Wednesday, June 29, 2011

452. Picture Perfect

So Father’s Day was over a week ago, and in MOV-Procrastiland I thought that today I still had plenty of time to get a nice present for The Husband. What better gift than a professional photo of our two sons, maybe even in black and white, sepia tones, or not-hitting-each-other hues.

I told the boys first thing this morning what our Action Plan was (that is special lingo I picked up at the high-end kitchen store, it means “plan of action”). I informed them they would need to put on a very nice outfit of my choosing and comb their hair for once. I was laying the groundwork for unhappiness: mine, theirs, and the unsuspecting minimum-wage mall photographer.

First, Tall decided to take a shower using all of the city’s water supply, and possibly the entire state’s as well. I thought this was a teenager trait, or a girl trait, but apparently it’s a stall-long-enough-and-mom-might-forget-about-photos tactic. When he finally stepped out of the shower, it was almost 3 PM. We were running out of time.

I selected a jaunty navy and white checkered shirt that would be making its debut wardrobe performance with khaki shorts for Tall, and a bright green polo with an adorable pristine white sweater vest and navy shorts for Short. The theme was preppy/ uncomfortable/ Martha’s Vineyard wannabes. Short was none too thrilled about wearing a sweater vest in 95 degree heat, but hey—we all must suffer in the name of fashion.

After much bribery involving promises of bakery cupcakes with sprinkles, and stops at the Lego store at the mall after the photos, we were at our front door, keys in hand. At this very moment, a tiny (smart) angel tapped on my shoulder and said,

“MOV, don’t you think you’d better Google this photography place and find out their hours and prices first?”

I zipped upstairs to the computer and clicked a couple of keys. Sure enough, the mall photographer had closed up shop permanently. (I immediately felt a pang of guilt: Did they quit because of the horrible ruckus Tall and Short caused last time we went there, you know, the time they broke all their darling props of sailboats and wagons, and that super-expensive camera was “accidentally” knocked over?)

What should I do now? The boys were standing in our front entry hall, looking the cutest they’ve looked, well, probably ever. I could not waste this cuteness. I’d found another photography place online, but it was an hour drive away. By the time we got there, I knew the boys’ (temporary) good moods would unravel.

I did the only thing I could: grabbed my camera.

“Boys, good news!” I announced, as if I was about to tell them they’d won the lottery. “We don’t have to go to the photo place now!”

“WHAT?” Short was outraged. “But you promised us cupcakes and Legos!”

Where was that smart (stupid) angel now? I was going to have to think of something fast.

“I know, I know,” I said, buying time, “You will still get treats, uh, mystery surprise treats! I just need you to cooperate and pose for photos in the yard instead.”

“Wait, our yard?” asked Tall with obvious disdain. He said the words our yard like you might say raw sewage.

“What’s wrong with our yard? We have a nice yard. Let’s go.”

We went out the back door and I started scouting potential Kodak moment spots. I consider myself to be an excellent amateur photographer, so I was quite concerned with the location of the sun and the shadows it was casting.

I’d like to tell you I got the perfect shot in the first two minutes. I’d like to say that the boys cooperated and actually enjoyed the experience. Both of those statements would be outright lies.

We were instantaneously eaten alive by mosquitoes and swarmed by gnats. This was not part of my Action Plan. Short dutifully turned his lips up and approximated a “cheerful” look, all the time he was probably telling himself, “Mystery treats! I will get mystery treats!”

Tall, however, would not hide his growing irritation.

“This is so stupid, Mom! Why are we doing this? Pop already knows what we look like.” Then, through clenched teeth, “Ugh, these bugs are killing me! I hate these bugs!”

I captured several lovely shots where he is swatting at some invisible thing and ends up hitting his brother in the nose. Yes, these candids are the real deal.

The mystery treats for their “cooperation” turned out to be a trip to the neighborhood toy store to scope out the latest Pokemon cards. Next, we went to our favorite local diner to order old-fashioned milkshakes. The restaurant was air-conditioned and not crowded. Tall started telling us silly jokes and laughing. His laughter was contagious, and soon Short and I were giggling, too.

As I looked at their genuine happy smiles, I had only one thought: Great, my camera’s in the car.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

451. I Love My Job

I love my job. Not sort of like, it’s okay, I guess I’ll go if I have to, but LOVE. I bounce out of bed in the morning, and if it happens to be a day that I am scheduled at the high-end kitchen store (I only work there part-time), then I am already super-excited. Work! Yay! Sincerely! Yay!

Other people (The Husband for one, my sister Oakley for another) seem flabbergasted by this revelation:

Me: I love my job!

Oakley: That’s nice, why—because you get a discount?

Me: Well, the discount is good, but I just love going there.

Oakley: You love going to the kitchen store? But you don’t even cook.

Me: I know! But it’s a really fun place to work! The products are great, the customers are great, the people I work with are great …

Oakley: My job is going okay right now, but I’m still applying for 16 other jobs that I might like better.

Me: I’m not! I love this one!

I have always loved every job I’ve ever had. Even what other people would consider the bad ones. There is just something very gratifying about getting ready for work, clocking in, and doing a good job at something you enjoy.

In high school, I adored my job as a restaurant hostess. Pacifica Moon was a very elegant restaurant right on the ocean, and it was the kind of place where you make your reservation two months in advance and tip the guy who parks your car $20. I loved working there. Every time I would walk the happy customers to their table (“Watch out, there’s a step down right here,”) I would get to stare at the waves lapping up on the windows. Another great perk was I got to eat a gourmet meal every night. For free. This is quite compelling when you are 16 and flat broke and get home too late to enjoy a meal your mom made for your siblings.

In college, I worked as a bank teller for Bank of America. I was passionate about my job. I became obsessed with lining up all the bills in my till facing the exact same direction, and pretending the money was really all mine. I also became obsessed with the “mutilated” bills.

We were required to pull out any dollars that were torn, taped, had holes in them, excessive writing on them, had gone through someone’s laundry five times, or were otherwise old and worn out. It didn’t matter if it was George Washington’s face on the front or Benjamin Franklin’s, if it was mutilated, it had to go. (The bank would send them back to the Mint and be reimbursed.) You would give the manager, Tammy, all your mutilated bills secured together by a metal paperclip, and she would give you an official-looking green slip of paper with the words “Exchange for damaged bills” at the top. She would scribble the amount ($687) on the pre-printed green paper and you put the paper in the till in lieu of the cash so you would balance at the end of your shift.

I am a card-carrying uber-Virgo, which means I like things neat and pristine. I gave Tammy any bills that were not only torn, taped, or written on with marker … I also attempted to exchange any bills that I considered “too wrinkled or bent.”

“No, MOV,” Tammy would say in that exasperated tammy-tone of hers for the 800th time that week, “these bills are not mutilated enough to turn in. They’re fine.” She would hand the stack back to me, and I would attempt to trade them later with Don, who was the next teller over.

“Hey, Don,” I’d say sweetly, “Can I get a couple rolls of quarters from you? And, oh, yeah, do you mind trading $687?”

I only lasted one summer there (“It’s not you, MOV, I swear, it’s just we have waaaaay too many tellers right now,”) which was kind of like having the guy you’re dating break up with you, even though you already knew he was never really crazy about you to begin with. It still hurt.

My rebound job was at a department store. Another job in my long list of jobs I loved. I worked for the now-defunct I.Magnin, which was similar to Saks or Neiman’s. Everything was very beautiful and very expensive: it was the perfect job for a Virgo.

I liked to walk past the dress department and pet the silk dresses while pretending I was just smoothing them or arranging them by size to be helpful. I liked to pick up the Lalique crystal vases and guess the price before I flipped one over to read the tag ($2049—right, again!). But mostly I loved the shoe department.

I would go into the shoe stockroom on my break, and try on shoes. The average shoe price was $600 (per shoe). I would put on the magenta suede lace-ups from France and pretend I was a super-model, just like I used to play dress-up in my mother’s closet, until Sheila, the shoe manager, would come back and tell me to put everything away and stop trying all those shoes on if I was never going to buy any.

I worked there off and on for three years, and even though I could never afford to buy the shoes, I nonetheless loved every second of it.

When I got out of college, I still did not find what my parents, or any of their friends, or any of my friends for that matter, would consider to be a “real” job: I worked at a gym. I was the front desk girl, and I (surprise!) loved my job. I loved getting there at 5 AM when it was still dark out, I loved getting the just-delivered clean white towels out of the clear bags and setting them in neat stacks by the entrance, I loved turning on the music and being the one who decided what we were all going to listen to and at what volume.

I also loved that I had a free membership at the best, most expensive gym in town, and that I could work out any time I wanted. Which was all the time.

I lasted at that job one year. Other gym rats constantly asked me “What event are you training for?” while I caught sight of my perfectly chiseled size 4 body in the mirror and said, “Discus.” 

Next job on the list was the fancy jewelry store, Shine. I loved working at Shine. I had upgraded from pretending Bank of America’s money was all mine to pretending the Patek Philippe watches and 11 carat cushion-cut ruby rings with baguette diamonds were mine. I never tired of trying on all the jewelry, sometimes all at once. If we were having a slow day, I would rearrange the window displays a thousand times, always clicking the window shut with the old-fashioned brass key and a satisfying loud “click.”

I loved the fact that I was only 23, and yet I had the keys to a million dollar inventory right on the very same key chain as my Toyota Camry and my $500/ month rental apartment. Richard (the owner) trusted me.

At the same time I worked for Shine, I was applying for a job as a flight attendant. I thought it would be fun to travel and get paid for it. After interviewing with four different airlines, Continental ultimately called me back.

“MOV? We’d like to offer you the job. Training starts next Tuesday in Houston, and you will most likely be based in Newark or Denver. Welcome!” Her voice said authority, perky, and well-traveled all at once. I wanted a voice like that.

Is it any surprise that I loved being a flight attendant? I loved working first class, I loved ordering room service in the nice hotels, I loved going to musicals or museums or one-of-a-kind shops on my layovers. I even enjoyed setting up the back galley on an MD-80 on a short flight and serving scalding cold soup at 35,000 feet.

After I was furloughed due to the economy, I applied to work at the front desk of a boutique hotel.

I was crazy about that job. The hotel was a historical property in Seattle, and a lot of famous people stayed there. I was surrounded by elegance, opulence, rain, and celebrity all day long.

I missed the friendly (sunny) skies, however, so I applied to United. They hired me and (wait for it!) I loved this job, too. It was to be my decade-long perfect dream job, and I eventually transferred to the Los Angeles base (after serving brief stints in D.C. and San Francisco).  Even if my flight was delayed five hours, re-routed, or canceled, none of that seemed to matter when I'd be sitting on the beach a week later on my Maui trip. 

When I finally became a mom, I quit flying to stay home with my first son. I never regretted my decision, although I did miss my flight passes and my interaction with adults.  So, when my younger son was just over a year old, I decide to get a part-time job at the high-end kitchen store. Which I love.

I am always mildly shocked if someone confesses to me that they hate their job. Really? Then why do you work there? Life is too short to be unhappy.

I woke up last night in a cold sweat. I was dreaming that I was one of the dolphin trainers at Sea World and I couldn’t remember the commands for the dolphins. They were swimming away from me and I started to cry, ruining my waterproof make-up. I tried everything I could think of to get them to cooperate, including promising them crisp $100 bills and free first class tickets to Sydney. The dolphins suddenly disappeared altogether, and the next thing I knew, I was in the police station, still in my scuba gear. I overheard the police in the next room talking about how I might have to go to jail for making the dolphins disappear. Then, one of the officers mentioned something about contacting a special Dolphin Detective.

Huh, I thought to myself in my very coherent dream state, Dolphin Detective. I’ll bet I would love that job.

(“Multiple Optimistic Vocations”)

Monday, June 20, 2011

445. Sex Ed 101

I knew that my sons and I would have to have the awkward sex talk at some point. I just didn’t expect it to be this morning at breakfast. And I didn’t expect it to be with the four-year-old.

“Mommy,” he began innocently enough, “How did I get to be a baby?”

I cleverly bought some time by choking on my toast.  “Uh,” (cough, cough) “What?”

“You know, a baby? Was I an egg first?”

(Feeling fairly comfortable with this rudimentary explanation) “Yes, yes, that's it.  You were an egg.” Smiles all around.

“Uh, huh,” murmured Short, while staring intently at his older brother eating scrambled eggs, “How did I get in your tummy? Did you eat me?”

More choking. More toast crumbs spewing across the table.

“No, Short, I did not eat you.”

“Then how did I get in your tummy?”

Long pause.  Too long.  “God put you there.” 

(He seemed happy with this answer.)

“Okay. Hmm ... how did I get out?”

“The doctor got you out.”

His eyes lit up. “Oh! You went to the doctor’s office, and he got me out!”


I was really wishing it was a Saturday or Sunday and that The Husband was there to help me with this.  And that’s why I won’t make scrambled eggs for breakfast anymore during the week.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

443. One-Night Stand

I am a commitment kind of girl. I went to the same hairdresser for 15 years, I worked for United Airlines for a decade, I have been a lifelong devotee of Baskin-Robbins mint-chip ice-cream. So it came as somewhat of a surprise to all concerned when, barely two years into our marriage, I had a one-night stand.

Oh, sure, The Husband knew about it. He actually introduced us. He subtly encouraged me as we stood there looking at paint chips at Home Depot.

“What about this blue?” he offered enthusiastically. “You said you were attracted to something really bright.”

He held up a paint chip that was the exact shade of ocean and tears and sky and hydrangeas and blue jays all rolled into one. It was cerulean perfection:  I wanted to dive into this color and swim.

“Yes, that’s it!” I cried. “What is the name of that color?”

And thus began my ill-fated and torrid fling with “Big Sky Blue.”

I walked up to the so-called paint expert slash Home Depot employee. I held the chip out for him to admire, like a Princess Diana sapphire engagement ring.

I must have this,” I said, breathless.

He didn’t even question my judgment, or try to stop me, or beg me to reconsider. He just shrugged.

“How much do you need?” he queried.

“I'll take all you’ve got.” I always wanted to say that, like Oprah.

“Uh, I have to custom mix it for you. You need to tell me how much.” He was already bored with me and my newfound Blue partner in life.

I was really really bad at guestimating paint amounts.

“Twenty buckets, uh, I mean cans?” I squeaked, hoping it might be right.

The Husband overheard me. “Hon, I think we need three gallons.”

“Right. Yes. Three gallons should do it.”

“Which room is it for?” asked the clerk, all of sudden being all nosy and in our business. Why did he care now? Was he planning to copy my decorating brilliance in his own house?

“Kitchen,” I said proudly. “We are looking to make a statement.”

Oh, it will make a statement all right. A statement of what the hell were you thinking,” he mumbled under his breath.

“Excuse me?” 

“I said, do you want an egg-shell or satin finish?” he replied. 

“Uh … satin?” How was I supposed to know? Why did buying paint have to be like being a contestant on Jeopardy?

“Okay,” he said robotically.

He grabbed a couple buckets of paint off the shelf behind him, and shook them. I watched him key top secret code numbers into the computer to achieve the correct formulation for “Big Sky Blue.” He opened the first paint can up and set it under some sort of metal tubes where the pigment drips into the base color of white.

Now, I had studied art in school for one whole semester, so I knew that different shades are mixed together to create the perfect color. I was waiting for burgundy to drip in, or a hint of yellow, perhaps some black for depth, and maybe a touch of green. No. All that dripped in was blue, blue, and more blue. When the paint bucket was full, my corneas were already sizzling.

“Sir, stop!” I pleaded before he had a chance to open the second can. I was immediately regretting this dalliance with an unfamiliar color. “Uh, uh, let me just buy one gallon of paint to, uh, to make sure it looks okay.”

“No problem.” He was still uninterested in my now-faltering relationship with Blue.

Maybe it will look better when it's up on the wall, I kept telling myself on the short drive home. To The Husband I said, “I adore that color!”

We immediately got to work cutting in and rolling. The paint was like a neon assault on all our senses. If that color blue had been a noise instead of a color, it would be a jet-engine vacuuming at a rock concert while jack-hammering and simultaneously holding a crying baby.

And that was just the first coat.

“Oh, dear,” I groaned, “I’m not so sure about this ‘Big Sky Blue’ after all.  What do you think?”

The Husband took off his sunglasses for a moment to study the color. “Maybe it will dry darker?” he said helpfully.

Nothing he could say would console me. We started calling “Big Sky Blue” “Big Mistake Blue.”

“How late is Home Depot open?” I asked The Husband tentatively.

“I think until 11?”

I grabbed my purse. “Let’s go.”

I now realized that my fling with “Big Mistake Blue” was destined to be only a one-night stand, a fluorescent memory of good intentions gone very wrong.

We pulled into the parking lot of Home Depot at 10:55 PM. We zipped into the paint department just in time before they turned out the lights. I thrust a paint chip at the beleaguered employee, and said,

“I’ll take three buckets of ‘Barely Beige,’ please.”

(“Mauve, Orange, Violet”)

Monday, June 13, 2011

438. How to Not Lose Your Luggage

When I was 13, we went to Switzerland. My mom had parlayed a decade of frequent flier miles, three savings accounts, and a lifelong dream of spending Christmas in the Alps into a sublime and snowy white reality. So, even though we were not the type of people who jet off to Switzerland for two weeks, that particular December we jetted off to Switzerland for two weeks.

There's something you should know about my mother: she is not a very good packer. If you asked her directly, she would scoff and say, “Why would MOV say that! I'm a fabulous packer.” Truth be told, her motto is “I might need it, so I'd better bring it with me.” If that motto fails her, her other motto is, “More is better than less.” If informed she can only have two mottoes, she’ll dig in her bottomless tote and locate several more mottoes, like “Always be prepared,” and “Why spend money if I already own a black sweater/ scarf/ pair of skis? I’ll just squeeze it in.”

We had a dozen family members and friends on our scenic journey through Switzerland, and they all shared my mom’s packing philosophy: “Bring it!” Now, this would be fine if, say, we were going to hang out in Zurich for 14 days, but my mom (accompanied by a large stack of travel guides and related magazines) had mapped out a trip so schizophrenically full it made the Tour de France look like a leisurely stroll to the corner store. If the city or town had a castle/ chocolate factory/ ski slope/ historic museum in it, it made the itinerary.

We stayed in 10 places in 14 days: this made for a lot of packing/ unpacking/ and re-packing.

I didn’t know at the time that I would someday evacuate a simulated burning airplane full of flight attendant new hires-in-training; it was not even on my radar that I would own a photo badge that read, “In-flight. ID # 9277640. LAX-based.” But prior to that Swiss vacation, I showed blossoming talent at packing.  I rearranged the contents of my suitcase on my bed over and over, being ruthless in determining what I could take.  I brought only one small bag.

Instead of my fellow family members looking to me as the good example of Bag Packing 101, they viewed my “traveling light” as an opportunity: MOV’s bringing just one bag! That means I can bring five bags because her hands are free to carry more!

You already know the Swiss are famous for their trains. The trains are clean, well-appointed, and above all, punctual. The joke is, you could set a watch by a Swiss train. We took the trains everywhere, along with our 72 suitcases.

Now, my poor beleaguered step-father, Doug, was in charge of any additional suitcases that anyone (read: everyone) might need assistance with.  He was solely responsible to get the suitcases from whatever train we were disembarking, then through the snow, up the stairs, across eight platforms, down the stairs, and onto the new train departing in six minutes. In 20 below zero degree temperatures.  Poor Doug.

A week and a half into our postcard-perfect vacation, we had the whole wake-up/ eat breakfast/ pack/ taxi/ train/ change trains/ check-in at new hotel thing down to a science. Doug kindly lined up the bags upon arrival as if we were on a royal tour.

“MOV,” he said slightly worn out and impatient on about the 11th day of our trip, “Please get your bags and take them up to your hotel room.” He was pointing to two large blue bags that no one had claimed yet.  

“Those aren’t mine,” I shrugged. “They must be Mimi’s.”

Mimi was enjoying hot chocolate next to the fire in a grand public lounge area overlooking the mountains. “No, I already unpacked.”

Next, the bags were given to my younger sister Oakley. “Dad,” she said, laughing, “You already brought my bags in. Remember? I gave you a five dollar tip this time.”

One by one, we were consulted by Doug and reprimanded for forgetting our bags in the lobby. One by one we told him that we already had our bags, thankyouverymuch, and can we have another chocolate bar before dinner?

Doug was losing his mind. He called an emergency meeting of the entire group, including my mom’s cousin Brenda already in her flannel checkered pajamas and wooly Santa Claus socks. All of us stood in the ice-cold lobby shivering and staring at the two mystery bags.

“Are you absolutely sure they’re not yours?” he prompted my mom.

“Doug, I think I know what my own suitcases look like.”

A million seconds went by. We could hear the tick-tick-tick of the synchronized Swiss clocks in the lobby.

Finally, my younger brother (age five) spoke up for the first time:

“Maybe we should read the name-tags on the suitcases?” he offered helpfully. Clearly he was the genius in the family.

Doug approached the first bag cautiously, as though it might contain a nuclear bomb and explode at any moment, like in a Tom Cruise movie. (Keep in mind, Doug had been lugging these two bags all around Switzerland for the past 11 days, but now they were suddenly a code-red danger to us all.) He poked at it tentatively.  Ultimately, he flipped over the tag. It read:

“Nena News,” he said glumly. “Is anyone here named Nena News?”

He said it with a delicate snowflake glimmer of hope, as though one of us might possibly have a secret identity that we had been hiding from him for two weeks (or perhaps a lifetime), even though he was also responsible for all our passports and would already be aware of any aliases we might be traveling under.

Brenda, always the one to see humor in a given situation, started laughing. “Poor Nena!” she howled, “Has she been wearing the same outfit all this time?” Tears were streaming down Brenda's face.

We were all laughing in that punchy-not-enough-sleep-too-many-trains kind of way. Nena, Nena, Nena News! We inadvertently stole your suitcases!

In between giggles, my little brother was once again the voice of reason. “How will we get Nena back his bags?”

“I think Nena is a ‘she’, Sweetie, not a ‘he’,” said my mother, wiping the tears out of her mascara.  She was still heaving with laughter.

Doug, ever practical, rubbed his head, chuckled, and said, “I sincerely hope she wasn’t here on work and had some important meeting or presentation or something. That would be tough.”

“You know what’s tough?” I couldn’t help myself, “Carrying someone else’s suitcases for two weeks, someone who’s not even in your group!”

I felt sorry for Nena. Her suitcases had gone to castles and ski resorts, while she was probably still arguing with some uniformed airline representative about its whereabouts and her necessary compensation.

You’d think that the whole experience would have made me more compassionate toward my future United Airlines passengers who would complain to me about their lost bags, but no.

“We never lose bags,” I'd explain matter-of-factly, “The real problem is theft.”

("My Original Vacation")

Sunday, June 12, 2011

437. Why They Hired Me

I work part-time at a high-end kitchen store. I originally applied for the job because I thought being around all those cooking gadgets would magically transform me into a chef, like osmosis. Instead, it transformed my checkbook into a single digit wasteland, and my kitchen into a repository of useless kitchen gadgets. People come into our store for cooking advice, and I have none.  The best I can do is say, “You should buy this—it’s pretty!” and then they inevitably ask, “But is it chip-resistant?”

I never have the right answer to those complicated questions.

Today, I was helping a customer with knives. After he’d looked at a few, he politely said, “I’ll think about it,” which is the retail equivalent of “I’ll call you.”

He walked away from me, and I turned to walk the other way to approach another customer. Now, this is the part where I tell you I’m not klutzy. Not klutzy, not ever. Very graceful, in fact. I took ballet lessons for many years during my childhood. Most people—friends, neighbors, UPS guy, Starbucks barista, whoever—would say, if you asked, that the animal I am most like is a gazelle.

So it came as somewhat of a shock when I knocked over an entire display tower of cast iron Le Creuset pans. That’s right, an Eiffel Tower of very expensive Le Creuset came crashing to the ground in an angry clatter due to your truly.

It was not one of my prouder moments. But the funny thing is: as soon as I bumped into it and I knew that the entire thing was about to collapse, I did nothing to stop it. It teetered for about two seconds, and I realized I could either try super-hard to save all the pans and end up with 10 Le Creuset pots pummeling me from all directions (have you picked one of these up? they’re very heavy), or I could jump out of the way and hope for the best.

Guess which option I chose?

You know how sometimes something bad is happening to you and it’s almost like it’s not even happening to you, but actually to someone else?

That’s what that moment was.

I was watching myself, like watching an actor in a play, and wondering what would happen next:
  • Would the girl/ star/ me be severely injured (perhaps brain-damaged, killed, or permanently humiliated) by the rogue Le Creuset pans?
  • Would some heroic customer/ angel/ alien jump in to save her/ Reese Witherspoon/ MOV?
  • Would the Hollywood sound stage be able to accurately reproduce the type of sound that 10 Le Creuset pans make when dropped simultaneously?

People five states away heard the pans fall. Immediately afterwards, CNN reported a minor earthquake in our area, but we knew the truth.

If this sort of thing had happened to me at home, I could do what I do best: blame my young sons. The thought crossed my mind, but I realized they weren’t at work with me. I couldn’t blame the customer, I couldn’t blame the earthquake (we don’t even live in California); I had to think fast.

The Boss saw the disarray of pans, and she was approaching quickly. I could see a genuine look of concern on her face.  I'm sure my face registered adequate concern for the (broken) merchandise as well.

What would I say? What would Reese say?

“I’m sorry,” I squeaked out.

She asked if I was okay, and then she helped me scoop up the pans. One by one, we inspected them all: they were fine. Only the tea kettle that had been at the very top of the tower was chipped and had to be thrown away, but everything else was pristine.

The Boss held up the last pan to put back in the tower. “MOV,” she said, “Amazingly, this one’s fine, too! You know, I think this might be a very attractive selling feature: chip resistant.”

Yep, that’s why they hired me: product testing.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

436. Tall's Summer Plans

After my Summer Phobia post, my BBF (best blogger friend) contacted me. “MOV,” she typed helpfully, “I have a great idea for you! You and your kids can write down fun activities and then choose a different one every day! Your summer will fly by, and you’ll all get a lot out of it.” She signed off with a cute little smiley face. =)

Her idea sounded very very Martha Stewart to me. I was 100% on board. Yesterday over breakfast, I started to tell my seven-year-old son, Tall, about the concept.

Me:  So my friend mentioned a cool thing that we can do! We all write down ideas of things we would like to do this summer! Then, we can look over the lists and choose things together!

Tall:  Wait, what is this for?

Me:  For us. For the summer. We all come up with ideas of fun things, then we write them down and decide which ones to do. That way, everyone—

Tall:  Nope. I don’t want to do fun things.

Me:  (puzzled) What?

Tall:  (suspicious) Who gave you this idea?

Me:  My friend.


Me:  So, like I was saying, Tall, you can tell me what you want to do, and I guess I can help you write it down?

Tall:  I’ll think about it, and let you know tomorrow.

Me:  Let me know the fun things you want to do?

Tall:  Let you know if I want to participate.

That afternoon after school, Tall asked me to help him with something.

“Mom,” he said sweetly, “I need to write your name here in cursive.”


“Because, uh, you know how I want to learn cursive? I can practice by writing your name.” He smiled up at me, big gummy holes where his teeth should be.

Honestly, I was flattered. My name! He didn’t ask me to write out the entire alphabet, he just wanted to practice his own mother’s name! This pretty much erased his negative attitude from earlier.

He handed me a piece of paper that was folded down in some strange way (I didn’t notice this important clue at the time), and I wrote in my best loopy script, “MOV.”

Later that evening, my neighbor came over to babysit the boys so The Husband and I could go out to a rare dinner by ourselves.

The next morning, I noticed this little gem taped to the TV cabinet:

I don’t know which was more impressive: his budding forgery skills or his preferred choice of summer activity.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

434. I'm A Professional Photographer

When I was seven, I was the proud owner of a 110 camera. I had begged my father for one for months, and like spilling national secrets during Chinese water torture, he gave in just to get me to stop pestering him.

I knew the perfect place to use my brand new fancy 110 camera: Sea World. My parents were divorced, and my father would drive down to San Diego to spend the day with me. He made sure to cram seven weeks of fun into a seven-hour visit, so our schedule was always filled with educational activities and exciting adventures. Sea World was at the top of our list: the famous killer whale Shamu, dancing seals, jumping dolphins, the Sparkletts water fountain show, and those show-offy flamingos.

My father was very good with boundaries and limits. When we arrived at Sea World, we had a little “chat” about my camera.

“MOV,” he said, not unkindly, “I know you are excited about your new camera. Film is expensive though. I have bought you one roll of film with 36 shots; that should be more than enough. When it’s done, it’s done. Don’t expect me to buy more film today. Don’t take lots of wasted pictures, choose carefully.”

I was sort of paying attention, like when the teacher announces you have a test on Friday, but oh look, Denise brought in her new rainbow troll! My second-grade brain focused on all the important words like, “New camera! … Film! … More! … Expect me to buy more film! Take lots of ... pictures!”

I was ready to go.

As we walked through the parking lot, we approached a Hallmark moment of a family of ducks. There was the mama and six fluffy babies waddling along behind her. They were so cute! I had to have a picture. Wow, were they fast. I'd better take another one to make sure I captured the moment just right.

My father walked past me to the ticket booth to pay. It was a long line, but I didn’t mind because I was Ansel Adams documenting the mecca of wildlife here at the Sea World parking lot. One of the ducks flew up six inches in the air. Got the shot! Another duckling stopped to get a pesky bug off its coat. Got it! Two “lost” ducklings appeared out of nowhere to join their mama, I needed a few photos of the dramatic reunion.

My father turned around to hand me my ticket. Right then, my camera made a horrible grinding noise when I tried to wind it.

“Oh, no!” I gasped, “I think my new camera’s broken!” I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. What kind of defective camera were we stuck with?

My father leaned down to inspect the camera.

“Let me have a look,” he said helpfully. He did magic dad stuff, like trying to wind it again, and then he laughed. “Oh, you're just out of film.” He shrugged.

What? Out of film? How was that possible? Had I really taken 36 pictures of ducks?

My father was true to his word. No more film. I carried my little 110 camera along all day, dangling from my wrist, mocking me.

Camera cried out, “Oh, look, MOV, Shamu! Jumping out of the water 25 feet up to touch the graduation hat! Maybe you should get this shot!”

“MOV, look!” camera said a little while later at the next show, “Twelve dolphins jumping out of the water and flipping simultaneously in spiral formation with red and blue lights! This might make a good photo!”

I was enjoying the shows, but I knew I would be enjoying them more if only I could take 500 photos.

Going up in the 100-foot tall Pan Am viewing tower pushed me to the brink. We had expansive views of the entire park below and the city of San Diego beyond. I was desperate to take a photo.

“Dad-eeeeeeeeee?” I asked in the saccharine voice synonymous with I-am-going-to-hit-you-up-for-something-again, “can I pleeeeeeeze have another roll of film?”

“MOV, we talked about this. The answer is no. Please don’t ask again.” His tone said: End of subject.

We walked past gift stands set up all around Sea World (including the base of the viewing tower), all selling 110 film. So much unused potential!

As I ate my chocolate ice-cream cone, I thought about those stupid ducks. How dare the workers of Sea World put them right by the front entrance waiting to be photographed by hapless seven-year-olds! What kind of perverse game was Sea World playing with me?

My father never gave in. He was attempting to teach me a lesson in restraint.

I came across the forgotten developed roll of film the other day. It was in the small blue envelope from the drug store, and in my father’s messy scrawl read: “Sea World, 1975.” There was one photo of a car tire and 35 photos of nondescript blurry brown ducks dissolving into the background of brown bushes.

In the same envelope, I discovered five faded postcards: Shamu, dolphins, seals, walruses, and the view from the Pan Am tower.

("Memories Of Vacation")

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

433. That Anthropologie Dress

My closet is pretty boring. If it was a flavor, it would be dry wheat toast (without jam). I was looking through it the other day, desperately searching for some morsel of excitement (scone! bagel! brioche!), when I spotted the gourmet chocolate croissant of my closet: the Anthropologie dress.

In a moment that can only be described as “a departure from my financial reality,” I had wandered into the exclusive boutique to browse. A stunning cobalt blue silk dress with a subtle geometric tan pattern beckoned me. I'd walked over cautiously. Huh, size 10: my size. I flipped over the tag:

The final sale price was actually in the realm of my Checkbook Acceptance Program. I couldn’t figure out why no one had snatched up this gorgeous dress yet. I decided to try it on. Back by the fitting rooms, a string quartet was playing and someone was handing out mimosas. The masseuse stepped out of the way so I could scoot past.

The dress made me look tall where I was short, and skinny where I was fat. I petted the smooth fabric, and that’s when I realized what it was really made of: magic. I imagined I was Cindy Crawford and looked this good in everything. I had to have this dress.

There was only one tiny problem. Cleavage. This dress had mistaken me for a Playboy playmate or possibly a hooker, and it dipped down in front lower than I had ever let my college boyfriend go.

But seriously, $39? Anthropologie? Magic silk Cindy Crawford dress?

Maybe I could pin it.

I walked up to the counter to pay. I noticed the salesgirl was wearing a rather low cut top herself.

“I’d like to buy this,” I said, handing her the dress.

“Ohmygosh, I love this! This is so pretty. I tried it on, but I decided not to buy it because it was too …”

Here words hung in the air, like saline implants.

“The dress was too what?” I prompted.

“Too, uh, too …” her face turned a lovely shade of Valentine. “It will look very nice on you.”

I swiped my debit card through the machine while she wrapped my new dress in crinkly silver tissue paper. I could hear my environmentally conscious sister whispering in my ear, “Tell her you don’t need the tissue paper! Save baby whales from forest fires!” But I ignored her green tones and instead asked the girl if I could have extra tissue paper because the dress looked fragile.

And let’s be honest: it was a $499 dress, I deserved a few sheets of tissue paper.

I got home and modeled the dress for The Husband.

“Wow,” he marveled, “Where are you going to wear that?”

“Oh, I dunno, I was thinking maybe work?”

He spit out his coffee. “Hon, it’s a little revealing to wear to work. I can see your bra when you lean over.”

Maybe he was right. The dress languished in the closet for many months, waiting for its crinkly silver opportunity to shine.

This was finally the day. I would wear it to work.

I walked into the high-end kitchen store in my cobalt silk mood-enhancer.

“Great dress!” said one of my co-workers.

“Really great dress!” said some random customer.

“Nice dress!” said the UPS guy who was delivering boxes to the back stockroom.

I was beginning to feel a tad bit self-conscious. Fortunately, we wore aprons at the high-end kitchen store, so I slipped mine over the cobalt dress.

When it was time for my break, I removed my apron, grabbed my magazine, and zipped out to buy a salad at my favorite café. I ordered my usual garden salad, Coke, and a brownie. As the salesclerk grinned at me, I watched him give me the largest brownie from the tray and put extra ice in my drink.

I reached for my purse to pay, but I had forgotten it. Was my purse at the store? In my car? At home? Where was my purse?

“Sir,” I began, “I’m so sorry, but I forgot my wallet. Can you cancel my order?”

He handed me my order anyway. “Don’t worry about it, miss,” he said sweetly, “it’s on the house.” He winked at me.

I think this might be my lucky dress.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

429. That Super-Helpful Flight Attendant

Airlines always pre-board passengers with special needs, such as wheelchair-bound, deaf, elderly, unaccompanied minors, or those traveling with seeing-eye dogs. During our pre-flight briefing in the crew office, flight attendants are given a detailed list of “specials” so we can anticipate the best way to accommodate these passengers. Typically, the crew member who is the “greeter” is the one who assists the special passengers to their seats and gives them a modified briefing before general boarding.

On this particular day, my friend Linda was the greeter. (I was in the galley setting up so I was not the designated one taking the specials to their seats.)  Since we had a lot of specials, and she was already busy briefing three unaccompanied minors, she called me up to help her.

There was a very tall, well-dressed elderly gentleman in a wheelchair. I approached him, introduced myself, and asked if there was any way he could walk at all, maybe just a little bit, so I could guide him to his seat.

“Of course I can!” he replied gruffly. Then he proceeded to stand up.

Obviously, he was fine. Why was he on Linda’s list of specials? He clearly did not need assistance.

But, I was a professional, and Linda had given this passenger to me for a reason. I would smile and help him even if it seemed like he was okay on his own.

“Sir, let me carry your small tote bag for you. Here, let me see what seat number on your ticket. Okay, 32 A. Fantastic! A window seat! I love window seats. All right. Your seat is all the way in the back. Let’s go.”

I took hold of his arm gently, and steered him in front of me in the aisle toward his seat. I was looking at the back of his very tall head.

Now, this specific aircraft was a 757, which is a narrow body (only one aisle). There were TV screens attached to the ceiling all the way from the front of the plane to the back. Due to the age of this plane, the bulky TV screens were permanently affixed in their positions and were not actually designed to retract. In order to clear the TV screens if you were very even of normal height, you would have to duck.

Which this passenger did not.

Oops! Poor guy. He was not paying attention. Probably he was just so excited to be traveling.

“Sir, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he mumbled.

“Good,” I started, “because there is another …”

How could this guy’s family even let him travel alone? He was not bright enough to even avoid a giant TV screen staring him in the face.

This happened three more times.

Now I more fully understood the whole saying about not judging a book by its cover. Here was this guy who appeared totally normal, can walk easily, and I had been judging him. I had no idea about his mental ability (or lack thereof), and now I knew the real reason he needed assistance:  he was mentally challenged.

I finally got him situated and showed him how his seatbelt worked and pointed out the nearest emergency exits for him to use.

“See? You are right by the back galley. The door is right back there. Also, here is the flight attendant call-light if you would like some help with anything.”

He didn’t seem very appreciative. I walked back up to the front of the plane and let Linda know I’d finished getting the so-called “wheelchair” passenger into his seat.

“Thank you for helping me with him,” Linda said, “he seemed really nice.”

Before I had a chance to tell her about all the TV screens, the gate agent walked up.

“Are you ladies ready to board the rest of the passengers now?” he asked.

“Sure,” I replied. 

Just then, the flight attendant call-light went off.  Linda turned to me, then pointed toward seat 32 A at the very back of the plane.

“MOV, I think that’s your passenger calling, the nice gentleman you just helped?” she said, “You know ... the blind one.”