiled. “Is this a bad time for me to give my two weeks’ notice?”


Thursday, July 28, 2011

475. That Time I Wanted To Be A Bank Teller

I was still in college. It was summer. I needed a job. I thought long and hard about what type of job would suit me and cater to my needs, mostly my need to have extra spending money. Why not go right to the source? I got a job at a bank.

Here at the bank, I could touch other people’s money all day long. I think “pet” might be too strong a word in this case, it might have been more like—

Wait, let me back up and tell you how exactly I got the job (and no, this time was not through a headhunter named Kimberli):

I rifled through the newspaper, set aside the beckoning “Style” section (I will come back to you later, Style! I promise!), and unfolded the “Help Wanted” section. (Obviously, this was waaaaaay back in the days before computers and electricity and cars and probably even wheels.) I took the top off my trusty yellow highlighter (left over from my Psych 101 class) and circled a few ads that looked appealing. Ads like, “Wanted: Markteing Representtve, great oportunoty, work 3 days/ wk, pay is potentialy $50K per year. No experiese neccsary!”

An ad for “Bank Teller Training Classes” flung itself off the page at me (mostly because it was spelled correctly) and demanded I pick up my (rotary) phone and dial the 800 number. After I made the call, I made another important call: to my father, who I needed to ask for the $300 to pay for the class.

My father is the kind person who never once looks at his watch while a family of 17 baby ducklings crosses the street, making him miss 10 green lights.  My father is the kind of person who will lose his place in line at Starbucks to help an old lady in a wheelchair struggling to get the door open.  He smiles at people he doesn't know, and he picks up stray trash that is not even his to throw away in the garbage can.  Clearly, he is my polar opposite in every way.

He did not say to me what the 42-year-old MOV would most definitely say to my young sons if they asked for $300 for some scam Bank Teller Training Class: “Three hundred dollars? Are you out of your mind? You don’t need some idiotic class! They are just trying to make money off of you! The bank that hires you will teach you what to do. And honestly, how hard can it be? You just need to know how to count.”

What he did say, “The bank that hires you will teach you what to do.”

This is the part where I whined and begged and tried to convince my (wise) father that the class was of utmost importance and the bank manager would most likely not even give me the oh-so-coveted interview slot without the golden certificate.

“MOV,” he said, not unkindly, “It would probably take you two weeks to earn back the $300 that the class costs. Maybe just apply to the bank you want to work at, and see what happens?”

Is it any wonder I turned out so neurotic with such an incredibly unreasonable dad like that?

I had no choice, and no check for $300. I did what he said. The bank hired me immediately AND they did not even so much ask if I had taken a Bank Teller Training Class!

I liked working at the bank, but then one day I woke up and realized that even though I got to “visit” the money every day, it was not technically mine. I needed a job where I would make lots and lots of money, more money than I could possibly count, a job like …

Flight Attendant.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

474. I Cussed Out A Stranger

Not really. Almost.

There I was at the grocery store, renting a steam cleaner to clean the (free) butter-colored suede armchair one of my girlfriends gave me (because she felt sorry for me and my faux leather chair that was shedding strips of plastic all over my living room floor?). Charlotte had said, not unkindly, “MOV, do you know anyone who might want this old Restoration Hardware chair that we simply don’t have room for? I hate to donate it or put it on Craig’s List because it cost, like, a thousand gazillion infinity dollars when it was new a few years ago.” I practically jumped thorough the phone lines when she mentioned this chair. Internally, I told myself, “Stay calm, stay cool, don’t let on how much you want that amazing chair.” Out loud I said, “I’ll be there wtih my husband's truck in 10 minutes!”

But I digress.

I was now at the grocery store at the “Help” counter where you go to rent steam cleaners or ask which aisle has Mint Milano cookies (Aisle 17, just so you know), when this 18-year-old boy scout walks up to the counter.

“Pack of Marlboro Lites,” he said.

“No problem,” responded the clerk politely.

“Are you kidding me?” I said loudly and not so politely.

“Excuse me?” said freckle face.

“What, are you like, 12? Are you kidding me? Smoking?”

I need to mention here that I had not just the American Express card with me in order to pay for the steam cleaner rental, I also had my lovely sons, Tall and Short with me to witness Random Acts of Mommy Craziness.

“Excuse me, madam?” said freckly face, again (yeah—he called me “Madam.” Might as well have called me “Granma” and asked for my AARP card).

“Well, my mother has Stage 4 lung cancer and is slowly dying,” I said, not really sure who’s vocal chords were making these words, “You should quit smoking now while you still can.”

His face turned white, like the shell of an egg. Then his exterior cracked like one, too.

“I’m sorry she’s dying,” he said, as he slipped the green bill with Alexander Hamilton’s face on it to the clerk (who was minding her own business and not mentioning any cancer-stricken relatives to hapless strangers at this moment in time), “that must be very hard for you.”

“Hard for me?” I asked, my face hardening like freshly-poured cement in summer heat, “How about hard for her?”

He looked at me.

I looked at him.

Tall looked at both of us and wished that everyone involved would just disappear, like smoke.

“She’s smoked for more than 40 years. She has tumors in her lungs. It’s hard for her to breathe.” Here I did not mention the successful lung surgery that had bought her another year or so of breathing without a ventilator, “I am the Voice of Your Future.”

Now Tall was really wishing he could slink away, far, far away from his crazy mother.

“Stop,” he hissed at me, “You don’t even know this gentleman!”

I immediately cursed myself for teaching my children to call strangers “gentleman.”

“You. Must. Quit. Smoking.” I stared him down, willing him to fight with me.

What would happen next? Would the clerk summon the police and have the bizarro trouble-maker (me) unceremoniously carted off, like a shoplifter on a spree? Would freckles hurl a litany of profanities in my direction? Would I respond in kind? (I was guessing I might.)

“Thank you, ma’am, you’re right.” He peered into my eyes, his crystal blue eyes fresh like afternoon sky. Then he turned to Tall and said, “Your mom is very smart.” He walked away, cigarettes in hand.

What just happened here?

(“Marlboros Or VirginiaSlims?”)

473. That Really Old New Tradition

Mother’s Day shows up, all flowers and hearts and hand-drawn cards, everyone loves Mommy. Father’s Day looks at his watch, waiting impatiently for his turn. After the last cake crumbs are licked off the plates, a small squeaky voice says imploringly, “Why do you people get all the holidays? What about us kids?”

The Husband and I exchange a smile. I remember saying these exact same words to my parents, with the weathered response of “But every day is Kid Day.”

Not so fast. Why not invent a holiday? Why not start a new tradition?

“You’re absolutely right, Tall,” I hear the words come tumbling out of my mouth, “You guys should have your own holiday. Get out the calendar, and let’s pick a day.”

He bolts to the kitchen, and grabs the calendar off the bulletin board, tacks flying, before I have a chance to change my mind. He returns to the table, breathless.

I can read the alphabet letters swirling around in his brain. They spell out: Is this how easy it is? All you have to do to invent a holiday is assign it a square on the calendar?

“Okay,” Queen Virgo starts in methodically because she likes her holidays spread out neatly equidistant throughout the year, “January is too close to Christmas, what about February?”

“No, Valentine’s Day,” offers Short helpfully.

“Right. February is out. March is our anniversary, what about April?”

“No, Easter,” the boys announce in unison.

“May is your birthday,” I squeeze The Husband’s hand, “And also Mother’s Day, June is Father’s Day, Short—your birthday is in July, umm, nothing’s going on in August? Would August work?”

I look around the table. Nodding and grinning.

In my head, I finish the year out: September is my birthday; October? Halloween; November, Thanksgiving; and December, Tall's birthday and of course Christmas.

August it is.

“Then what day in August?” inquires Tall pragmatically.

“Umm … hmm, Sweetie, what do you think?” I turn to The Husband, who I can tell is not quite sure who empowered his lovely wife to go around sanctioning new holidays.

“Oh, I get to have some input now? I think August first. Then it’s easy to remember.”

“Done. From now on, August first is officially Brother’s Day. We will celebrate it every year by doing whatever you boys want. And I can even promise you that you can always skip school on Brother’s Day.”

“Well, let’s go bowling then!” enthuses Short, ignoring/ not getting my “no school” joke.  

“I vote for movies!” says Tall, as if today is already August first.

“I say miniature golf,” adds The Husband.

“Hey, I like that idea,” I laugh, “We’ve never done that before.”

Short interrupts, “And pizza! Pizza for dinner! Don’t forget pizza!”

“I have a great idea,” says Tall, “let’s do ALL those things.”

I’d better start saving my money now. I think Brother’s Day is going to be an expensive holiday.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

472. Motherhood Is Water

Water is refreshing. Water is the life force that connects us all. It can be angry (the ocean during a storm), calm (a lake), or happy (a gurgling fountain). Everyone loves water; but it can also drown you.

When I became a mother, it was initially refreshing. And by “refreshing,” I mean I had to refresh my memory about everything I thought I had learned in my nine months of studying up on what to do with a baby. Because I actually knew nothing.

Squash newborn floppy head into a onesie? Not a clue. How to get baby spit-up stains out of favorite clothes? Just throw them in the trash, they’re ruined. What to do when infant screams all night for no apparent reason? Hold him, feed him, and invest in a really great set of Bose noise-reduction headphones.

I look around at all the beleaguered mommies at the pediatrician’s office. They are there to get shots and yearly check-ups for that sweet new life that society calls “child,” but they should beg for a nice little Vicodin or Percocet prescription for themselves while they happen to be in a medical facility.

Force. We do everything by force, of course. Force him to brush his teeth, force her to go to the bathroom, force them to do their homework, force him to apologize for inadvertently using a little too much, uh, force (that word again!) and leaving a nasty bruise when he kicked his brother's leg. The force is with us.

Motherhood is all about connections. Connections to distant family, connections by phone and email, connections with new neighbors and friends, connections to teachers, connections to the right toy store employee who always calls with a friendly reminder the day before a big sale.

I can be angry. Angry about not being listened to, angry about being ignored.

I can be calm, usually as the school bus pulls away and both my kids are on it. I feel beautiful turquoise waves of calm wash over me. This feeling last until 3:30.

I am happy (most of the time). Happy my sons are happy, happy they are healthy and smart and lucky.

Yet I drown. Daily. I am drowning in laundry, drowning in the experience of motherhood, drowning in the excessive paperwork required to be an accepted card-carrying “parent” (Social Security cards/ bank accounts/ immunization records/ macaroni artwork/ Target coupons/ library books/ Kindergarten class photos/ birthday party invitations/ magazine articles telling me how to do it all and have it all, yet the magazine never actually sends the assistant over to demonstrate), drowning in trying to fulfill everyone’s (society’s? my husband’s? my own?) unrealistic expectations.

But mostly I drown in love.

("My Ordinary Vision")

Saturday, July 23, 2011

471. Which Is It?

I complain. A lot. It is a slightly natural Virgo tendency. I don’t even realize I’m doing it. For example, I might say, “I don’t like this 100 degree heat!” to which The Husband will respond, “Nobody does.” Or, I might say, “My sister never called me back,” to which Oakley will say, “Yes, I did. You just don’t know how to retrieve your messages.” The point is: people view this as complaining.

Typical complaints for me:
  • Husband has not gotten dead bird (that he found on our patio) out of "temporary storage" in garage freezer yet to give it a proper burial, and it has been over three days now
  • Husband has not gotten dead stray kitten (that we found in our front yard) out of "temporary storage" in garage freezer to give it a proper burial (maybe in same mini-casket with his new friend-in-death, Birdie), and it has been over a week now
  • Animals like to die in our yard/ on our property
  • My phone does not have a message capability
  • Husband argues too much with me about the phone’s mysterious secret abilities that he is convinced it has
  • I don’t want to do the dishes, it’s your turn to do the dishes
  • So what that you do all the cooking, it is just frozen stuff from Trader Joe's so does that even count anyway  
  • I thought I just finished doing all the laundry, why is there so much again already
  • Did you drink all the milk? I can’t have coffee without milk. I don’t want to hear any of your lame excuses, Tall
  • Who used my good copper stock pot from the high-end kitchen store to make a frog habitat (and should we just hold off on the stray kitten/ Birdie burial and wait for the inevitable to happen with Froggy and then we can have a package burial deal?)
  • I forgot my coupons when I went to Target to look for frog food
  • Someone stole my ATM/ debit card number and drained my bank account
  • That lady cut me off when I was driving
  • Trader Joe’s was out of my favorite wine (again)
  • Why do we never get to go on vacation (and sleeping in our own guest room and “pretending” we’re on vacation doesn’t count)
  • I hate that snotty lifeguard at the pool, the one who is a know-it-all and thinks she’s so great
To that end, The Husband sat me down and we had a long discussion about my excessive negativity (I prefer to call it “Virgo-ness”). He said that I am alienating people and not going to have any friends left if all I do is criticize.  I brought up the fact that he also said the lifeguard was snotty, and he even said it might be fun to trip her so that she falls in the deep end.  He ignored my comments about his comments and told me to focus on the subject at hand. 

I decided he’s probably right; now I am making a conscious effort to not dwell in Negativity World and instead notice the myriad positive things in my life. For example, we had some friends over for drinks and dinner last night, and the conversation went something like this:

Friend: So when we went on vacation last week, I got totally sunburnt …

New Positive Me: (thinking that Old Negative Me would have said, “Wow, that sucks, I hate to be sunburnt …”) I have pretty hair! And it is totally cooperating today, and my bangs look super-cute!

Friend: (exchanging quizzical look with her husband) Uh, that’s nice. Yeah, your hair does look very nice tonight.

(Long silence)

New Me: I have $20 in my purse right now! I’m rich!

(More silence)

Friend: So we got stuck in major traffic when we were driving back from the beach. I swear, it took like five hours to get home.

New Me: I love my car! My car is really reliable!

Friend: Well, so is mine, but that’s not the point. The point is that it should have taken about two hours, and then the DVD player jammed so the kids were bored out of their minds.

New Me: We went to the movies last week and saw “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and I loved the movie! It was fabulous, and the kids loved it, too!

Friend’s Husband: Do you go to the movies a lot, MOV?

New Me: (hesitating while struggling to squash Old Me down with a fly swatter because Old Me would probably say, “Movies are waaaaaaaaaaaay too expensive these days,”) Uh, well, uh, I prefer TV, actually! I watch HGTV anytime I want because we have TiVo and it’s the greatest thing ever! I have had so many positive experiences with TiVo! I can watch House Hunters all day long if I want to!  And sometimes I do! 

Friend: (looking at watch again) Uh, did you make these little puff cheese things? They’re really good.

New Me: (conferring with Old Me that they are frozen from Trader Joe’s and they're not that good) Are you insane?

Friend’s Husband: Wow, it’s late. We should get going.

New Me: I just won a prize in a contest at work! I won a new spatula!

Friend: Uh, our sitter will get mad if we stay out too long. We gotta go. (To her husband) Sweetheart, go ahead and bring the car around.

After they left (and between you and me, isn’t 6:45 a little early to leave? What kind of sitter only sits from 6:30—6:45 anyway?), I turned to The Husband.

“Well? What did you think?”

“About what?” he asked.

“The new, non-complain-y me?” I replied with a smile as big as a TiVo House Hunters marathon. 

He shook his head. “Honestly, MOV, I think you pissed them off. You’re right that you weren’t complaining for once, but you were acting bizarre—saying things totally unnaturally. Who does that?! And whatever our friends happened to be talking about, you just hijacked the conversation and brought it back to some braggy thing about yourself. Ugh. No wonder they left so early. I think I’m gonna go sleep in the guest room.”

“Enjoy your vacation! Love ya!”

(“Me, Original Virgo”)

Friday, July 22, 2011

470. Fun Games To Play With Baby

When The Husband and I were newly married and living in California, we bought our first house: a 1913 Craftsman fixer-upper. Over the next two years, we diligently set about pouring every paycheck we earned into renovating and improving the house, saving the exterior for last. We had the outside painted (hilarious post about painting house, come back and read later)  a dark navy blue, and we had new sod brought in. As the lawn services guy unfurled our gorgeous sod as if it was a roll of carpet, he said to me with solemn authority, “You MUST water your lawn. Daily. Hourly, even, for the first two weeks, or it will all die.”

I took his words to heart. He had a picture of a lawnmower and some flowers painted on the side of his van, so he must know what he was talking about.

I quickly got into a routine of watering the lawn several times a day to keep it alive and prevent our invested dollars from withering in the neon Los Angeles sunlight. However, Tall was a 4-month-old baby at the time, and a clingy one at that. If he wasn’t napping, then he wanted to be with me, and he would howl if I tried to escape for five minutes to water the grass. Inevitably, sometimes I would just have to bring him outside with me.

I tried holding him in the Baby Bjorn snuggli-like contraption, but it was difficult to bend and lift the hose and basically do what I needed to do. I got smart and brought him out in his bouncy seat/ infant carrier instead.  I placed him carefully on the front porch right within my view. 

As he inhaled the fresh air, he seemed to truly enjoy the outside world, and he was fascinated with stray butterflies and also his own toes.

I would water-water-water about 10 feet away from him, constantly talking and checking in with him so he knew I was there. He would smile and laugh, then notice his toes again. This went on quite nicely for the first five days or so.

One day, in the middle of watering, Tall was cooing and being so cute and sweet, I was dying for some interaction with him. I wanted to be one of those spontaneous moms who comes up with clever and original activities to play with her child. I wanted to be that mom at the park that the other moms say, “Wow, she sure has a great relationship with her child! Look how she adores him, and look at his reaction to her, too!” I had the super-fun idea to spray an itsy-bitsy mist of water on him to say, “Hey, look over here! Mommy loves you! Hi, Cutie-Pie!”

Tall was a baby that really enjoyed the water. He loved rain, he loved taking a bath, he loved looking at the ocean; this benign little splash game I invented was sure to be a hit.

Even though this child had lived in our household for the past 120 days and I thought I knew his temperament, I had made a gross miscalculation. Tall did not consider this to be the “fun” game that Mommy had intended: no.

He considered these tiny drips of water to be a direct assault on all his senses.

Even though the drips of water were—in reality—akin to a fine mist, like a mere sneeze, to him, it seemed like a torrential downpour.

I have no idea what his baby mind was thinking in that moment, but judging by his screaming, it could not have been good.

Of course, I immediately dropped the hose and went rushing over to my screaming child. The only water on him was the water he was producing from his own tear ducts. But he was still hysterical.

I scooped him up and held him. He cried and cried and cried some more. I felt horrible. It is one thing for your baby to cry because he is hungry or tired; it is another thing entirely for him to cry because of some stupid “fun” game you just invented.

I was worried the neighbors would come by and accuse me of getting water on my child, or that the police might come and lock me up for lack of mommy skills. Neither happened.

That evening when The Husband came home from work, I desperately wanted to tell him about my misguided attempt at fun with baby, but I couldn’t. I was too embarrassed. Instead, I said,

“Sweetie, do you think you could take over watering the lawn from now on? It’s hard for me with Tall.”

“Just put him in his bouncy seat on the front porch.”

“Yeah, uh, I know—I did that. I just think it would go smoother if you took care of it.” I tried to adopt a look on my face that was both convincing and non-guilty.

“What’s the problem? He loves being outside.”

“Well, honestly, what it is … I think he’s too hot.”

“Well, okay, MOV, in that case, I can water the yard. Oh, but I have a better idea! Why don’t you just spray a little bit of water on Tall to cool him off? He loves water.”


Thursday, July 21, 2011

469. I Swear

So talk turns, as often does, to neighbor children who may or may not be a bad influence on my darling perfect little angels. But this time, it is not The Husband and I discussing our children’s entire futures see-sawing between either President or inmate #8730295, it is Tall and Short.

“Mommy, I don’t think we should have Davis over again,” says Short earnestly, “because he says bad words.”

This is news to me. We have known Davis forever, and that kid is the Stepford child of the block: polite, helpful, happy, and well-mannered. If anyone is being swayed here, Short himself might be the corruptor instead of the corruptee.

“Don’t be silly,” I say dismissively, “I’m very good friends with his mom and I know she would never allow Davis to use a bad word.”

“It’s true, Mom,” interjects Tall for the first time, “I heard him.”

Curiosity is getting the better of me. “What word?”

Short looks at me, then back at his brother. “The ‘S’ word.”

Yikes. I guess I was wrong about this Davis kid. We never say the ‘S’ word in our family, so if my two sons heard it, then definitely it had to be—

Shut up? Was that the ‘S’ word?” The synapses in my antique brain are finally connecting that Davis might have said a less bad bad word.

“No,” whispers Short, “not that ‘S’ word, the other one.” He puts his little hands over his lips, as if he is willing the horrible aberration to stay way in the back of his mouth.

Well, it was a good try. It could have been shut up. It looks like we will have to ban Davis after all. One day the ‘S’ word, the next day, the ‘F’ word. No, thank you, bratty Davis, I do not need to take chances like that around my precious children. Should I call Davis’s mother? Isn’t it only fair to let her know why her name is being forever deleted from my cell phone?

Another synapse in my brain sparks and fizzles, like a leftover firework on the 5th of July. Maybe Davis said “ship,” as in boat! Maybe my (slightly deaf? should I get their hearing checked out?) kids misinterpreted sweet little Davis talking about water transportation vehicles like barges and ferries and boats and ships. Aha, this had to be it!

“Tall, uh, just to confirm, uh, which ‘S’ word was it exactly that Davis said?”

“You’re going to be mad, Mom,” he shakes his blond head, hair still wet from swimming lessons. “I don’t really want to be a tattle-tale.”

“It’s okay, you can tell me,” I nod at him helpfully.

“All right, I'll just whisper it to you then.” He walks over to me, and leans his sunburnt face close to mine.  I can feel his warm breath on my cheek, like a friendly puppy.  He carefully cups his hand around my ear.


Which is how I feel right now.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

468. Wicked Twins

The Husband surprised me with second row seats for Wicked for my 36th birthday next month! (And by “surprised,” I mean I purchased the tickets online myself and announced to him that that’s what I wanted. And by “36th” birthday, I mean 43rd.) I have been dying to see it ever since it first came out on Broadway in 2003. I am vaguely familiar with the premise: a spin on the iconic Wizard of Oz—but from the Wicked Witch’s point of view.

Everyone wants to be perfect Glinda, but at my core, I know I am a little bit Wicked. Let’s pretend Glinda and Wicked are both moms. Indulge me in a little “Compare and Contrast:”

Glinda: President of the PTA
Wicked: What’s PTA?

Glinda: Makes kids’ lunches from organic ingredients, preferably from her own garden.
Wicked: Makes kids’ lunches … sometime before dinner.

Glinda: Does all laundry the same day it gets dirty, which includes folding it and putting it away, and possibly ironing.
Wicked: Does all laundry the same year it gets dirty, which includes threatening her husband and kids that they will have to do their own laundry, and possibly crying.

Glinda: Schedules activities to entertain and enrich her kids over summer break.
Wicked: Schedules her kids’ activities to coincide with the Top Chef marathon so she can get caught up on episodes she missed.

Glinda: Favorite subject when she was in school: Advanced Nuclear Physics.
Wicked: Favorite subject when she was in school: Lunch.

Glinda: Vacations in the Caribbean, yearly.
Wicked: Dreams of vacation in the Caribbean, daily.

Glinda: House looks like the Pottery Barn catalog.
Wicked: Likes to look at the Pottery Barn catalog.

Glinda: Puts time and effort into her appearance.
Wicked: Would like to put more time into sleeping.

Glinda: Caught up on all correspondence, thank you notes, and bills.
Wicked: Still looking for stamps.

Glinda: When acquaintances approach her at the grocery store, greets them with a trademark hug and friendly conversation.
Wicked: When acquaintances approach her at the grocery store, ducks down the wine aisle to avoid them.

Glinda: Favorite saying: “For hope is but the dream of those that wake.”
Wicked: Favorite saying: “TGIF.”

Glinda: Patience of a saint, preschool teacher, and a seasonal Disneyland employee, all rolled into one.
Wicked: Patience of a two-year-old, a feral dog, and a DMV worker, all fighting at once.

Glinda: Prefers Neiman Marcus and Saks.
Wicked: Does not prefer Target and the Goodwill, but goes there anyway.

Glinda: Refuses to play silly mom-competition games because, well, she’ll win.
Wicked: Refuses to play silly mom-competition games because, well, she’ll lose.

Glinda: Never whines. Ever.
Wicked: Drinks wine. A lot.

Glinda: First one to be invited to a party.
Wicked: Last one to leave.

(“Mom’s Our Villain”)

Monday, July 18, 2011

467. Keeper of The Photos

I just got back from Rite Aid, $25 worth of photos in my hand. This is not what I consider to be a frivolous expense: images of birthday candles, soccer matches, swim lessons, and preschool graduation certainly outrank banal purchases like shampoo and deodorant. Although The Husband agrees with my Kodak logic, it would never occur to him to print these pictures and put them in an album. That’s strictly my job.

When I get home, I peruse old albums to rewind the clock—there I am pregnant, there’s Tall playing in the autumn leaves, here we are in Colorado, oh the Tooth Fairy came! The events that form the exclamation marks for the sentences and paragraphs of our everyday life.

I record them, I savor them, I memorize them.

I am now on a first name basis with the clerk at the photo counter. He gives me discounts for no reason.

My mother wore a Nikon around her neck like jewelry. She posed us in front of the Six Flags sign, or the pier holding up the shells we found, or playing the piano, or hugging the dog. One-two-three-say-cheese, the words synonymous with childhood. We have two dimensional proof that we mattered to our parents, that even though we patriotically moved again and again placing red pins in the map and never unpacking the boxes all the way, our mother cared enough to glue the love into a book.

I flip through the greeting cards and movie ticket stubs and airline tickets, yellowing with age at the edges, taped neatly in my childhood scrapbook, my mother’s precise writing narrating the events. Did I really fly to Atlanta, or did I dream it? The ticket blinks up at me, daring me to forget.

My sons will have their own special albums, laced with emotion and pride and admiration and devotion. The photos blurry, the love clear.

I realize I have not exhaled in the past five minutes, so entranced with these 4 by 6 pieces of paper. I catch my breath.

One by one, I slide the pictures into the plastic album sleeves. I pause at an image of Short laughing hysterically while Tall is making a silly face for the camera. The photo captures the mood perfectly, and my sons have captured my heart.


466. Motherhood Is A Skyscraper

Skyscrapers are designed by brilliant, visionary architects with massive talent. In an athletic feat of triumph over gravity, impressive skyscrapers wishfully reach to touch the clouds, kiss angels, and if they’re lucky, meet God. Conversely, they also inspire people to jump.

My children are brilliant. They go to the library once a week to check out as many books as they can carry. This is all part of my vision to get them into Harvard on a full-ride scholarship.

I am now an architect of time. I design schedules for our minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years. I plan the swim lessons, art camps, theme-park vacations, grocery trips, playdates, Target jaunts, doctor’s appointments, and toy store excursions. No spare second can be given away without prior approval from me. Some might call this “being a control-freak,” luckily, I realize this is just code for “clever.”

My vision has improved since having children. I can see things behind me (Oreos snuck from the jar), above me (baseball right before it falls on my head), three rooms away (lost homework or soccer uniform), or even in the dark with my eyes shut (a sleep-walking child). Even though I never needed glasses before, now I could guest-star on some sort of mommy game show and win thousands of dollars for my talent.

My children have athletic feet. They are pretty good at soccer, and if this whole Harvard merit scholarship falls through, we can always go for the sports scholarship instead.

Motherhood is one giant triumph after another. It is a triumph to remember where we hid all the library books, a triumph to buy the right birthday present for the right gender (who knew that the fellow-kindergartner-Kane could be a girl’s name and that the Star Wars light saber my younger son picked out for Kane might not be the ideal gift after all), a triumph to train my child not to wet his bed at night, a triumph to do yesterday’s dishes by tomorrow, a triumph to make cupcakes for the whole class, a triumph to not let the uncontrollable crying get to me (my husband’s crying, or sometimes my own), a triumph to drive to the drug store before they close, a triumph to work out at to the gym more than once a decade. Sometimes I am all triumphed out.

Gravity. See “triumph,” above. On second thought, see “delete latest photos of mommy at pool party” (note to self: never go to a pool party if you haven’t been to the gym in a while. Scratch that: never go to a pool party ever).

I am impressed that other mommies look like they have rehearsed this whole I-know-what-I-am-doing-and-I-am-very-good-at-it shtick. How I wish that I were one of them.

Motherhood is a giant clouda cloud of perpetual confusion, dust, chaos, raw emotion, dirty laundry, and shiny pennies (any mother knows that parents have already spent all their dollars, and that pennies are all that remain, which is really fortunate considering that small children inevitably have a fetish for hurling coins into wishing fountains found at the mall).

Mothers pray to angels for guidance and patience daily. Sometimes hourly.

Luck has everything to do with motherhood: lucky the ankle was sprained and not broken, lucky that he is not allergic to bee stings, lucky that the nice neighbor next door babysits, lucky that swimsuits were on sale this week. If luck were a color, my life is a prism in bright sunlight casting rainbows on every surface (or maybe that’s just more dust).

Motherhood is God. There are great moments when I gaze adoringly at my slumbering children, and witness the face of the divine universe smiling back at me.

Some people might jump off the skyscraper that is motherhood, but I choose to jump in.

(“Motherhood Of Vision”)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

465. Confessions of A Model Home

Yesterday, this woman shows up to go on a “tour,” as if she has one point eight million dollars to spend on a house. Ha! She was wearing wrinkled khaki shorts, a faded green t-shirt, a plastic Timex watch, and a baseball hat concealing wet hair; and she had her two out-of-control sons with her, screaming, “This one would be my room!” and “I call the pool table!” while they raced around in circles, playing hide and seek. The second time she saw the master bedroom, she actually lay down on the bed. I was afraid she might try to take a shower in my Calcutta marble steam shower, and use my fluffy pistachio Pottery Barn towels.

I had noticed her right when she first walked in. She went directly into the office to talk to the sales manager, Jeannette. The baseball hat lady signed the obligatory marketing forms, and then proceeded to nod-nod-nod when Jeannette asked her if she was planning to buy a new house in this area any time soon. Her older son kept tugging at her elbow, saying, “But I thought we just moved last year? And since when do you have $1.8 million?”

When she entered the living room and observed my high ceilings, crown moulding, and wood-burning double-sided fireplace, she got this weird sort of grin on her face, and repeated over and over, “This house is sooooooooooo nice,” like a mantra. The dining room wasn’t any better. When she thought no one was looking, she had the audacity to flip over one of the platinum-edged dinner plates to see which brand it was (Vera Wang for Wedgwood), and then she tripped and almost knocked over my giant potted fern. Amateur.

When she got to the open concept family room slash kitchen, she started hyperventilating, and I was worried she might pass out. She had to grab onto my eight-foot soapstone island to steady herself. She walked over to my Wolf range and, well—there’s no other word for it—petted it. Then she turned to her younger son and said, “Can’t you just see Mommy’s collection of All-Clad pans and Wusthof knives, and my new Nespresso machine in here?” as if she really owns any of those quality kitchen products! (Truthfully, I was surprised she even knew the proper names of high-end kitchen items; it was pretty obvious she doesn’t cook when she was eyeing the cookbook shelves, murmuring, “This would be a perfect spot to display my crystal martini glasses.”)

A few moments later, she walked up the stairs, pausing to admire all my artsy black and white photos the stager had purchased for me on etsy. She said out loud (I think she thought one of her sons was standing close by), “We could do that. We could get some cute frames from Target, and do the exact same thing.”

What happened next makes me shudder. She dug around her purse for her cell-phone, pressed about eight hundred buttons, then ultimately clicked a photo of my photo wall! If Jeannette even possibly thought for one second that baseball hat lady could buy this house, well, the cell-phone camera incident just proves my point.

She went into the upstairs laundry room. I think she was weeping. She gave my Miele washing machine a little kiss, and whispered, “You are upstairs! So smart! Upstairs right where the clothes are! I am going to marry your architect!”, and then she fumbled for the cell-phone camera again.

(Luckily, this time, she could not figure out how to use the camera feature. Maybe it was dumb luck that she got it to work on the stairs.)

She walked in the guest room, and gawked at my antique mahogany English dresser. Again, my concern was the paparazzi-like stalking/ photo-taking, but by now she had given up on the camera.

“MOM! MOM!” bellowed one of her sons, “Check this out!”

He ushered her into my nautical-themed kids’ room. “Mommy, I want a bed shaped like a boat, too! Can I have a boat-bed? Please?” The way he said please had about 16 syllables.

She laughed and said, “Sure,” but she didn’t look around for a manufacturer’s label. I think she only said this to shut him up.

The next three bedrooms, dressing room, his and hers walk-in closets, upstairs coffee bar, wood-paneled library, basement media room, game room, home gym, craft room, wood-burning sauna, full bar, and wine cellar, were more of the same. Wow, oh my God, love it, this is great, I am moving in tomorrow.

Finally, after about 45 minutes where time passed slower than a DMV line, she located her children and went to the sales office to say goodbye to Jeannette.

Jeannette asked her, “Could this house work for you and your family?  What did you really think?”

Unbelievably, baseball hat lady scrunched her face up like she'd licked a tart lemon, and said, “I'm sorry, Jeannette, it's a little small.”

(“Model Of Value”)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

464. Motherhood Is Hypnotic

Hypnosis: An artificially induced state of relaxation and concentration in which deeper parts of the mind become more accessible: used clinically to reduce reaction to pain, to encourage free association, etc.

Seven and a half years ago, your naïve spouse drove you to the emergency room with an extra pillow, your favorite movies (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and National Lampoon’s Vacation), a digital camera, and a gender-neutral baby outfit, size: extra-tiny. Fourteen long hours later, you were officially a mother.

You have not relaxed since.

You didn’t relax that time one of your sons was balancing on the top of the TV cabinet. You didn’t relax when your other son catapulted down the playground slide head first. You forgot to relax when one of them (you forget which one now) was choking on carrots. You would’ve maybe relaxed that night last week when both of them fell asleep immediately after bedtime stories, except that one woke up an hour later with a fever and an earache.

Yep, if you want any hard-earned relaxation, it is artificially induced.

Motherhood requires concentration. You must concentrate while you make breakfast (three different variations for three different people), remember to change out the laundry, put gas in the car, pick up the dry cleaning, take the cat to the vet, feed your neighbor’s dog while they’re on vacation, call Visa to convert your mileage points, send your sister’s birthday present, pick up milk at the grocery store, sign up your older son for soccer camp, drive your younger son to music class, and oh, yeah—take a shower. Even one more thing added to your list could cause your brain to explode, or severe global warming.

You try to access deeper parts of your mind to ask the deeper questions, questions like
  • What kind of childhood do you want for your kids?
  • How can you raise them to be responsible human beings?
  • How do you instill a genuine love of reading?
  • If you friend your ex-boyfriend on Facebook, will your spouse get really mad or just shake his head and laugh?
Your reaction to pain has been significantly reduced since having children. You take a kick to the neck with aplomb, an accidental elbowing of the groin with a fake smile, a karate chop to the eye with a laugh and a time-out, and a “But I didn’t mean to!” bite on the shoulder with a glass of Chardonnay and a call to your best girlfriend in California. If tolerance to pain were currency in the country of motherhood, you would be very rich indeed.

The only part of the motherhood equation that does not add up is the free association component. Oh, sure, you now associate with different people than you used to (pediatricians, teachers, toy store employees, Lego store managers, Baby Boutique proprietors, swimming coaches, babysitters, librarians, travel agents who have “Disney Specialist” printed on their business cards), but none of those associations are free. Your bank account continually hovers in the single digits due to the enrichment classes, toys, outfits, pool membership, insurance co-pays, and comic book subscriptions.

One quiet evening, your husband calls you over to the dining room table to witness the kids drawing contentedly (for once). They are engrossed in trying to copy Pokemon figures from their latest magazine. You look at their sweet little faces, and think:

Maybe childhood is hypnotic, too.


463. Is Target Virgo?

My obsession (bordering on stalking) with Target has been well documented. If the waking hours I’ve spent dancing the aisles in Target were tallied, they would equate to weeks or even entire months. If the sleeping hours spent dreaming about Target were computed, that number would most likely convert to decades.

This morning, I arrived at Target at 7:45 AM, and they were not yet open (they open at 8). This was a gross miscalculation on my part. I had 15 minutes to kill.

Normally, I would spend this extra time re-writing my list over and over and over and over, but today was different. I decided to relax and daydream. That’s when it hit me: Target is Virgo.

  • Virgos are famous for being neat, precise, and orderly: so is Target! I have been known to stand in the towel aisle for 10 minutes (maybe longer) and marvel at how every single towel is folded perfectly so, like a spa. And no one thinks it’s rude for me to take a picture here.
  • Virgos are bright: so is Target! The lights border on neon, but that just means I can see everything better.
  • Virgos would never tolerate a spill: neither would Target! Once, I saw a soda can and a messy chocolate croissant that had spilled in their café area. Within seconds, a red and tan-uniformed employee had swooped in to clean it all up. And they didn’t even charge me for the second soda and croissant.
  • Virgos have a penchant for beautiful things: so does Target! Everything is beautiful, from the melamine outdoor dinnerware to the cotton pajamas with flying monkeys to the woven straw hats in rainbow colors—I want one of each!
  • Virgos have a fun side: so does Target! Target has more toys than Santa’s workshop, and probably a better retirement plan.
  • Virgos are hyper-punctual: so is Target! That one time I was shopping at Target at 9:55 PM, they flickered the lights on and off, and announced politely but firmly, “Your favorite store of the universe will be closing in five minutes, so get the hell out!” (this also exemplifies Target’s playful side).
Oops, I’d love to add to my list, but it’ll have to wait: it’s 7:59, and I see they’re finally unlocking the doors.

(“Me:  Obsessively Virgo”)

Monday, July 11, 2011

462. It Was Bound To Happen

I woke up at 6 AM, still tired. The criminal bathroom mirror confirmed that dark circles ringed my eyes. I went into the kitchen to make myself my standard triple latte.  When I opened up the pantry to get the espresso beans, out popped Rafe Bordelagne.

“How do you do?” he said cheerfully, while adjusting his cute lavender bow-tie with the trademark gold bumblebees on it. And then without waiting for a response, “Why are you so surprised to see me in here?”

I closed my eyes, and rubbed my temples. Was I still dreaming? “I … I … I thought you lived in New York?”

“You don’t remember, then?”

My brain did back-handsprings and somersaults trying to remember. What had happened to my short-term memory? When did I get so old? I think I would remember putting the founder of my place of employment, the high-end kitchen store, inside my kitchen pantry.

“Come out, sir, please! It must be claustrophobic in there.” I put my hand out to guide him. He seemed ancient, like a historic Roman statue.

He looked carefully around my kitchen. There were All-Clad Copper-Core Pans hanging neatly from the rack above the stove, Professional Series Wusthof Knives in Bamboo Block on the counter, a Stainless Cuisinart Electro-Pro Toaster cozying up to a sleek Onyx Krups Model 955 Coffee Maker, some embroidered “Summer In Paris” (in Cerulean Blue) Oven Mitts dangling from a hook, and the Brighton Large Serving Tray in Solid Pewter (with an engraved bumblebee, natch) propped against the tile backsplash.

“I feel right at home here, you know,” he beamed.

“Well, I guess you should, seeing as how everything was purchased from your store.”

“Very nice.” He winked at me. “Say, I’m hungry. Will you make me something to eat? Just a little snack? Maybe some toast?” He pulled out a Mahogany Emmett Chair, and sat down expectantly.

“Look, I would love to, Mr. Bordelagne, but I don’t cook.” I shrugged, like Hey, no big deal.

“YOU DON’T COOK?!?” Mr. Bordelagne jumped out of his chair. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T COOK?!?”

His face turned red as our Alden Wicker Table Mats, set of 6. He was shaking, like our Whirlipro Belgian Blender, 1200 watts.

“You mean to tell me you have your kitchen set up like this,” he paused to do a dramatic sweeping arm gesture like the The Price Is Right girl, “and yet, you don’t actually cook?”

“I do know how to bake cookies … from a mix,” I squeaked, nervously tucking my stray gray hairs into my messy ponytail, and wishing I had brushed my teeth.

He shook his head. I could tell that he was no longer enamored of me or my restaurant-caliber kitchen.

“How long have you been working at my store?” he grumbled.

“Uh, almost four years?” I rounded up.

He rolled his eyes in exasperated contempt. Steam was coming out of his ears, like the Breville Pressure Cooker 800 series. He stomped out of the kitchen in the direction of the front door.

“Mr. Bordelagne! Wait! Come back! You never told me what you were doing here, or even how you got here! Please!” I ran after him.

He paused, pushed his round tortoise-shell glasses (reminiscent of our Corva Serving Tongs, made in Italy) back up firmly on his nose, glared at me, and scoffed, “You, Miss, are an impostor.”

He walked out, and slammed the door hard.

I smiled for the first time:  he called me “Miss.”


Sunday, July 10, 2011

461. Hierarchy of The Pool

This summer, we finally joined a pool to avoid the sweltering, equator-like temperatures of Crazy Town.  Shady Grove Pool cashed our check and sent us a turquoise-blue membership card to swipe, along with a helpful schedule of special events and dates the pool would be closed for swim meets. What they did not send us is what I could have used most: a hierarchy of the pool.

I figured it out for myself on the very first day. Shady Grove’s members fit neatly into several categories: Kiddos, Rare Single Person (and its subset, the Tanner), The Moms, the occasional (obviously lost) Hot Guy, Model Teens, Neighborhood Dad, The Really Old People, and of course the

Lifeguards. At Shady Grove, even though the average Lifeguard age is 19 and there are no college degrees involved, the Lifeguards think that they run the show. They man the computers at check in, and announce (loudly) if you forgot to pay your dues or if your child missed his last swimming lesson. They are required to wear plain red swimsuits and an air of superiority at all times. They are immune to sweat.  They brandish their all-important piercingly-loud whistles with authority, much like a police officer brandishes a gun. They sit high up on their perches, observing, vigilant; I feel almost afraid to ask them a simple question (“Will you be opening the diving board soon?”) for fear of distracting them while they are watching the

Kiddos. They wear florescent swim garb in beachy patterns, and they get mad when it’s adult swim time (even though they get to eat chocolate Popsicles when it is). They are oblivious to other people as they practice their handstands and play Marco Polo for the 25th time in a row.  They bump into anyone and everyone because they are everywhere: in the shallow end, in the deep end, next to you, on your head, underneath you swimming like an attack fish. This can be very disconcerting to anyone who does not have kids, anyone like the

Rare Single Person. This person floats about, confused. He/ she wonders why there are so many miniature Michael-Phelps-wannabes splashing about. He may grow irritated by the excessive commotion and non-stop shrieking (noises that parents have become immune to after years of desensitization) and be forced to retreat to a nice comfy lounge chair to work on his tan. (If he is a die-hard Tanner, then he sets his cell phone to beep every 30 minutes so he can flip over, like a roasted chicken.) The Rare Single Person (RSP) most likely grew up in this neighborhood and used to frequent Shady Grove Pool as a child. Now the RSP is trying (unsuccessfully) to get a job or a life, and in the meantime, has moved back at home to mooch off his Dad and one of

The Moms. This is my favorite group, because it is the one that includes me. The Moms are a teensy bit envious of the RSPs lounging on the plastic chaises and reading their novels. The Moms used to be young and unencumbered once long ago, and they remember a time when they used to read entire novels or even paragraphs. The Moms all wear the same swimsuit (one-piece, full-coverage, black) and pretend they are not pale with cellulite. They have an unwritten code to not stare at each other’s problem areas (variscose-vein thighs, wide butt, jiggly arms, mushy back, pudgy tummy, melancholy neck, double chin, saggy boobs, fat elbows, obese ears, gloomy feet) which is easy to avoid given that everyone would rather be staring at the

Hot Guy (How did he get in here? Why have I only seen him once all summer? Can he please come sit next to me?) or the

Model Teens. The Moms try not to look at them, because they used to be them. The Moms are flabbergasted (emphasis on the “flab”) that people who barely passed their driver’s license test can have abs that look like a commercial for the Suzanne Somers sit-up machine, and legs like smooth telephone poles, yet subsist solely on a constant diet of ice-cream sandwiches and extra-large Cokes.  Life is unfair. But that’s okay, because The Moms can commiserate with

Neighborhood Dad. He also used to be a Model Teen, or possibly even a Hot Guy. He is now bald. But that’s no big deal, because at least he’s not yet a member of the group called

The Really Old People. The Really Old People are well-aware that they no longer have the attention-grabbing physiques they once did. They wear gobs of sunscreen SPF 30, SPF 50, and SPF 100 (sometimes all at once) which they reapply frequently to protect themselves from skin cancer or additional wrinkles.  They also wear a hat. And a full cover-up. In the shade. With an umbrella. They use an AARP magazine as a makeshift fan.  An innocent bystander might be forced to wonder why The Really Old People have even bothered to come to the pool at noon in the middle of July when they could enjoy the air-conditioned shade of their own living room ceiling without having to grease up every 10 minutes? But then every once in a while, The Really Old People will venture into the pool and attempt to swim laps, or possibly enjoy playing with a baby great-grandchild in the baby pool.

All the groups co-exist peacefully, except when an evil wet tennis ball is being thrown back and forth in a game by the Model Teens. This can be quite distressing to The Really Old People who might unwittingly be caught in the crossfire. One of The Really Old People might even disturb the Lifeguards to express their dismay at such a hard object being tossed cavalierly above his head. The Lifeguards might shoot The Really Old Person down by saying something disrespectful like, “It’s just a ball, Gramps, balls are allowed,” to which The Really Old Person responds that he is ON THE BOARD (and it is apparent he does not mean diving board) and that tennis balls are most certainly NOT ALLOWED. The ball is confiscated, and apologies are issued post-haste.

The Moms smile and marvel at the verve of The Really Old Person. The Moms know that someday they, too, will be 93 years old, and they take great solace in the fact that someone will finally be forced to listen to them.

("Melting On Venus")

Friday, July 8, 2011

460. My Ultimate Dream Job

Right when I graduated from college, I was a bit aimless. I worked various stints in a bridal salon, a jewelry store, and a local gym.  None of these jobs involved using my college degree in Advanced Nuclear Physics English Literature with a minor in Art History. I did the only thing I could: I went to a headhunter.

The headhunter, a tiny little sprite named Kimberli (“with an i not a y,” as she told me three times), sat me down and immediately started my evaluation. This involved typing, testing, and displaying my (non-existent) computer skills. Not once did she ask me to discuss whether I considered what Andy Warhol produced to be “art,” nor did she ask me to write a critical essay comparing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose to Hemingway’s.

No matter. Kimberli soon determined that my impressive degree with 3.001 GPA, excessive interest in shopping, and a brief period working at a department store during summer breaks could be parlayed into a lucrative career as an entry-level manager for a fashion-forward, well-known retail company. Imagine my delight when Kimberli sent me to the mall at 10 AM the very next day, and told me to park near Saks Fifth Avenue.

I was going to be a buyer for Saks! And then in a few months, I'd be promoted to Director of the Entire Southwest Division!

And make $60,000 to $100,000 a year! Plus bonuses!

And get free designer clothes! Every day!

This was like a dream come true. I had studied up on Saks my entire life, browsing there, trying on Chanel sunglasses, maybe buying a lipstick on sale once or twice, and pretending I could afford to buy a Cynthia Rowley linen sundress for $400. This job would clearly be a perfect fit for me. I was already planning to send Kimberli flowers or perhaps a large Harry and David fruit basket to express my undying gratitude.

I unfolded the little paper Kimberli had printed out with the exact address. 212 Mall Drive, Unit 389-C. Huh, that's strange, I thought to myself.  I did not see a “Unit 389-C” on the outside of Saks anywhere. I was too embarrassed to ask at Saks (that might not look very resourceful for a first impression), so I decided to go into the little deli next door.

“Excuse me?” I interrupted the clerk as he was adding quarters to his cash drawer, “Do you know where this address is?”

I handed him the paper.

“Uh, let me grab the employee mall directory,” he said, “just a second.”

He went in the back for a moment and then returned with an 8 ½ x 11 laminated sheet. There was something vaguely sticky and brown on the map, like Dr. Pepper.

“We’re here,” he pointed helpfully, “and whatever you’re looking for is on the other side of Saks, the second shop in.”  He had an unusual accent that I couldn't quite place, and the way he said Saks rhymed with snakes

This laminated map did not have the names of the shops, only the numbers. It looked like it was intended for fire drills or other emergencies, not future buyers of expensive clothes.

“A shop? Are you sure? Could it be an office? You know, like an annex?” I inquired. Maybe Saks did all their hiring and HR stuff in an adjacent office because their store was so successful and they were expanding.

“Miss,” he said, already weary at 9:50 in the morning, “I have no idea.”

I walked the long way around Saks to the address. There was a beautiful stationery store, The Written Word, on the other side. I like paper and pens, I mused.  I could be the manager of a stationery store. Maybe they would send me to London or Paris on buying trips every few months. That might be okay.

Then I looked at the address again. The deli guy had said it was the second shop in.

Payless Shoes.

Kimberli had lied to me! Payless Shoes! This wasn’t Saks!

What kind of scam was she trying to pull? I was mentally cancelling the fruit basket.  Kimberli had said “manager for a fabulous department store,” hadn’t she? On second thought, maybe she’d said “well-known retail company” and I just filled in the gaps?

Speaking of gap, Gap would even be better than this. If she had sent me to Gap, I would be disappointed, but not severely depressed.

There had to be some mistake. Why would I go to a headhunter to get a job at Payless Shoes? Why would anybody? Surely any high-school drop-out could waltz in and get a job there in about three seconds.

I told myself I needed to be professional and at least meet the interviewer. I walked in and there was name-tag-wearing Jeffrey, refilling a box of stretchy sanitary foot stockings to try shoes on with.

“May I help you?” he asked, looking up. He was wearing jeans and a gray t-shirt with a small hole.

“Uh, I think I have an appointment. I’m MOV?” I said like a question. I suddenly felt very self-conscious about my navy-blue silk interview suit and pearls.  I lamented spending 30 minutes styling my hair into an impeccable French twist and shellacking it into place with a gallon of hairspray. 

“For the assistant manager trainee position?” he verified.

“I guess,” I semi-whispered.

“Great! So nice to meet you!  I'm Jeffrey, the manager.  I'll be doing the interview.  Let me just get Chad out here to cover the floor for a minute.”

Someone with a name tag that said Chad appeared. He was wearing flip-flops, chewing gum, and carrying a bottle of Windex.

“Hey, Chad,” said Jeffrey cheerfully, “be nice to MOV here because she could be your new boss if I get transferred to San Jose!”

I was thinking that I would like to be transferred to San Jose, or The Written Word, or back in Kimberli’s cubicle, anywhere but here.

Jeffrey was holding a clipboard. “MOV, it’s a gorgeous day outside. Whaddya say we get some fresh air and sit on the bench directly in front of the store to do the interview?”

My mind raced ahead. What if someone I knew happened to walk by and see me interviewing for Payless Shoes? I did not want to interview. I wanted to tell Jeffrey there was no way in hell I was going to work here selling plastic discount shoes with flip-flopping, gum-chomping, Windex-toting Chad.

“You know what, Jeffrey? Uh, I am actually extremely allergic to the sun. I turn red just thinking about the sun. We’d better talk inside. Do you have an office? Or back stockroom? Or broom closet?”

“The bench outside is shaded by that giant oak tree, though,” Jeffrey offered sympathetically.

NO. I’m also allergic to shade. And trees. And fresh air.”

We walked back to the office. It was a about the size of my kitchen table, only slightly smaller. It was decorated in shades of nicotine and regret.

“Have a seat,” said Jeffrey, gesturing to a short step-ladder as he took my resume gingerly out of my hand.

“Look, Jeffrey,” I began, still standing, “I love shoes. I love paying less. But I don’t love Payless Shoes. This was not exactly the job I thought I was applying for.” I was embarrassed for myself, and I started to feel very sorry for Jeffrey working here, or even in San Jose.  Maybe he shouldn't wear shirts with holes in them and then he could find a better job.

Jeffrey’s shoulders tensed up. “Yeah, no problem, I’ve heard that before. I wish the headhunter was allowed to tell you the name of the company so we wouldn’t have to waste our time talking to candidates with no interest in the job.” He folded up my resume, making a stiff crease.

“I’m really sorry,” I said sheepishly. “I know I wasted your time. I wasted my own time, too.”

“Okay, then, well—good luck with whatever job you thought you were applying for then.” He reached out to shake my hand. His hand felt clammy.

I drove straight to Kimberli’s office. I waited in the reception area for 15 minutes while she finished up with another victim. Finally, the receptionist sent me in.

“MOV! Great to see you! How did it go at the retail manager interview?” She was smiling a sincere smile, without a hint of irony.

“Not well.” I glared at her and her fluffy blond hair and her Cole Haan red leather shoes. “I do not want to work at Payless.”

“Okay, no problem. Jeffrey just called a minute ago and said you were somewhat disappointed. I have another job that is more for someone like yourself, someone with a college degree and a lot of ambition. Tell me, would you be willing to relocate to Seattle?”

“What is the job?”

“Well, it’s also a consumer product, but it’s food-related.” She blinked at me.

I was 23 years old and scared of this five-foot dynamo named Kimberli. I wanted to say, “Yo, Kimberli, what’s the deal with all the secrecy and mystery? Are you only a headhunter for crappy companies that no one would want to interview for and so you are forced to not reveal their true identities?”

What I did say: “Kimberli, is it McDonald’s? I can’t work at McDonald’s. I am not moving to Seattle to work at McDonald’s.”

Kimberli shuffled some papers around. “MOV, it is not McDonald’s, I promise you that. We are not really supposed to say the name of the companies. But, I can tell you it is a fast-growing food outlet, and you would be working in the corporate office doing marketing. There is huge potential for growth worldwide. You would be getting in on the ground level, and you would be on the fast track to be promoted if you work hard.  There's stock options, too.” She said stock options with glitter in her voice like you might say vacation in the Bahamas.

I put on my Kimberli filter and instantly pictured myself Xeroxing fliers in the back of a Hot Dog on a Stick food truck parked near the Seattle airport.

“No thanks, Kimberli. I think I’ll just get my old job back at the gym in that case. You can go ahead and take my name out of your data base. I don’t want to move up to rainy Seattle and work for some stupid company no one’s ever heard of before.”

“MOV, you are missing out on a great opportunity here! I would jump at this job myself if my fiancé didn’t have a job here at the military base. Trust me.”

I looked at Kimberli’s pretty green eyes surrounded by thick globs of mascara.

“No. Have a good day, Kimberli. Thanks so much for all your help.” I tried to contain the sarcasm in my voice.

As Kimberli stood up to shake my hand, she dropped some of her papers on the floor. I leaned down to help her pick them up. There was a green mermaid logo on the folder on top.

“This was the company, MOV:  Sunbucks. No, wait, Starbucks. Apparently, they specialize in coffee.”

“Sounds kinda dumb to me. No one's gonna pay high prices for coffee.  That company will go out of business for sure.  Ha!  Good luck finding someone for that job, Kimberli. Have a nice day.”

(“Manages Onward Vision”)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

459. My Job Has Forced Me To Become An Alcoholic

Before I became a flight attendant, I rarely drank. Oh, sure, I’d have the occasional girlie umbrella cocktail if I was out with friends, but alcohol was just not normally on my radar.  All that changed the day United Airlines made me a formal job offer, and I signed the last page of the employee handbook promising that I would “obey all stipulations put forth by the Federal Aviation Administration and stated herein in regards to alcoholic beverages, specifically that NO ALCOHOL MAY BE CONSUMED WITHIN TWELVE (12) HOURS OF SCHEDULED WHEELS UP FLIGHT TIME. ”

I always want what I can’t have.

I started furiously doing complicated algebraic equations in my head that sounded eerily like junior high math word problems:
  • “If MOV’s plane is scheduled to depart from Los Angeles at 6 AM, what time can she have her last drink?” (6 PM.)
  • Part II:  “But … what if MOV’s last flight from Chicago the day before does not even get her to her hotel until 8 PM? Is she allowed to have one teensy drink just to calm her nerves after that mean passenger screamed at her about his lost luggage?” (No.)
  • “What if MOV's flight is at night?  What if she is going to fly at 5 PM and won't end up getting to her hotel until after 2 AM and everything is closed, what then?” (Too bad.) 
  • “What if MOV is on-call status for 24-hours, can she have any alcohol while on-call?” (No.)
  • Bonus Question for Extra-Credit:  “But that is for 24 hours! What if she is on-call for four days?! Is she allowed to have a drink then?” (Emphatically: NO!)
The FAA and United would do random drug-testing and alcohol screening before or after flights.  It's not like you were tested every day, but you couldn't rule out the possibility, and no one wants to be fired for being a lush.

For the next few years, my days off were typically Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I would fly (and remain stone-cold sober) for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Monday night would roll around and I would accost The Boyfriend (this is before he got promoted to The Husband) at the front door the moment he got home from work:

“We’re going out right now! I hope the bars are open!  I need a drink this instant or I'll never get to have one again!  Turn around! Let’s go out for happy hour!”

“But, Sweetie,” he’d say, calmly loosening his navy blue linen sailboat tie (that I'd bought for him at that special boutique on my last flight to Monterrey), “I went out all weekend with my buddies from the gym—I don’t feel like drinking on a Monday.”  He'd say the words drinking on a Monday oozing with contempt, like you'd say drinking at a funeral or drinking at a job interview

The scene would replay itself on Tuesday, with only minor editing modifications to the wardrobe and script.

“Vino! Now!”

“No, Sweetie,” exaggerated eye-roll while slowly loosening silk shantung red paisley tie (bought in the fashion district of New York City), “NO.”

Wednesday would finally arrive, and with it a complete change in demeanor and reversal in roles.

“Great news, MOV!” he'd call out enthusiastically while tossing his yellow-striped tie made from real gold (Harrods, London) in the air upon arriving home, “We're meeting up with Mike and Lynn for drinks tonight!”

Angry glare while packing unattractive polyester uniform dress and itchy rayon United sweater into suitcase. “I am on-call starting at midnight. I had a swig of amaretto at noon. Thanks anyway.”

You can see how my job forced me to drink. A lot. Whenever legally possible.

In the middle of a three-day trip, I would get an unexpected phone call in my hotel room from the crew desk at 4 PM right as I was heading downstairs to catch the shuttle to the airport for my next flight.

“Great news, MOV!” the scheduler would chirp at me, “We cancelled your flight to San Diego and we’ve re-routed you. Now we don’t need you to fly until tomorrow at 10 AM. See you then!”

I would be all alone in my hotel room in Des Moines/ Boise/ Cleveland and wondering who I could have a drink or two with from 4 PM until 10 PM. No one. I would go out and see a movie instead.  I saw a lot of movies. 

After a decade of flight attendant-ing, I had finally earned the right (and the seniority) to get some say in my schedule. I knew which specific flights I’d be working in advance, and I even had weekends off from time to time. The Husband (post-marital promotion) and I could go out with with friends for pizza and beer like a normal couple on a Saturday night.

For our three-year wedding anniversary, I surprised The Husband with a romantic week-long dream vacation to Italy. We went wine-tasting, and the whole time I kept thinking, “I’m allowed to drink right now and United can’t tell me not to! Ha ha ha ha, no one can stop me from drinking!”   The only person I had to consult about my alcohol itinerary was the restaurant’s helpful sommelier.

Before we flew back to California, The Husband and I decided to purchase a few bottles of wine we’d sampled in Orvieto so we could relive our fabulous trip whenever we wanted.  I was imagining the ridiculously expensive Italian bottles smiling at me from a premier spot on our wine rack, and I was already thinking about hosting a small dinner party where they could be the guests of honor.

Even though I didn’t think I had room for anything else in my carry-on bag, I somehow managed to bring back a bad case of the flu. I was absurdly queasy, so I went to the doctor to get antibiotics almost immediately.

“Great news, MOV!” she grinned after doing several tests, “You’re pregnant!”

(“Misses Orvieto Vineyard”)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

458. Bank Robber

My ATM/ debit card number was just stolen.  Thieves emptied out over $980 (that I know about so far).  My account is currently frozen.  Now I have to close my account, get a new card and new checks, file a report against the stolen charges in person at my branch, get the overdraft fees reversed, and have my boss at work cancel direct deposit of my paychecks. 

Nothing funny about that. 

("Mastercard Or Visa")

Monday, July 4, 2011

457. Special Order

Short just celebrated his 5th birthday, which called for multiple parties/ planning/ gifts/ guests/ grandparents/ cakes in a week-long extravaganza that made the after-Oscars-parties look like a quiet lunch date. He now believes the term “day” in birthday is merely a helpful suggestion, not an absolute, and he feels “Birthweek” or “Birthsummer” might be more apropos.

Short’s real birthday falls on July 2nd, but we soon discovered that most of our friends choose to celebrate 4th of July by going to the beach for a week over going to a child’s party for two hours. Since we did not want Short to feel like a social pariah, we opted to have his party a week before all his friends left on vacation.

He invited everyone he knew. They all showed up. They played in the yard and ate homemade cupcakes. Fabulous presents were involved.

In summary, Short’s party was the “It” event in Crazy Town, and possibly the Western Hemisphere.

For the following Saturday (his actual birthday), The Husband informed me that we would be hosting an impromptu encore performance for the grandparents. I didn’t mind too much, until The Husband innocently mentioned the part about cake.

“The cupcakes you made were so delicious. Are you planning to make the same kind again?”

I immediately flashed back to my recent cupcake baking experience:

Scene One:  Happy Mommy Makes Birthday Cupcakes

Scene Two: Tired Mommy Still Not Done Yet

“Sweetie?” I began tentatively, “Uh, what if I just, you know, ordered a cake from the nice bakery we like to go to? Decadent Desserts?”

“But MOV, you’re such a great baker!” he insisted. “Don’t you want to make a special cake for our son’s 5th birthday? He would really love it.”

The Guilt Monster slithered into the room.

“You make the very best cupcakes in the whole world, MOV, everyone says so. You have to make them, if you don’t the universe will collapse and people will cry. Lives will be ruined, and some people might lose their jobs. Or die. A lot.”

But I knew exactly how to make the Guilt Monster retreat:


“No, Short wouldn’t love it?” asked The Husband, confused.

“No, I don’t want to make them. I’m exhausted. I can’t do all this twice in a row.”

“But …”

“No. Forget it. I’ll take Short to the bakery tomorrow and he can order whatever he likes.” The Guilt Monster lay in a withered, lifeless heap on the living room rug. I stepped over him, careful not to trip.

The next day, as promised, I took Short to the bakery.

“Pick out whichever kind of cake you like, Short, and hand the nice lady Pop’s credit card.”

“Any kind? Out of all these choices?” His eyes lit up. “Can I have … lemon?”

“Sure, lemon is fine. Whatever you like.” I smiled at Short while his blue eyes reflected the myriad sugar-filled concoctions from behind the bakery glass.

“No, I mean strawberry,” he corrected.

“Sounds great!” I cheered, “Strawberry it is.”

“I changed my mind, Mommy, strawberry is yucky. I like vanilla.”

I wondered if indecisiveness was a four-year-old trait that would hopefully be outgrown by Saturday.

“Sweetie, time to make up your mind. The lady is waiting. Tell her what you want.”

“I’ll have lemon chiffon with layers of meringue inside, alternating with raspberry, and coated in white fondant icing, with blue piping, and maybe some car decorations, please.”

He was most definitely the child of a Virgo.

We handed over the credit card and took our receipt. On the top of the receipt in red letters it read, “Sat—3 PM.”

The big day appeared, and so did the Guilt Monster. “You never got Short a present,” said Guilt Monster guilt-inducingly. “Throwing the party doesn’t count.”

I zipped out to Target to find a small gift for Short. Guilt Monster clicked his seatbelt in place. “What are you doing back there?” I asked, glaring at him in my rearview mirror. “If you’re going to go with me, you might as well sit up front.”

“Ha!” Guilt Monster half-laughed, “You know I can’t backseat drive from the front seat. I’m fine back here.”

Forty-five minutes and $60 later, I returned home with a Hot Wheels truck set. It was already 4:50 PM, and the bakery was going to close at 5.

“MOV, did you pick up the cake while you were out?” queried The Husband.

“No, uh, I’ll dash out and grab it right now.” Guilt Monster volunteered to drive.

We pulled up just as the girl was closing the front door.

CanIgetmycake?” I asked, breathless.

“Is it prepaid? Do you have your receipt?”

“Yes, here it is.”

She looked at it, then disappeared to the back kitchen.

She returned a moment later holding a square white box tied neatly with a tan ribbon.

“Here you go,” she said, handing me the box. “I hope your daughter loves it!”

Son,” I corrected.  Who in their right mind would name their daughter Short?  Short was obviously a boy's name. 

“Okay, well, happy birthday to him then.”

By the time I got back to the house, The Husband’s parents were already there. Short was opening yet another round of gifts. I snuck past him and hurriedly put the white box in our extra refrigerator in the garage.

After dinner, it was time for cake. The Husband brought the bakery box in and asked where our glass cake stand was.

“It should be in the pantry; I’ll take care of it,” I began, “You just go sit down with everyone.”

“Did you get candles?”

I wasn’t sure if The Husband said that or the Guilt Monster, but I did have candles so they both left.

I took a damp paper towel and quickly wiped down the glass cake stand, internally congratulating myself on yet another wise purchase from the high-end kitchen store. We used this cake stand for every birthday, party, holiday, and special occasion that popped up. It was lovely and elegant, and made me feel like Martha Stewart.

I heard The Husband chatting with his parents in the dining room. He had already cleared all the dinner dishes and was laying out the dessert plates and forks, one by one.

I wondered to myself if we had any doilies. A paper lace doily would really make the cake look fantastic on the special cake stand. I thought I might have a few in the bottom drawer. Then I caught myself: this was for my little BOY’S party. I vetoed the doily idea as too feminine.

I set the blue birthday candles on the counter, including a big neon green “5” candle.  I cut the ribbon with my kitchen scissors, peeled the tape off the bakery box with my fingernail, and carefully lifted up the lid. Inside was one of the most beautiful and elaborate cakes I had ever seen.

I gasped for air. I felt exactly like that time when I walked into the Men’s Room by mistake when I was ten: wrong place, wrong time, wrong gender.

My brain was swimming with questions: Why hadn’t I looked at the cake when I was at the bakery? What was I going to do now? Who the hell was Daniella and why did she have a white unicorn fetish?

I could hear my impatient family members rustling around in the next room. I could glimpse Short’s sweet expectant face. How on Earth was I going to explain this to him? Should I just announce the truth: Mommy screwed up and got the wrong cake?

I did the only thing I could: nothing.

It was absolutely too late to fix this ordeal, so the best I could do was scrape off Daniella’s name and hope for the best.  The little white unicorns looked so very Disney princess—I winced. Perhaps it would be an improvement if I removed those.  After I attempted to take a few off, I realized the baker had cemented them in fairly well and I was just smearing more black and pink icing everywhere. I stuck them back in as well as I could.

“MOV?  Is everything okay in there?” called out my mother-in-law.

“Just lighting the candles!” I cried, looking around for Guilt Monster to take the blame. Not surprisingly, he had vanished.

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you,” I began to sing, praying for this all to be a really bad dream or at least over soon, “Happy birthday, dear Short …”

Everyone was singing and clapping. The Husband had turned off the lights so the candles would show up better. No one could tell just yet that the cake I was trying to pass off for my son’s 5th birthday was a Pepto-Bismol Pinkarama Unicornfest.

I finally set the cake down in front of Short, and then my father-in-law turned the lights back on.

Everyone in the room gasped as Short got his first good look at the cake his devoted Mommy had lovingly taken him to the bakery to special order.

“Mommy!” he shrieked. “This is not the cake I ordered!

I held my breath for a million seconds.  No one spoke. 

“This! Is! So! Much! Better! It is a raspberry-flavored Pokemon Killing Horse Level 5! Legendary! Killing! Death Star Millennium! That is the rarest one, right, Tall?”

Tall was in such awe and disbelief at the confectionery monstrosity before him, he didn’t know what to say.

“Yeah,” he murmured, “yeah.”

“Mommy, thank you!  I love Pokemon! How did you know? Did you tell the bakery lady to do this? This is the best birthday ever!”

The Guilt Monster shrugged, and turned to leave. I gave him a small piece of cake to go.

("Meringue Or Vanilla?")