Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 31: Bill Called

Well, Readers, here we are: Day 31. This is it.

On Day 3, I told you a sweet story about a stranger. To close, I'll tell you a STRANGE story about a stranger. Really strange. And creepy. And most of what makes it strange and creepy has to do with how I behaved. So, you have been warned.

I moved to Boston after college at 21, got an apartment with a friend, and started temping to pay my rent. I hoped the temp assignments would lead to a permanent position, but a couple of months in, that didn't seem to be happening. My roommate was working full-time and plenty of noons found me still in my pajamas, eating cereal and staring out at the South End, watching the gainfully employed scurry around. (Remember, children: there were no computers.)

One day, the phone rang, and a man with a mellifluous voice said he was conducting a survey for a lingerie company (he named it; I won't) and could he ask me a few questions in exchange for a box of free samples? I was bored and broke, so I said sure. He was charming but business-like, launching into what seemed like standard boilerplate about my bra and panty preferences and quickly lulling me into an unquestioning state. Now, some of you are already thinking "Are you a total moron?" and I deserve that, Readers. If it makes you feel better, I'll just say "Yes" and we can get on with it. Honestly, I thought he was legit. I don't know why, except that maybe he was just a really, really persuasive actor. There are such people.

We did the question and answer thing for fully 30 minutes, and I didn't get uncomfortable until he asked me my cup size. A tiny alarm bell went off in the distance then. He must have sensed it, because he said smoothly "Thank you so much for your time today. Now I want to tell you something. I don't work for a lingerie company."

I laughed nervously. "Are you doing a psychological experiment?"

"No," he said, still charming. "I like to talk to women. But if I call one and admit that, she gets defensive and angry and hangs up on me. So I found if I made up an elaborate lie and tricked her into talking to me, she would stay on the phone, just like you're doing right now."

I could feel the blood pounding in my ears. I didn't hang up.

"You're not going to hang up, are you?"


"I think I know why. Because then I win. I made a fool of you. If you stay on the phone, you can at least yell at me and tell me I'm a jerk. After all, what do you have to lose? I have no idea what you look like or where you are. Now, I'll be honest: I call women because I hope they'll want to talk to me about sex. But I'm just as happy to talk about whatever you want to talk about, if you don't like that idea."

"I don't like that idea."

"Fine. What would you like to talk about?"

Readers, the next part is hazy because it stands to reason that I don't sharply remember why I decided to stay on the phone with an invasive, lying pervert. Maybe I was bored? Needed to vent about my job search and my loneliness? I really don't know. But talk I did. For about four hours--that time.

His name was Bill, he said. He was a used car salesman with his own business, happily married, four kids. He was a bit worried about his oldest son, who was thinking of dropping out of college. What did I think? How could he convince him to stay in? I told him about my lousy temp jobs. We laughed about them. I told him I didn't like my roommate's girlfriend. I told him anything that popped into my head. He listened.

Every now and again, he'd politely--with no creepy language--ask if I'd reconsidered talking about sex with him. Each time, I'd politely say I hadn't. And then he'd drop it, just like that.

One day, my roommate and her girlfriend came home for a late lunch and found me in my pajamas, talking to Bill. I hurried off the phone and they asked who I'd been talking to. When I told them the story, they laughed but said I was nuts. "But he's so nice!" I said.

"That's what people said about Ted Bundy," said the girlfriend.

To be honest, I never worried about Bill stalking me, or even finding me. Again, this was before the internet. It just seemed like I was a needle in the haystack of a very big city--sure, he'd found my number in the phone book, but our address was unlisted. He called three or four times a week, and we often talked for a long time. I started looking forward to his calls, storing up anecdotes I knew he'd enjoy. I can't defend myself for saying this, but he was a nice guy.

One day, I got a temp job at an advertising agency that quickly turned into a full-time job offer. I didn't hear from Bill for about a week--maybe he was on vacation--and by the time he called again, I wasn't getting home until 6:30 p.m. One night when I came in, my roommate had left a message on the white board:

Bill called.
He says congratulations on the new job.
He'll call tomorrow to hear about your first week.

I stood in the doorway, staring at the note, and something in my brain went "ping!" I'm not sure why it took me a couple of months to have this epiphany, but I suddenly thought:

The mysterious sex-talk man who found me by lying about underwear knows me so well that it's not even weird that my roommate chatted with him about my new job and that he's probably genuinely excited for me.

Everything changed. If I was home alone, I let all calls go to the machine, and if my roommate answered, I told her to say I wasn't there. He couldn't leave a number, or call at night because of his family, so with me working, it was easy to avoid him. And--although this sounds crazy--because he was always polite, he took the hint after about four messages and stopped calling. I truly believe he didn't want to bother me. If I didn't want to talk to him, he would just accept that in the same way he'd always accepted that I didn't want to talk to him about sex.

And that was that. We were two strangers on a first-name-only basis, talking about our lives like we were friends. We met on a prank call, and never once saw each other. One day, we stopped talking. Is that strange? It still seems strange to me.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day 30: Testosterone Trainwrecks

Jarrah went to Spring Break camp today. I thought she might have been a little shy or nervous, but when I picked her up, her adorable counselor told me how great she did. I asked Jarrah about Adorable Counselor--what was his name? "Ummmm....I forget. Oh, CHAT!" Then I heard a bunch more about Chat on the way home.

This morning, I took my car in for a long-overdue oil change, and the man at Midas actually smiled and made eye contact every time he told me something, which was so nice and unusual it freaked me out. Then I went across the street to Starbucks for a change of scenery, and there were two guys fixing drinks and simultaneously auditioning for the reality show "The Boys of Starbucks."

"What'll you have, sweetness?" (Sweetness? Hmmm. I like it better than ma'am.)

"A tall vanilla latte, please."

"Oooo HOOO!" they both whooped. "Look at her! Ordering our sexiest drink! 'Cause she's so sexy!"

I was thinking I was all that by the time I sank into a surprisingly cushy chair with my Kindle, but then a howl rose from behind the counter: "An extra hot espresso for our HOTTEST customer!" A grandmotherly lady tiptoed up to claim her prize, blushing. Huh.

I mention these fine gentlemen, all of whom helped spark the twinkle in my eye today, because the world is full of lovely men, but you don't read about them in US Weekly. This week's issue housed a particularly illustrious assortment of testosterone trainwrecks for our amusement.

First, we have Mario Lopez--I did like his hip-swiveling on DWTS--on the impending birth of his first child: "If my baby turns out half as cool as my little dog, then we're set! I love my dog!" Your prescience is stunning, Mario, and you've called it: your baby will be half as cool as your dog. Have fun!

Then there's Jesse James, who is married to one of the few celebrities you can tell is a genuinely sweet person, but "showed poor judgment," in his words. And why did he do that? 'Cause he loves him some "hot, tattooed biker chicks with big boobs." Jesse? You thought you were startin' something beautiful with a girl who has "white power" tattooed on her thigh? Sure, sure, it wasn't Jesse himself whose "Heil, Hitler" pose was considered too risque for US Weekly (yes, you read that correctly.) But, having actually met her, he thought one of her virtues was discretion?

Maybe he needs to have coffee with Tiger Woods, whose latest round of "sexts" with a porn star (really, that word) is presented for posterity. Amongst the gems: "I want to treat you rough. Throw you around, spank and slap you." Well, Tiger, thanks for sharing! I'll check my schedule! And this: "Do you ever hook up with other girls...does that excite you at all or no?" Oh, you are so sweet to ask! But I'm a little busy with this cross-stitch right now!

But the part where I actually CRIED laughing was this opaque bit of literary fancy by our intrepid US reporter: "A glance at the racy messages posted by [the porn star] reveal a man obsessed with three-ways, spanking and unsanitary bedroom moves."

Unsanitary bedroom moves? This is the most fabulous euphemism ever written in English. It should win a euphemism contest. Let's see, what could it mean? Gasp! Does Tiger insist on wearing his dirty golf socks in bed? Wait...does he eat pizza under the covers???? The mind reels; the stomach lurches. I know! I know! He flosses in front of her! Ewwwww! Grossssss!

Then there's the celebrity-illustrated review of a fabulous-sounding new book called Undateable. This book helpfully categorizes the losers, so you don't have to! Some of the tips seem obvious, like "If he spends 45 minutes talking about his mother, run!" and "If he makes scowly faces when you order the lobster, he's bad news," but I am still recovering from the giggle fit provoked by the imperative to avoid men who "use phrases like bee-yatch and chillaxin'. "Cool slang? No. A major turnoff? Yes."

Ever since I read this, I can't think about it without doubling over in a crazy, wheezing giggle attack, even if I'm just chillaxin' with my bee-yatches. Because chillaxin' may be the funniest word ever. It's tied with "unsanitary bedroom moves," if that were a word instead of a phrase. The moral of the story is this: if US Weekly had reported Tiger was chillaxin' while practicing those unsanitary bedroom moves, I might have required an oxygen mask.

So Readers, what valuable lessons can we learn from this week's issue? What wisdom is being imparted? First, if you are a stripper or porn star dating a celebrity, save all your texts. Second, if you are an US Weekly reporter, order the lobster.

Third, remove your socks before chillaxin'.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 29: Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

Because on this night, I had a Passover seder up in the OC and still have to get a blog posted in the next hour.

Just returned from said seder at my parents' place, and it was a really great time. David took the day off and we started it with a massive spring cleaning of our kitchen to expunge any crumbs. It's a real part of the holiday--look it up. Only you're supposed to conduct the search with, like, a candle and a feather and some other occult-sounding stuff, so there's the strange part. We didn't do that. The place looks sparkling, though.

After a fairly uneventful drive (me at the wheel, David helping me learn my lines) we decided on a final Mexican feast, and oh, I'm sure I'll be dreaming about it for the next eight days. Then on to the childhood home, where my sister and I helped fold napkins, argued amicably about silverware placement, and generally hung out for an hour or so while Jarrah cavorted with her Pop-Pop. How she loves doing that.

Then we headed down to Balboa for a sunshiney, harbor-side stroll, because we figured that would totally suck. And it was just as bad as I anticipated--bright blue water, million-dollar cottages with spring gardens bursting out all over, 74 degrees and clear, sunny skies...I sipped my vanilla latte, listened to my dad's stories for the 574th time, and hated every minute.

Conversation in the car:

Jarrah: You've broken a bone. Which one?

Dad: My pinky.

Jarrah: No! Something else. Something bigger.

Dad: My elbow? Look, it's all bent. Hey, why do you think it's called a pinky, and not a bluey, or a reddie?

Jarrah: Are you in pain?

Dad: No.

Jarrah: But pretend you are, in a lot of pain.

Dad: OWWWWW! GAAAAAH! It's killing meeeeeee!

Jarrah: There. I took an x-ray. Don't move it until tomorrow. It's tomorrow. You can move it!

Dad: Wow, it's all better!

Jarrah: But something else is broken now.

Conversation on a bench along Marine Ave. (in progress when I returned with my vanilla latte):

Dad: Yeah, Tammany Hall, yada yada yada!

Old Guy In Baseball Cap: Yeah, ha, Tammany Hall, yada yada yada!

Dad: Nice talking to you.

OGIBC: Say, if you're ever and some old guys hang out on a bench about two blocks down from here. You could join us.

Dad: Thanks! If I'm ever old, I will.

And then I cracked up. And punched him. I knew I got it from somewhere.

The seder was lovely. Jarrah helped out a lot this year, singing some songs for us, and filling in explanations of the items on the seder plate. We had two guests--my mom's friend and her dad, visiting from the east coast. There was matzah ball soup, salad (but with chunky white cheese, so I couldn't eat it) turkey and cranberry sauce, apple kugel, potatoes and quinoa casserole, which apparently is not really a grain so it's allowed. Brownies and lemon sponge cake for dessert, made with matzah flour, of course! One thing that cracked me up is how much we end up talking about death. It was like:

"Have I told you about this woman I know from the gym? She got married, and now she's dying. Nothing is helping." "How awful! My friend's mother just died. Giant thing coming out of her head. No diagnosis. Then, suddenly, DEAD." "Did I tell you what I read in the paper last week? So horrible. People, tons of them, dead." "Here's some more wine--let's drink to the celebration of spring! Woohoo!"

I kept trying to figure out if this is a Jewish thing or a Goldstein thing. Or a little of both. In any case, it was nice to be together, alive for the present moment, and celebrating.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Day 28: In Which The Best Movie Ever Isn't Quite

David and I went to see Hot Tub Time Machine this afternoon. (Thanks for watching Jarrah, Steph! You're awesome!) Why did we do that, Readers? A better question is, what did we wait SO LONG? I mean, the promise of complete awesomeness is right there in the film's title, as you can plainly read: Hot. Tub. Time. Machine. See, there's a hot tub. And it's a time machine. No explanation necessary--hand me some Junior Mints and I'm good to go. Throw in Chevy Chase as a wizardly repairman and a Russian Red Bull called "Cherno-blee" to create the "electrical fritzing element" and I'm in a total swoon.

But seriously, Readers. I know you care about me, and because of that you're necessarily concerned that my judgment has been impaired, perhaps by a recent blow to the head. Never you fear. I am completely of sound mind and body, and was not being coerced, threatened, bribed or blackmailed in any way. Let me walk you through the particulars that just seemed too awesome to resist:

1. The hot tub time machine. But I believe I already mentioned that.
2. John Cusack. No, please: Do not bring up Say Anything. Yeah, it was fine. Yeah, yeah, Peter Gabriel, trench coat, yada yada. I am a The Sure Thing and Better Off Dead fan.
3. That guy from The Office. He was hilarious in Knocked Up.
4. That guy from The Daily Show. He scares me--in a good way.
5. The description "The time machine sends them back to 1986." How awesome was 1986? What's that you say? You have no idea? Well, sucks to be you. 1986 rocked. The hair, the fashion, the music...I couldn't wait.

So, the movie starts out darker than I expected. People trying to off themselves, everyone seeming miserable and swearing a lot. The funniest bit was this guy in glasses--younger than everyone else--who plays John Cusack's nephew and spends all his time in the basement playing virtual world games. He cracked me up every time he opened his mouth. By the time they all got to a broken-down ski resort that was the site of their youthful glory, I was feeling a little unsettled. And that was before a one-armed Crispin Glover showed up as their bell hop.

After a debauched night of drunken revelry in the hot tub (um, and that was naked drunken revelry, guys only) they wake up in 1986. They know this because they go to the ski lodge and Reagan is on TV, the ski bunnies are wearing leg warmers, the cell phones are the size of shoe boxes (but really, were there even cell phones?) and there's a big banner saying "Winterfest 1986." With surprising equanimity, they accept their fate, and decide they need to reproduce their own Winterfest 1986 exactly to avoid "The Butterfly Effect." Young nephew Jacob is especially concerned, since he fears that any disruption to the time-space continuum might result in his not being born.

So, one guy has to have sex in the bathtub, another needs to break up with his girlfriend and get stabbed with a plastic fork for his trouble, and another needs to allow some Pretty in Pink-types to smack him down. Easy peasy, right? But not so much, because some of the time-space continuum NEEDS to be disrupted so that these sad-sack schlubs don't return to 2010 just as miserable and pathetic as when they left.

So, I was a bit dissatisfied with how some of this played out. For one thing, there was more vomit, piss and other bodily fluids than I strictly require for my cinematic satisfaction. That's a small gripe, however. I was more dissatisfied with the short shrift given to 1986 (I had the same experience seeing what they did with 1987 in Adventureland last fall, despite all the praise heaped on their efforts.) I mean, what did it mean for them to be young in 1986, aside from it being the right time to attend a Poison concert? I told David afterwards that the filmmakers were in a delicate position, because it's the kind of movie that needs to attract that all-important 18-24 male demographic, while that's precisely the demographic that can't relate to 1986 at all. So they went for the superficial references (I swear every '80s Top 40 song got trotted out for eight bars) while avoiding anything stickier.

On the flip side, I felt they missed an opportunity to make 1986 funny through the perspective of the youth of today. After all, they had a 20-year-old along for the ride, and he spends most of his time freaking out about fixing the time machine and virtually no time at all partying, getting laid and/or having his coming-of-age epiphany. There was one quick bit with him that I found charming, after he meets a girl he likes at the concert. Rushing off, he says helplessly:

"Can I text you later?"


"Um, are you on-line much?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"How can I get in touch with you?"

"How can you get in touch with me? You come and find me."

"That sounds so...exhausting."

Hee. But that's the last we hear about that. And maybe that's how it had to be. This "learning and growing" experience isn't for him; he'll have time for his own time-travel-type regrets in 20 years. This story is about the three guys who look in the mirror and see the baby selves they can barely remember. David said, "I thought we were going to see them running into their former selves in 1986."

"But wouldn't that break the rules of time travel?" I asked. He laughed.

"What are the rules of time travel?" Right. The rules are whatever the movie says they are. And here the rules say that you can go back in time in a hot tub, you can go forward in time in a hot tub, and you can change your entire life in a hot tub. Why the hell not? It's as good a fantasy as any.

But a movie that makes up new rules any time it needs to for the sake of plot propulsion is probably not going to meet my expectations for a richly tapestried narrative. "It wasn't quite what I thought it was going to be," I said afterward. "But, I mean, what did I expect, with a title like that?" David thought that was precisely the point--it probably didn't make sense to expect anything.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day 27: Stop Draggin' My Blog Around

After this, only four more posts! I am getting weary, as David would say. Weary of the daily posting. It's funny, because I often post every day anyway, but when I have's wearying. So just a quiet little post today.

The day began with me waking abruptly from a dream about vacationing in Korea. It was lovely. I totally want to go there now. It was nearly 9:00. What? After my back-to-back colds, I needed the rest. Feeling refreshed, I headed out to the kitchen for my bagel and my French Vanilla Fabulousness. Only two more days of bagels before the long breadstuff famine. And I'm down to my last two canisters of French Vanilla, too. It's literally painful for me to spoon the stuff into a mug, knowing the time of reckoning is nigh.

Jarrah is on Spring Break now, and I always like to have a project for the week. This time, it was going to be clearing her closet, shelves and drawers of 4T clothing, since the kid is in 6X now (some of the 5Ts are borderline.) I've been putting it off so long there were stacks and bags of clothing all over the room, covering every surface, because there were no longer hangers or space available for new stuff or even anything I happened to wash.

But now I need a new project because I suddenly tackled the whole mess today, briskly instructing Jarrah to try on anything I couldn't eyeball (which was a lot) and making massive piles everywhere. Ultimately, it was supremely satisfying to create a PotteryBarnKids-like tableau in her bedroom, wherein things like rockers and toy boxes and book shelves could go back to their original function. Now I just have to distribute the results. And Jarrah benefited, too, putting together a mighty strange ensemble from our treasure hunt, including a homemade ballerina skirt her friend Julianna wore in a recital when she was 2, and a tank top with giant buttons on the straps. She made it work.

Meanwhile, David was on the phone with H&R Block for about three hours (I wish I was exaggerating here) only to finally hear that he's going to have to start our taxes all over again due to some bug in the software. If only they'd just hire him to fix it. By the time we got around to leaving the house, it was after 2:00 and everyone was starving.

We decided to go see How To Train Your Dragon, which would have the dual function of being fun for Jarrah and research for David, and since we had free tickets to a particular theater, we also tried the new Bob's Big Boy at that mall. All I can say is, YUM. Why did that place ever go out of business? When I was a kid, they were everywhere. Now they are retro gold. The burgers are excellent, but Jarrah was particularly enamored of her mid-afternoon breakfast, labeled "Egg and Friends." She chose sausage and hotcakes for the friends, and indicated that she wanted her egg just like in the menu picture. "Sunny side up?" I asked incredulously. That clinched it. If she wanted it before then, she was doubly sure when it had such an intriguing name. I explained that the yolk would be soft and runny, and she nodded eagerly. Breaking the yolk and watching it ooze out was a major thrill. And she ended up scooping the final drops with a spoon, so sublime did she find it. Is my kid strange or what?

The movie was awesome. I don't really care about 3-D (Sam: "Will you still love me if I admit that I really could care less about 3-D?" David: "No. I mean, yes, of course!") but the relationship between Hiccup and his wounded dragon friend is sweetly magical, and the story hits all the right notes of familial love, budding romance, risky adventure, loyal friendship and wacky make-believe. I would say that I'm deeply engrossed in Jarrah's movies more often than some adults might be, but it certainly doesn't happen all the time (Can I interest you in some Squeakuel? No? Then you're smart.)

Couple of turns on the "care of self" (second time in the spinny tea-cup, which perversely doesn't bother her a bit) and then David and I were totally falling asleep on the drive home. After a day like ours, that really is strange.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 26: Strange Things I've Done In The Past 24 Hours

1. Portrayed Moses's mother in the Passover pageant at Jarrah's school. Opened my mouth to make my big speech and marveled, "Wow, this is a really awesome theater. Great acoustics. Nice. Can I stretch this thing out?" Got really sad when Robyn, playing my daughter, cut me off when I still had three more lines (Love you, Robyn!)

2. Danced as a slave girl and rocked the tambourine. Pretended that my voluminous caftan and hot-pink feather boa weren't sliding to the floor as I shimmied. Later, Jarrah told me it was sooooo funny when my costume fell off. The reason it wouldn't stay on is that it had no neck hole, so one of the other slave girls had tied it on with a sash that was too slippery to stay.

3. Cursed and fumed as I attempted to peel a dozen hard-boiled eggs I'd been instructed to deliver to the school by 9 a.m. today. Ruined several and barely refrained from smashing the lot against the wall.

4. Boiled a dozen eggs, like, in the middle of the night last night because I'd forgotten to do it earlier.

5. Heard myself say "Which part of your body would you like to be funkier today?" while teaching my Nia class this afternoon.

6. Mindlessly ate a bunch of matzah at the school seder, all the while thinking "I'm going hate this stuff like poison by the middle of next week, and today it's an exotic snack?"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 25: I Need My Rest

Jarrah made a book at preschool called All About Me. It's filled with all kinds of lovely lies about her formative years, such as her favorite foods "broccoli" and "bananas," and her special talent for turning cartwheels. (

My favorite page, though, is entitled "My Family." From left to right, it features her friend Joy--fair enough, they might as well be sisters--with whom she likes to "play princesses." Then there is Daddy, who "likes to go to work. He does technology." While this sounds cute, it's completely true--David is one of those rare happiest of men who can't wait to get to the office each day. But he's well-rounded, as you can see if you look to the far right where Jarrah has drawn "Me: I like to play socc (sic) in the house with Daddy. I'm the goalie." In Jarrah's eyes, David is one of these highly-evolved types who lives the life of the mind by day and then cavorts with the children and tends to the goats by night, all while smelling of Old Spice. How wonderful for him.

And then there is Mommy. Sssshhh, everyone. Don't make too much noise. Why? Because "this is Mommy. She's sleeping." (!!!)

So there it is, Readers. When Jarrah is asked to give a glowing testimonial of her mother--that sweet, selfless woman who is always ready to microwave a brownie for her child--the first thing that springs to mind is that mother...unconscious. Never mind that Jarrah has thrilled to my theatricals--sometimes the same show four times! Ignore that she sees me off to teach Nia every week! And how about those gourmet meals I've whipped up in great steaming cauldrons? All those times I've chased her tricycle, furrowed my brow over a floor puzzle, performed Dr. Seuss books in funny voices?

No, Readers. These are not the images Jarrah cherishes of me, her doting mama. The one that crowds out all the others is one in which I am silent, still and totally non-interactive. Kind of like Sleeping Beauty. (I'm sure she meant to say that I am lovely as a princess in my slumber.)

I have to say, it did make me a bit sheepish. After all, how does she greet each day? By telling my huddled form that she's "hungry for breakfast," to which I respond...well, I don't respond. I mean, I think it sends a less ambiguous message if I remain silent and unmoving until she gives up and goes away, don't you? And in the late afternoon, when she's happily watching Dora and really doesn't need me? Is it really so odd that I should say "Honey, Mommy is going to lie down for a few minutes. If you make even the slightest sound, you get no dessert?" I mean, surely all mothers say that around 4:00?

Still, it feels unfair. I want to be acknowledged as an active member of this family. Literally active. Like, sentient in some fashion. Is that too much to expect? When I mentioned this disturbing depiction to Jarrah's teacher, she said merrily "Oh, we get all kinds of hilarious things. 'Mommy likes to shop for jewelry.' 'Daddy enjoys playing poker.' It's all good fun."

But is it good fun, Readers? Or do I need to drop some pointed hints like "Sweetie, maybe next time you write an All About Me book, you could put 'Mommy is is a brilliant writer, inspiring teacher, dazzling dancer and focus-pulling actress, but still manages to cook me dinner from scratch every night?' Do you think maybe that would be a great idea?"

Or no dessert.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 24: White Scourge

My 5-year-old daughter will eat just about anything. All you have to do when she says "What is it?" is say "It's delicious. Try it." and she will. And pretty much the next thing out of her mouth will be "Mmmm! Delicious!" It's just that easy.

But then there's her mother. Yeah, the one who was a child in the '70s, when Americans had simpler tastes. I grew up eating chicken, rice and salad that didn't touch each other on the plate. I didn't even try salad dressing until I was like 15. My favorite restaurant was Carls, Jr. I swooned over Dolly Madison Zingers. We looked forward to American Chop Suey night--elbow macaroni, ground beef and tomatoes, casserole-style--without irony. And I first tasted Chinese food on my 18th birthday.

First it was fish. What, you're saying. You don't like ANY fish? Okay, maybe a little lox on my bagel. A few bites of someone else's swordfish. So sue me. But one night at a restaurant, Jarrah said "I want fish fingers." (She heard this on Charlie & Lola, an adorable KPBS show about British siblings.) I refrained from comment, and she got her fish fingers. Yummed them right up, too. A couple days ago, she wanted the fried cod. Couldn't get enough, even when all the crunchy bits fell off and she was eating (heaven help us) straight-up fishy bits.

Last week, she asked me to buy her avocados. Ooooo-kay. I do not eat avocados. Right, right, that includes guacamole. I don't like the texture; I don't like the taste; I don't like them, okay? Yes, I know that it's some kind of crime against nature to live in California and not like them. Moving on. So there I was in the store, fondling avocados, wondering what I was supposed to be looking for. They were black and rough and seemed to give somewhat alarmingly when I squeezed. I shrugged and threw a few in a bag. Back at home, she wanted some right away. I placed one on the cutting board, squinted at it, then thwacked a knife through. It wedged into the rock in the center, and there it stayed. Eventually, I managed to get a few, smushed bits out of the casing and onto a plate for my little princess. She devoured them. The next morning, she instructed me to slice up the avocado inside a sandwich, with turkey, of all things. I mean, can you imagine? But there she was, assuring me that this was normal. I was like Well, alright, as long as I don't have to eat it. Lunchbox was empty when I picked her up.

But all this was but a preamble to the the true test of my mettle, the one that might have felled one of lesser strength and fortitude. Readers, you know how you hear about moms who think nothing of lifting a bus if their child's well-being depends on it? I do believe I had my lifting a bus moment. Except that what I did was harder.

We were in the supermarket, and Jarrah said "Mommy, Ryan has cottage cheese in his lunch. I want you to get me cottage cheese."

I froze, icy tendrils of terror creeping up the back of my neck. "I'm sorry, dear, I don't think I heard you? I think you said you wanted a sandwich tomorrow of Marshmallow Fluff and sprinkles? I think we can manage--"

"No, Mommy. I said I wanted cottage cheese. In my lunch. And for breakfast."

Oh, be still, my frantic heart. You can do this. Your four years of training as a mother have been leading you to this moment. When you sat in the emergency room for six hours with vomit in your cleavage, you were preparing for this real struggle. And now, Little Grasshopper, you will prevail.

To say that I do not like cottage cheese would be like saying that I do not like nuclear war. Or being submerged in a vat of cockroaches. Please insert your own example here. I have no idea how this dislike developed, which I think makes perfect sense--we who have been deeply, deeply traumatized are often forced to suppress those memories in order to keep us teetering on this side of a psychotic break. Somewhere in my childhood, I was abused by cottage cheese, and I don't wish to discuss it now. But take my word for it: cottage cheese is no friend of mine, and I do not want it residing under my roof.

"You really, really want cottage cheese."

"Yes, I do."

"Okay." (Do you know what it cost me to say that word, Readers? Without accompanying screams and ghoulish faces?)

I swallowed a few times as I picked up the various containers, reading about their contents. They may as well have said "Hamster Eyeballs" and "Pureed Roly-Polies" for the look on my face. I settled on one called "Low-Fat Cottage Cheese with Pineapple," desperately hoping that the presence of this cheery fruit might somehow obscure the horrors within. Wishful thinking.

Once home, the container stared at me ominously from the fridge, but not for long. "Mommy! Can I have a cottage cheese snack?"

"Ooo-kay, honey." I took a deep breath and opened the container. You are an actor, I told myself. Stop gagging and act. My stomach flipped around like a 10-year-old at a gymnastics competition. I stopped breathing. I scooped a mess of that curdulent white crapcake into a bowl, sunk a spoon, and handed it to Jarrah. "Enjoy," I breathed as I raced from the room.

Wow, I thought, once safely on the other side of the house. Look how brave I am. I am truly amazing. How many people would make this kind of sacrifice? I deserve some kind of freakin' medal, or at least a T-shirt. Maybe they should write about me in Parenting magazine.

"Mommy? I don't think I'm going to finish the cottage cheese. It tastes a little funny."

Oh, Universe. I knew you wouldn't let this selfless act go unrewarded. Thank you. Thank you. (sob) Thank you.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 23: How Strange Your Silence

Feeling like bloody hell this morning. Somehow have another cold even though I just got over one. How is that even possible? Spent most of the night coughing and unable to breathe, so I'm feeling fresh as a daisy now. Which is unfortunate because I'm hosting my book club tonight, and there are surfaces to scrub and brownies to bake. Must try not to insert cooties in bounteous repast.

I'm going to be pretty busy feeling sorry for myself today, so I think I'll give you lovely Readers a break from my epic posts. It has not escaped my notice they've been a bit EXTRAVAGANT of late. Which reminds me, this 24-hour break gives you a chance to scroll back and peruse some of the gems that might have gotten lost in the cornucopia of bloggy goodness in the recent weeks of plenty. I see you have been stopping by; now consider leaving a token of your affection in the form of a comment (pretty please, with frosting on top?)

Only one more week until the famine. A toast to your health with my lemonade martini.

P.S. Book club just finished. Feeling all warm and fuzzy. We've been together since 2000. Often we don't talk about the book (tonight was no exception--but it was Mary Karr's Lit, if you're interested) but we do talk, oh how we talk, and we LAUGH. And we eat. I made tomato bisque, bruschetta with pears and spinach salad. And brownies. And lemonade martinis. Which not ONE person refused. I was really quite smashed, which seemed to help me move past the bloody hell sensation--nice. Next book: Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 22: E-Mail Life

When I asked for topics about strangeness, a couple loyal Readers suggested "weird things students have said to me," and that got me thinking. Students have said a lot of weird things to me over the years--oh yes, I've got stories. But even weirder than what they say to me is what they WRITE to me.

A long time ago, when e-mail was new and exciting, I gave a conference paper on the uses of e-mail in writing pedagogy. I had become fascinated with how much easier it was for me to help students with their essays when I was relaxed and comfortable at home, rather than under the gun in my office hours. It seemed like the internet had brought us an invaluable teaching tool. But with every new development comes "issues," and internet correspondence seemed to challenge students' sense of boundaries between themselves and their teachers. After all, if you're writing to your T.A. at 4 a.m., naked, slightly drunk, mouth full of pizza and AC/DC obscuring whatever is happening in the next room, you might be slightly more comfortable than you should be. Even if your T.A. is writing back to you in a very similar state.

I mention this because I received some really...INTERESTING e-mails from students in the '90s, back when people in general were still not clear on what exactly happened when they pressed "send." I could tell you about some of these, but instead I think I'll talk about one in particular, mostly because I happened to save it. Why did I save it? I don't remember, but I stumbled upon it a few days ago, and it's really quite impressive.

I received this e-mail on May 2, 1996 in the basement of the UCSD library (the telnet cache info tells me so.) The writer was a two-time student of mine named Paul, whose last name I can no longer remember. He was very, very pale and had those blue eyes so blue they looked like Otter Pops. I don't remember much else about him because he never, ever spoke to me. He sat silently in my writing class, and then a couple years later, silently in the poetry class where I was the T.A. I guess he had a lot going on in his head, though, judging from this e-mail, the full text of which exceeds three single-spaced pages.

okay, preface time : i actually haven't the slightest idea what i want to say here. i'm writing because, heck, i'm on a roll and know this stone is stopping in quicksand when it does, so i'm doing as much screaming as i can. :) actually, i suppose the reason is more that i wanted to get across a semi- cognizant sentence to you before i start receeding into memory again. that is, no more half-sentences whispered (i'd call them yelled, but i'm only good from my own perspective) across all 10 feet of our classroom. and i've started to worry that you might be starting to see things jane's way and start thinking i'm trying to avoid you out of disdain or some such thing, which just isn't true, at least in so far as i'm not trying to avoid you anymore than i'm trying to skirt around the edge of humanity altogether. :)

Okay, the guy is pretty funny, right? And smart, though he can't spell "receding." The first interesting part is that he is obviously compelled to write this thing for some reason, and feeling a bit poetic about it ("this stone is stopping in quicksand when it does.")

And he wants me to remember him. He worries (worries!) that I think he's trying to avoid me (the Jane part confuses me--she also taught writing, but I don't remember how he knew her.) And I love the bit about how he's not trying to avoid me "anymore than I'm trying to skirt around the edge of humanity altogether." Funny and lovely. And a bit scary, yes?

i admit, though, that this quarter of poetry was less awkward than i thought it would be having a t.a. who'd already been exposed to me. some of that was from only getting up the nerve to attend half the sections, i suppose, but, also, with so few things to turn in this quarter (or, should i say, so few things turned in this quarter?) there weren't many of those 'oh geez' moments where you'd have to deal with a paper of mine. ... so where's there's still the chance to not be disregarded, i wanted to pass on that it was nice to have you as a t.a. again, and in the 10 hours you taught (which is, what, like four days of muir 50?), you seemed to do a good job with the class. of course, any teacher who doesn't go around the class and make everyone introduce themselves is okay in my book. (even though i'm getting better at my 'speech' : 'hi, my name is paul, i'm a fourth-year computer science major at muir college', and if they want to know anything else they'll have to overcome the sense of closure i give to the word 'college'. :)

Exposed to him, huh? Emoticons were still cool in 1996. I hadn't remembered he was a computer science major--funny how I would marry one a few years later. I like how he's done the math of my Muir class (where I was the professor and taught 4 hours a week) and the poetry class (where I was the T.A. and taught one 1-hour section once a week.) And buried in there is a compliment ("it was nice to have you as a T.A. again") and another, sort of back-handed compliment ("you seemed to do a good job with the class.") Well, thank you, Paul...I guess. In the next section, he vents about the class requirement to review three poetry readings, which he did not do:

poets just strike me as intensely bizarre people, i guess, and my tastes are too midwestern or something (i ever tell you my life ambition to grow corn? no? thank the heavens for being spared that story, then. :) and it's not just live performances, it's poetry in general that i think it a bit wacky, but when an all-too-ordinary person stands in front of a microphone and wears trendy black and says things like 'wafting butterfly, wings of life!' i go right back to that 'ugh' sentiment. so, anyway, there wasn't a chance in heck of me being able to come up with a fair word about these people who were probably doing a good job at what they do when for the entire reading all i could do was watch the rain drip off of the guy's shoe in the seat ahead of me. (wait.. i've stolen that from somewhere, haven't i?)

I think he was serious about the corn. He struck me (just from looking at him) as someone who could be serious about corn. Which is respectable. And--speaking as an ordinary person who has stood at a microphone in black--I have to say his depiction of poets is accurate. But my favorite part is where he quotes me--yes, Readers, that's right, ME--with an allusion to my poem "Visitation During A Bookshop Poetry Reading." I can no longer remember how he would know it, since I never, ever read my own work to the class (that's a sure-fire way to lose any credibility you might have possessed to start with.) So that little mystery is lost to time.

that said, i'll say again that i got a kick out of spending time with 'lolita' (coming soon to a theater near you, starring.. melanie griffith?). i learnt a lot about symbolism by being able to take that book slowly and having a class format where we were able to understand how nabokov was constructing his story. (and that's important to me who's only writing after this class will possibly be the instruction manual for some database program? :) sorry to sound so bitter and geez if i don't dump on you when i write, :) but in my world of computer people i don't get to vent to many people who know Chekov is not 'king to G3'. (name that tune in.. five notes) i hope you found the poetry you had to grade rewarding and that not too many people pulled off what i did and were up at 4 in the morning the night before the stuff was due. :) ... i hope spring break it time enough to prepare for another quarter of teaching. i'd be interested to know, sometime, how your muir 50 class on new york is going. take care. ...paul (who has run this document through 0 spell checkers) ( 'my butterfly, in your fragile glass jar of life...' )

The Lolita reference is for the first class I taught him, and the "Chekhov is not 'King to G3'" is another "Sam insider" reference--I was in the musical Chess. Hey, wait a minute. I wasn't in Chess until 1998. So maybe he's some sort of computer-programming prophet? That's weird. The final epigraph seems to be a pretend quote of something.

Anyway, he wrote me a really, really long note, but there aren't that many parts of it that are genuinely strange. But it certainly seems like he said whatever he felt like, consequences be damned, and to send a non-spell-checked e-mail to your Literature T.A. is pretty bold. I wonder what ever happened to Paul, and if he's busy writing those instruction manuals like he predicted. Or growing corn. One or the other. Hope all is well, Paul. Glad you didn't disdain me; hope you still don't.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Day 21: I Like The Purple Ones

Yesterday we took a day trip to Borrego Springs. That's not very strange, except for the fact that we've never done it before. I'd heard tell of the explosion of desert wildflowers there every spring, and it sounded like something I would like. I just wasn't sure if Jarrah would agree. But I heard the flowers were particularly good after all the rain this year, and Jarrah is pretty easy-going about being in the car. So we went.

I Don't Think I've Ever Had This Feeling Before

It's a beautiful drive, through giant rocks and then all kinds of cactus, with mountains all around. But it's also a long drive (the GPS thought 90 minutes; the road felt differently and it was 2 hours) on very twisty little roads. David and I did fine, but a certain someone was drawing, and after about an hour she got ominously quiet. I felt so bad for her and asked if she needed to barf, but she's barfed so few times in her life I don't think she recognizes the signs. She didn't barf, but she wasn't a happy camper, and ended up sleeping the last half-hour. Which was probably for the best, because at that point we were also slowly depleting her brain of oxygen by withholding lunch until we arrived.

Aside from my parental worries, I was already having a great time. The drive was gorgeous, and new and different. Sometimes all I need to soothe my demons is a change of scenery. Borrego Springs was having an Art Fair, and there were little white booths set up in the grassy roundabout in the middle of town. We stopped at the General Store and picked up some maps, and I asked the decidedly not stoked ranger lady for advice about where to find flowers. You could just see on her face that every person since 8:00 a.m. had been asking her the same thing and not listening to the person in front of them. Just like how I didn't listen.

Next, a 20 Dollar Gift Certificate to Carlee's Char-Broiled Steaks!

We drove across town to the Borrego Springs Resort for lunch. Why? I'd heard that it was nice. It was a'ight. I could tell, though, that I would have been over the moon if I golfed. The place was crawling with golfers. I requested the patio because the weather was perfect, sunny and breezy. The rest of the clientele seemed to be on a golf break, and soon some sort of raffle started up. It was cute. Our waitress was smitten with Jarrah, and Jarrah responded in kind, giving her lots of updates on the status of her drawings. Later, Jarrah sighed and said "She loves me, the same way you do." David said, "Uh, not quite," but it was pretty funny. We got some more specific flower advice from Smitten Waitress, finished our very small lunch (Jarrah ordered cod and guacamole, two things her parents refuse to eat) and then we were off.

Look! The Most Wonderful Flower In The World!

Surprisingly, (or not?) Jarrah was very into finding the flowers. Of course, she was also pretty focused on my vague promise that we would find her a lollypop somewhere, and that came up a few million times. We drove out of town on DiGiorgio Rd. and eventually it ended in dirt. But this was a good thing because now we saw a lot of cars. Jackpot! We pulled over and could see people milling about in a field of tall grass, but not until we waded in did we start spotting all the flowers. It wasn't like they were carpeting the place. But in a way, it was more fun that we had to search them out, like Dora the Explorer. It was like a treasure hunt, and the treasure was captured with the camera. David and I kept hunching down to snap tiny little buds hidden under leaves, but the cutest part was how Jarrah began doing this almost immediately herself. I loved her intensity when she said "Mommy, I need to borrow your camera. I just saw some amazing lupines that have already bloomed." And you know what? The "amazing lupines" were actually lupines. Color me impressed.

Then someone had to go to the potty. Jarrah said she could stand to go, too. So we drove back into town.

Let's Buy Some DVDs! And Where Is My Lollypop?

We finally found a bathroom, but Jarrah didn't want to go because she saw a moth near the ceiling that was "trying to get [her.]" Later in the day I would be glad I packed her a change of clothes, but oh well. We walked into the world-famous Fudge Factory and there was a massive line and no lollypops. Oops. So we walked around the corner, and into The Daily Scoop, which had lots of ice cream and even more DVDs that looked like they had been rescued from 1982. It was like entering a very orderly time capsule. We stayed for a long time, watching outtakes from Young Frankenstein with another family, because Jarrah is pretty serious about ice cream. She spent nearly an hour licking her mint chip cone. At one point I turned around and a mom, grandma and daughter totally strange to me were saying "Cheers!" and "clinking" their cones against Jarrah's. Oo-kay.

Purple Mountains Majesty

We headed back out towards the foothills and turned right on Henderson Rd. I'm telling you this, Readers, in case you need to see for yourselves. Because it was pretty amazing. The afternoon light had gone all soft and fluffy and the hills were purpling. But the fields of orange daisies were bright waves in the breeze. We parked away from the crowd, but sometimes the crowd knows better. When we couldn't find an access point, I walked back up the road, enjoying the squish of sand beneath my feet, and David and Jarrah followed in the car. And even though David thought I was a bit nuts to FOLLOW the crowd, it turned out that the whole area had been cleared of weeds and you could skip right out into the flora, like a little lamb. We gamboled for quite some time amongst the verbena and chokecherries (I have a feeling we saw no actual chokecherries, but I like that word) and I took a bunch more photos, most of them blurry (I don't seem to understand the Macro mode.) But I felt so peaceful, and Jarrah was so happy--I know I'll remember it for a long time.

Poke Back?

David reminded me that sundown would come sooner because of the mountains, so we headed out of town. But we couldn't resist stopping a few miles away in a field with entirely different topography, blooming ocotillo (the tree-size, frondy ones with the red flowers) and different types of short, stubby cacti. The weeds were sparse here, and there were giant anthills everywhere (some of the ants hitched a ride in the car, and I ended up shaking out the mat by the side of the road, squealing.) My favorite find was a paddle-shaped cactus with the most incongruous hot-pink flowers bursting out of it. The result looked almost painful. Jarrah refused to get out of the car--she was afraid of getting "poked" by a cactus.

Why Is There No Dinner?

I felt terrible that so much of the winding way back was in the dark, and David was driving. Not that I would have felt better if I had been driving--I probably would have needed a Valium afterwards. I thought it would be all vacation-y if we stopped at the Viejas casino on the way back for dinner. But I am clearly a derelict parent because after we'd gone to the trouble of finding parking and schlepping our cold, tired selves towards the sparkling neon, a security guard informed us that no children are permitted after 8:00 p.m. What, no babies in the smoky casino in the middle of the night? What kind of operation are they running? Rest assured, Readers, we were just looking for the buffet, not to get Jarrah hooked on the rush of video poker. Back on the road.

What Does It Taste Like?

Our final stop was Tyler's Taste of Texas in El Cajon, which I'd heard was fun. It wasn't UNfun, certainly, and we got ridiculous amounts of food for cheap. Jarrah wolfed her buttermilk biscuit with lashings of honey in about 10 seconds, and then dispatched the eggs, sausage and hash browns pretty effectively, too. The best thing I had was a baked potato, but it was a good one. Did you know that there's this stuff called sour cream that is really good on baked potatoes? I just learned that. Back in the car, I said "Well, I think I know enough about Tyler's to last me."

I Dream Of Daisy With The Light-Brown Petals

I guess it's a little weird to go hunting for flowers, but you know, it didn't feel weird. It felt really good. And it made me very sentimental to see how mature Jarrah is, how she completely understood the point of the trip and really enjoyed herself and being with us. I guess I take for granted that she'd rather be with her friends (considering the first thing out of her mouth after "Where we going?" is always "Who's going to be there?") but she was very loving and enthusiastic all day. It was a great idea for all three of us to have cameras. And next time, we should have a guide book with flower varietals, and Jarrah can read it to us.

And Finally, Some Pics From The Jarrah-Eye View

I especially like the self-portrait and the sophisticated effects she created by placing a big ol' smudgy thumb print in the middle of her lens.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day 20: Kickin' It, Plague-Style

You've probably noticed that I don't really discuss religion or politics in this blog, though I certainly have plenty to say about both. No, that would take time away from my favorite subject: me. However, I can't resist a little annotation on this art project Jarrah made at preschool this week, an illustrated list of the Ten Plagues. Which ten plagues, you ask? Why, the ones the Lord visited upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians when he wouldn't free the Jewish slaves. It's part of the story of Passover. Moses kept asking "Let my people go," and Pharaoh, according to Jarrah, kept saying "No, no, no, no, noooo!" Kind of like a 5-year-old who doesn't want to go to bed.

Anyway, I'm just sharing these because they're funny, so don't read anything into it, kay?

1. The first one, as you can see, is "Blood." Running through the Nile, I believe, which is why we have the striking image of the red over the blue, all artsy with the razor-cut cellophane. Lovely, isn't it?

2. Next came frogs. This is the favorite preschool plague because it is at once the most understandable and the most innocuous. I mean, "frogs here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere?" Yes, they sing about it. How adorable.

3. Lice, ewwwwhh! But how fabulous is it that the person has ants in his/her hair? Instead of in the pants?

4. At first I was a little confused because #4 says "Wild Bears" yet none of the representative animals are bears. Jarrah looked at me like I'm a bit of an idiot when I mentioned it, and then I realized that whoever wrote the captions had actually made an error--this should be "Wild Beasts." I don't think they have bears in Egypt.

5. I go, "Oh, 'Sickness' has a row of...upside-down cows. Why is that?'" And Jarrah said, "Because they're dead." Oh. Apparently, this was a specific sickness, targeted at cows.

6. Okay, do you see the realistic depiction of mortification on this person's face? That's because they have BOILS. I mean, wasn't lice bad enough??? Ick!

7. Now that looks like the mother of all hail. Wow. In Egypt, yet.

8. More bugs. I don't have a joke here. What do I look like, a joke factory?

9. This is the best one. I mean, not only is it seriously dark, but it makes your eyes go all crossed and lazy. Nice work, Jarrah--genuinely scary. Until now, "Darkness" always seemed like the "Eh, it's bearable" plague. No more.

10. Notice this one has no label. Because, really, how do you talk about this one with preschoolers? "The last one was a real doozy, boys and girls. 'The Slaying of the First Born.' Yes, kind of like Buffy. What's that you say, Joey? You're the first born? Oh, please don't cry--let's talk about frogs! Who likes frogs?"

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 19: Stranger With My Face

Today I'm thinking about strangers who were instantly friends. I mean, so quickly that I didn't even know until it was a done deal.

On my first day at UCSD, I was really nervous. I'd just moved 3,000 miles, alone, to start a new school and a new job. We had a two-day orientation, a soporific slog with a mess of ornery people, and I was seriously wondering if I'd made a terrible mistake. I was assigned an office with two other instructors, Ramie and Jane. Ramie was sweet--we would become close, but he was shy. Then, on the second day, there was Jane. Our first interaction went like this:

Me: (shyly) I like your shoes.

Jane: Thanks! I love these. They're new. But look! The strap is already breaking! (she shows me) I took them back to Nordstrom to see if they would give me another pair and they wouldn't! So I have to figure out how to get them fixed!

Me: Maybe try a shoe repair place. I brought in my cowboy boots that totally had no soles anymore and now they're like new.

Jane: Yeah? I think I will do that!

And that conversation went on for...ever, pretty much. That's how easy it is to talk to Jane. There was never a time we weren't friends, just a time when we hadn't started talking yet. Now it's 16 years later, and we're still talking, even though she moved to San Francisco and later New York and became a dermatologist and now knows all when I point to a spot and say "What's THAT?"

Then there was Grace, who I met on my first day of freshman orientation at Smith. Except that we seemed to already know each other. In fact, I remember that whenever one of us said something, the other would instantly start laughing, and rather than this seeming rude or strange, it just seemed normal. The first time I remember speaking, we were waiting in some line next to each other, and she gasped. She pointed at my name tag:

Grace: Your name is Samantha?

Me: Yeah.

Grace: Mine, too!

I turned around and furrowed my brow. Now this was odd, considering she was wearing a name tag clearly labeled "GRACE." Hmmm. Maybe she tells everyone she has the same name as them to make friends? The next morning, I was walking downstairs and ran into her. "Hi, Grace," I said, still laughing a little about the name tag thing. She didn't say a word, just pulled out her wallet and pointed to her social security card: "Samantha Grace ____."

I smiled at her. She smiled at me. Then we both started laughing. And that's it. I'm not sure we actually had a conversation for several more days. But we both knew we were already friends, and for some reason, this was not very surprising. Oh, we've talked plenty now. We've been talking--and not talking--for 25 years.

Long ago, I went to Laramie, Wyoming for an English conference with a guy I knew from school. After the first couple of panels, I decided the conference was lame. Now I was stuck here, sleeping in the dorms at the U of Wyoming, for a week with nothing to do and no one to talk to. For some reason, the conference was organized like a team-building exercise or a destination wedding, with social events scheduled each day. I talked Russ into the "Rock Climbing/BBQ" evening program and we headed to the bus at the appointed time. Standing around waiting, I despaired. Everyone seemed annoying, and Russ was in a pissy mood. Then a tiny car zoomed into the frame and stopped right in front of the bus. A tall, striking woman with a platinum buzz cut and about 16 earrings jumped out and yelled "We have room for two!"

I don't know why, but I didn't hesitate. My hand shot up, and with my other hand I raised Russ's hand. "US!" I called. The woman waved us over and within seconds, we were driving away. Marlene introduced herself and her grad school friend Teresa, riding shot gun, petite, cute and smart-looking, with glasses. As Gwendolyn Fairfax said, "I like you both already more than I can say." There were "Nice to meet yous" all around, and I could tell that there would be no need for small talk.

Me: Thanks for picking us up. It was looking a bit grim out there.

Everyone laughed. A lot. No tension. Nice. They get me. Even Russ was looking impressed. I took out my Carmex.

Marlene: Oooh, is that Carmex? I love that stuff.

Me: Yeah, I can't live without it. People are always saying 'Oh, be careful! That stuff is addictive!'

Marlene: I've heard that! That's so crazy!

Me: Yeah, I'm like 'Hello! It's not crack!'

We all laughed and I thought, It's going to be that easy? And so went the rest of the week. Marlene was a lecturer at UofW and had a house in town, and by the next day, it was our base of operations, too. If you ask me now about the Wyoming English Conference, I can free-associate thusly: "Tequila. Dancing. Screaming. Balderdash. This Is Spinal Tap. More tequila. Pizza. Nocturnal. Laughing. More tequila." Yup, the finest English conference ever. And it never really ended. Even though Marlene and Teresa are both professors now and we all live in different states, and I have never lived in the same state as either of them, we've been friends for 15 years. And whenever we get together (which is surprisingly often) we tend to pick up with the screaming, laughing and tequila, right where we left off the last time.

So, Readers, I guess the moral of the story is: Smile at a stranger today! You never know whose status is going to change in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 18: Strangeways, Here We Come

When I first started blogging, I wrote about songs all the time, plunged in nostalgia on the brink of my future as a mother. If you don't believe me, see here, here and here.

Just now I was driving and heard two songs that I've always really liked, and realized that I've never really known the lyrics, even though I sing along, making stuff up. So when I got home, I Googled them. The first one is "It's My Life" by Talk Talk. Yes, yes, I know that No Doubt covered it recently. But the Talk Talk version came out when I was in college, and I used to play it on my radio show. I played it almost every week, because I was sort of being stalked by this UMass frat boy named Sam (he attached a mind-boggling level of significance to this little coincidence) who called me up all the time to request it.

Even then, I would sort of close my eyes and smile as I recognized the opening notes, because the first line was my favorite:

Funny how I find myself in love with you

I can feel the warm wind on my face as I leaned out the window of my friend Carolyn's car, driving over the Calvin Coolidge bridge from Northampton to Hadley, sunlight twinkling off the Connecticut River beneath us. That line really captures something for me about my youth, the idea that I was going to be constantly surprised by delight.

But if I'm honest, I never knew what the hell else they were saying.

Funny how I find myself in love with you
If I could buy my reasoning I'd pay to lose
One half won't do
I've asked myself
How much do you commit yourself?

It's my life
Don't you forget
It's my life
It never ends

Funny how I blind myself
I never knew if I was sometimes played upon
Afraid to lose,
I'd tell myself what good you do
Convince myself

It's my life
Don't you forget
It's my life
It never ends

I've asked myself
How much do you commit yourself?

It's my life
Don't you forget
Caught in the crowd
It never ends

Okay, first the disclaimer: I analyze texts. It's the one thing I've been trained to do (well, that and dancing around like a chicken.) So I can't stop myself from asking....WHA? Let's start with the chorus: "It never ends?" What, life? The way the speaker's object keeps bugging him? Readers, if you know, please enlighten me.

And then there's the riddle wrapped in the paradox enclosed in the enigma of the first stanza, directly following that line I've always loved: "If I could buy my reasoning I'd pay to lose/One half won't do/I've asked myself/How much do you commit yourself?"

Okay, let me see if I can figure this out: He'd pay to lose his realization that he knows more than half of what he shouldn't know? Oh, that hurts my head. And is he speculating rhetorically about whether to commit or not? Or questioning the other person's commitment?

I have to say, I'm a bit bummed. I thought it was all going to be lots more profound, after that first line. I guess I'll just stick with mumbling made-up words.

But then this song came on, "You Wreck Me" by Tom Petty. I am a Tom Petty fan from way back. I've always loved his lyrics. And "You Wreck Me" is about as awesome a song title as there ever was.

Tonight we ride, right or wrong
Tonight we sail, on a radio song
Rescue me, should I go down
If I stay too long in trouble town

Oh, yeah, you wreck me, baby
You break me in two
But you move me, honey
Yes you do

Now and again I get the feeling
Well if I don't win, I'm a gonna break even
Rescue me, should I go wrong
If I dig too deep, if I stay too long

Oh, yeah, you wreck me, baby
You break me in two
But you move me, honey
Yes you do

I'll be the boy in the corduroy pants
You be the girl at the high school dance
Run with me wherever I go
And just play dumb, whatever you know

Oh, yeah, you wreck me, baby
You break me in two
But you move me, honey
Yes you do

Okay, hello! When I looked this one up, it was a completely different experience. I never knew any of the words except the chorus (which is delicious in its paradoxical proclamation--the object makes him crazy, but he LIKES it) and I always appreciate a singable chorus. But it's the verses that really wreck/move me.

There are several moments I love, that remind me fondly of past exploits, like "Tonight we sail, on a radio song" (yes!) and "Rescue me, should I go wrong" (so many possible meanings, all awesome.) But the stanza that really stunned me, that I've definitely never heard before:

I'll be the boy in the corduroy pants
You be the girl at the high school dance
Run with me wherever I go
And just play dumb, whatever you know

I love, love, love how he winks at his object, saying "Baby, we're both smart, but let's behave like we have no clue." Because there's a reckless freedom to playing dumb. To be smart is to be responsible. Tonight is going to be a break from all that.

So, it's a double song epiphany day. Not that it matters in the greater scheme of things. Gotta go--I've stayed too long in trouble town.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 17: Luck O' The Irish

Conversation between Jarrah and her friend, Jared, while washing their hands after school:

Jared: My mommy knows everything.

Jarrah: No, she doesn't.

Jared: Yes, she does.

Jarrah: No, she doesn't.

Jared: Yes, she does!

Jarrah: She doesn't know what God says.

Jared: Yes, she does.

You know what I love? That my daughter is brilliant enough to play the God card (go big or go home!) and she STILL didn't win. (For the record, I know Jared's mom, Jared's mom is a friend of mine, and I wouldn't want to argue this point with him.)


Strange coincidence: Robyn and I returned to the scene of the Fro-Yo Cell Phone Debacle this afternoon, and I'll eat a gummy-worm-covered hat if the SAME WOMAN wasn't sitting at our old table, looking as territorial as a salmon after spawning. (Just go with it, okay?) And I'll be an egg on toast if there wasn't a SIGN on the table, in BLOCK LETTERS, saying "PEOPLE WITH FRO-YO. WE DON'T LIKE YOU. WE DON'T LIKE YOUR FRO-YO. IF YOU SIT AT THIS TABLE, WE WILL TAKE YOUR FRO-YO AWAY AND THEN CALL THE COPS." That is not strictly accurate, but it's pretty close. So I guess there hasn't been a revolution in cell phone etiquette, just in passive-aggressive etiquette. Which explains why I hadn't heard about it.


Got a little depressed today when I saw this article on "mommy bloggers" from the New York Times. Not so much when I saw the article, as when my friend Cheri directed me to the comments, where a famous blogger was defending a Mom's Right To Blog as a fundamental freedom of parenthood. Which is great. The part that depressed me was where she lists her blogging-related accomplishments, including "numerous magazines and anthologies" and an upcoming book. Because, hello? I am blogging EVERY DAY and I haven't gotten even one Pushcart Prize. Or a measly monthly magazine column. Harumph. Now that IS strange.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 16: I Shall Wear The Bottoms Of My Trousers Rolled

Strange observations about aging:

1. Getting my hair colored is no longer just for fun, on my terms, whenever I feel like it. Now it's part of the upkeep of the physical plant, and there's something a little grim about it.

2. Everybody calling me "Ma'am." Hello, do I look like "Ma'am" to you? Oh yeah, apparently I do.

3. Not getting to play the ingenue, even though I really, really want to.

4. Drinking with college friends, screaming and laughing, and then 10:00 chimes and everyone starts yawning and saying that the baby kept them up.

5. Telling stories with the disclaimer, "Those were the days when there were no cell phones, of course..." Or substitute "texting," "tweeting," "blogging," "Googling," "voice mail" or "electric typewriters."

6. Standing up suddenly after lolling on the couch and going "Ow! What the hell was that?" (I think this has actually always happened, but now I sense harbingers of doom when it does.)

7. Deciding to buy a strapless neon maxi-dress/ruffled mini skirt/denim hot-pants with tights and then going "Oh, wait. I don't think I'm allowed to wear this anymore without people snickering. Damn."

8. Breaking out on my chin when my forehead needs Botox. Wasn't there some sort of cosmic deal I heard about when I was 15? You get only one or the other? What happened to that?

9. Restraining myself from reminding everyone to bring a sweater; it's supposed to get chilly later (or is that just me?)

10. Most of the time I think I look 22 (and I sure as hell feel like 22) and then I pass a mirror and go "Oh. Right."

11. It's always "'80s Night" somewhere, and I'm like, "As in that time a couple years ago when I was in college?" And yet the videos are filled with crazy clothes and crazy hair. So are my photos. The ones that are turning all yellow.

12. The fact that I can't think of anything serious and important and thoughtful and memorable to say about aging, only superficial, jokey things.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 15: Strange Encounters With Strangers

It's the Ides of March, and my NaBloPoMo malaise is showing. Readers, I need you to come to my rescue with more ideas.

Today I thought I'd cook two chickens in one pot. Isn't that a saying?

A few days ago, I was at the gym, in mid-lift, as a matter of fact, when a crinkle-eyed, very tanned older gentleman started talking to me from his machine. Now, this in itself was pretty strange. No one talks to me at the gym, as I glare forbiddingly at all and sundry while blasting '80s songs in my earphones. I'm pretty sure my face is saying "Do not talk to me. No, I mean it. That means you." So it's rare that someone doesn't pick up on that.

This guy, who must have been 70-something, launched into a cheery narrative about how women should be treated. He said he hoped I didn't put up with any guff from the menfolk, because I deserve better than that. I was about to reassure him that I most certainly do NOT put up with any guff, when he leaped from his perch, crossed the aisle and extended his hand. Now THAT was really strange. People don't like to touch other people at the gym--it's not just me.

"Hi, I'm Fred. Pleasure to meet you."

"Nice to meet you, too. Sam."



"WHAT? Like a guy?"

"Yup. Or Samantha."

"Oooohhhh. Well, they both suit you real good."

"Thank you."

"You know how God made Eve out of one of Adam's ribs?"

"I've heard tell of it."

"Well, I always say that's how you know he's gotta treat you good. You're prime rib! Gotta treat you like prime rib!"

By eating us? I wondered. Slathered in horseradish sauce? "Good point."

He told me some more stuff, like how his friend says he doesn't need to get in shape "because round is a shape," and I resisted following that up with "Now headlining in the Catskills!" and "Be sure to try the veal!"

But here's the really strange part. I saw him two days later in the exact same spot, and just as I was about to avert my eyes and scram, I noticed him averting his eyes and scramming even FASTER. And he even pulled his shoulders up near his ears and made a "YIKES!" face.

What's up with that?

A while back, Robyn and I had a super-strange encounter at the Golden Spoon (which Jarrah used to call the "Golden Egg") while we enjoyed our frosty fro-yo creations at an outdoor table. The kids were one table over, whacking each other with gummy worms, which we were assiduously ignoring. I was deep into telling a story, which I'm sure you find pretty shocking.

Suddenly, there was a gust of wind and a woman burst through the door of the mail shop next door to GS, shouting into a cell phone. She wasn't yelling, exactly, but she certainly had some sort of resonant point to make. She strode to our little table (a two-top) and scraped a metal chair right up to it, sat down, and continued ranting. If our volume topped out at about a three, ratchet hers up to 11. Simultaneously, Robyn and I gave her the "Stranger! You should know you have invaded my space, Stranger!" look that is widely known in the civilized world. She didn't spare us a glance, just kept right on negotiating, so loud that my story was quite suppressed.

Now I am not a shy, nor a soft-spoken, woman. In fact, I teach a dance class in which I shout commands to a room full of people over tribal music, and not once have I gotten "Can you speak up?" So the fact that Robyn was now forced to lip-read across a separation of two or three feet was unsettling. As the minutes ticked by, and our stares in Loud Gal's direction grew increasingly bold and insistent, we started to wonder if we'd missed the memo on some widely understood and accepted shift in phone etiquette, since we couldn't think of any other reason why we were being subjected to this tirade.

She ended up outlasting us, because after five minutes or more of this verbal abuse, we had lost our appetites. She never looked up or acknowledged us at all, even though to an impartial passerby, it would have to appear that the three of us were enjoying an outing together, so close were we situated. I had a theory that she must own the print shop, and hence believed that the table closest to its door belonged to her. Perhaps she had been broadly hinting that we were not to sully her outdoor facilities with our frozen treats. Robyn said if she did own the print shop, she was making a pretty loud argument that we should never patronize her business, and I had to agree there.

But even if she did "own" the table, wasn't it still completely bizarre that she chose to subject us to her phone call? Am I missing something?