Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Many of you will think I am tacky for writing our annual Christmas letter this way, but unlike a lot of you, I am BUSY.

The maid had to go see her dying mother or something, so not only have we had to clean our own house, but we had to put up the Christmas tree and decorations too. Last year her son fell off the roof while putting up all our outside lights -- he threatened (unsuccessfully) to sue us, so I don't know why we keep her anyway. She did promise she'd come by sometime the week before Christmas and bake cookies for us to give away -- we think homemade cookies are always appreciated.

Once again, John was passed over for promotion at work. The cretins he works with and his so called "manager" are so jealous of him they can't stand it. So he continues to at a job for which he is CLEARLY overqualified and nags me about getting a real job and cooking something other than ramen noodles with fried bologna. Like sweeping up hair at a salon 10 hours a week is a breeze. (I was saving the hair to send to some beach where a tanker of olive oil hit a reef or something -- a guy on the news said it was good for moping up oil, and I thought it would count towards my mandatory community service. But here's a free tip: don't use a big bag of hair to mop your floor when your dishwasher leaks!!!! It will make a foul, disgusting mess, no matter what the talking heads say).  However, John and I are going to try to patch things up over the holidays at a couples-only retreat in Greenville, Mississippi. We got a great deal - $60 a night for the hotel. The brochure said something about "taking up serpents," so I'm thinking it might be one of those reptile farms. Which are kind of creepy but interesting, too: I saw an albino alligator one time! Anyway, we'll have some time to share our problems with other couples. As my fans know, my husband can't get enough of socializing, especially with strangers so desperate they want marital counseling.

Girls before they went bad.

You might be wondering; what about your daughters? I know some of you have heard of my struggles -- they live to make me crazy. Their grades have been falling steadily in high school, and PLEASE - no more of that "they're struggling and you're the parent" crap. The guidance counselor keeps calling and talking about "gang activity."  We were a bit tickled, to tell the truth: both of them started dressing a lot better - no more of that snotty preppy look they had going.  Since they were tiny tykes we've been spinning tales about back in the day when we rode with the Demon Spawn of Flatbush. Sure, our black leather chaps are a bit tight, our vests resemble bolero jackets, and we've switched from Yamahas to Segways, but we still turn more than a few heads. Especially at Teachers' Night.

(Note to fans: I wanted so much to find a suitable image to insert here, but searching for "overweight couples wearing chaps on motorcycles" sent me to some sites I'd rather not visit again.)

Wow -- I was gathering wool there for a moment -- thinking of how we almost had that rumble with the Blouds and the Cripes before they went running home to their mommies!

Back to the girls -- unfortunately, they are spending the holidays in detention. We found out after the fact that the "gangs" they hang out with are totally lame. They usually just drive up and honk for them, so we hadn't actually met any of them. Those loud noises we were so impressed with turned out to be crappy cars with even crappier mufflers. Turns out my oldest one tried to steal several expensive slide rules as an initiation into the Cute Angles, a group of girls so geeky the regular math club wouldn't let them in. My youngest was caught stealing fruit to serve at a soiree given by the No Shows, a group so vile they had been banned from the Drama Club. She would have been given probation if her aim hadn't been so good: she hit the police officer right in the eye with a Granny Smith. You can only imagine our disappointment and shame at their choice of companions.

(I know it sounds callow, but is this not the best excuse EVER for saving money on presents! Not only do they not deserve them, but they're not even here to open them if they WERE under the tree.)

It looks as though Aunt Lucy is going to have to move back in with us:  the woman cannot hold a job and I don't know why she keeps going back to working in technical support. She thought she was just practicing tough love when she screamed at a second-time caller, "Users are losers, you lowlife motherf___ing earwig! May bedbugs nest in your pants! May all food you eat turn to rat turds in your mouth! May jackals tear out your entrails and eat them in front of your children! Even the squirrels I shoot from my porch know to save their work now and then!"

I'm not happy about this, but we continue to feud with our next door neighbor about our lawn ornaments and silk flowers -- she thinks she's so high and mighty with her "native plant" and "habitat for butterflies" crap. When we tell her we don't mow our lawn because we also want to save the planet, she scoffs. Nothing I relish more than a good feud. I get a real kick hearing her complain to the neighbors about her morning paper always landing in her fountain. Oh yeah, I'm keeping it real.

We're still a family who tries to have dinner sitting at the table at least once a month, because studies show that's the best way to stay close or some such crap. The girls know they can always talk to me, but seriously, when is the last time you actually listened to a teenager - they yammer on and on about themselves.

Our family advice to you is always take the high road; our family wish is a blessed and happy holiday season. And as always, please don't give us your lousy fruitcakes, cookies, jams (even if you call it curd) and homemade liqueur -  nothing says "we wish you a merry Christmas!" like some cash stashed in a tasteful Christmas card.

p.s. can someone pick up the girls on the 28th? Because we'll still be improving our marriage at the alligator farm.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Verizon, the Sequel

I just got a great letter from a guy named Jeremy McCarthy, Director of the Preferred Customer Team at Verizon. My first thought was: how do they treat their non-preferred customers? Do their phones explode if they go over their minutes?

Jeremy told me that I need to SEIZE THE SAVINGS. As Director, he has personally gone over my bill and found that I need to either maximize my current plan or change my plan because I'm paying $31.75 in "total overage charges."

The right solution is at my fingertips: I need to call one of their customer service people, and I don't even have to extend my contract!!!!!   Jeremy personally appreciates my business and looks forward to keeping me connected, now and for years to come. Is it just me, or does that sound ominous? Now I get the nagging feeling that I'm serving life with Verizon. They either get you in the small print or put Brad, Customer Service boy from hell, on the line and you agree to anything to get him to shut the fuck up. Pardon my French.

So, keep up the emails -- I'm not going to be using my phone much.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Open Letter to Verizon Wireless

Dear Verizon,

I just spent 64 minutes on the phone with two of your customer service people. It was such a long conversation that my husband and I took our pups on a long walk during half time of a Razorback game. My dogs don’t like you either. And it’s my birthday weekend.

A few months ago, my 13-year old daughter and I went to a local Verizon store, bought her a new phone and signed up for unlimited texting. This was for two reasons: I was tired of whacking her when she went over her minutes, and one of my sisters and I love texting each other really stupid messages about the superiority of our animals and how Dante’s Peak was a silly movie but worth seeing because of Pierce Brosnan being such a hunka hunka burning love.

We came out of the store all warm and fuzzy: we could text with abandon!
We did not get a very good deal (because although it was not our choice to switch and we pay a whopping bill to Verizon each month, we’re considered vile reptiles, otherwise known as Alltel customers), but it would have cost too much to change providers. (It reminds me, in reverse, of the way the Little Rock School Board is so fond of hiring superintendents, firing them, and then buying out their contract for oodles of money. You guys really stink but I’m stuck with you and have to pay you vast sums of money). I thought that when you sucked Alltel into your vast death ship I became a Verizon customer – that’s what my bill says. I’ve been told several times in your stores that I’m “an Alltel customer”, and your representatives always spit on the floor afterwards as if it puts a bad taste in their mouths. “I would SO love to get you in a Mercedes, but your past wireless provider makes you worthy only of this two-toned Pacer.”

We’re a family of four, all with phones, but only two of us text. At last I come to the heart of the story: my bill today showed that we had gone over on our texting minutes. Apparently we stood around in your store for 20 minutes before seeing anyone and then spent about 30 minutes signing up for unlimited texting – but the dog apparently peed on our order. Your rep tonight acted as if it was just another tricky day at Verizon. He never went off script (which had no bearing on what I was talking about) and put me on hold probably 10 times for long periods. Although I'm pretty sure he was in front of a computer, I kept imagining him skating down the hall to check the Manual for Alltel losers, maybe having a beer or two on the way back, jesting with his colleagues about the live wire twisting on the phone.

I repeatedly asked to speak to his manager; he repeatedly refused – he didn’t really refuse; he just kept coming back and saying things like, “Well, I could give you a 10% discount on the charges you shouldn’t have had in the first place”, or “I could wash your dog for you.” Except he wasn’t as clear; he would give a long spiel about some plan I wasn’t interested in, such as giving me 40 free minutes a month to call someone in a gulag in the former Soviet Union. One of his special offers (seriously) was to inform the Mother Ship that I had a complaint about the store where I signed up originally. Really? You’d do that for me? He was relentless about keeping me from his supervisor; she would only confirm what he’d done, but I was more so: I told him that I’d wait on the phone all night if that’s what it took. But when she came on, she agreed that my situation stunk and sounded beaten down – it took the wind right out of my sails. And by that time I was convinced that I was getting cancer by listening to the endless spiels while on hold.

A side note: I generally go to the office on Chenal in Little Rock. I’m not sure whether they have a sadist for a manager or whether all your stores operate this way: why do you make your employees stand on their feet all day? It seems a bit of a sweat shop-ish thing to do. I know what you’re thinking: that episode of Seinfeld.

As much as I’d like to put the blame on you; I am the moron who renewed our contract. But next time we’re up for renewal, we’re gone.

p.s. I am posting this letter on my blog before even putting in the mail to you – I have at least 10 loyal fans!!!!!! And some advice about customer service 101: satisfied people maybe talk to 4 people; those who bear a grudge tell about 5,000. And trust me; my story will get better each time I tell it. Especially if I call next month and they tell me that there are no records of me calling.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Nothing Says I Love You Like a Dead Squirrel

My dog Sweetie just brought me a dead squirrel, and I thought back to this essay I wrote a few years ago. Eat your heart out, New Yorker, for not publishing it.

I can sniff out an urban legend or an asinine chain letter from a mile away. When I walk in the woods, I don’t worry about porcupines getting scared and hurling their quills at me, nor do I fear being rendered unconscious in parking lots by robbers wielding ether-filled perfume bottles. My life got no better or worse when I deleted instead of forwarded an e-mail from his Holiness the Dalai Lama with his “Instructions for Life.”

So this latest yarn had a big stink: a woman takes her almost-new car to the dealership, and the mechanic tells her that squirrels have chewed through the engine’s wiring and she’s lucky the car didn’t catch fire. A day and a big fat check later, she steps out of her car at home and a rogue band of squirrels viciously attack and gnaw her ankles almost down to the bone.

I didn’t believe it for a minute and was amused by the vision of the attacking squirrels – it sounded so Monty Python-ish. It wasn’t quite as funny as the one about a company called ManBeef, from which you can order succulent human flesh, but few can top that one.

Now here’s the really funny part: This is not an urban legend, it’s my life. I perhaps exaggerated the squirrel attack on my ankles, but the ruthless rodents did chew through the wiring of my wagon, costing me $791.94. I don’t have hidden cameras in my engine so I can’t say for sure that squirrels did the damage, but it’s a good bet.

My saga has so many funny parts that I don’t know where to start. The first is that this happened less than two weeks before Christmas, which really put me in the holiday spirit. After I yanked down our Christmas tree, I hacked off the limbs and began clubbing squirrels to death in our front yard until my kids came out of the house crying. Little do they know that I’m taking a long, hard look at Boo and Chester, our resident gerbils. Their beady eyes are a constant reminder of my pain and empty wallet.

I am suspicious by nature, so even though the guy at the dealership told me that this is a fairly common occurrence, I immediately did a search for “squirrels and car wiring.” The first hit of 160,000 was Squirrels Ate My Wiring! I read all sorts of ways to get rid of the vermin, including moth balls (which I bought) and something called Shake-Away PACKS FOR SQUIRRELS, the main ingredient being eau de fox urine, which I also purchased.

Then there was calling in the claim, the equivalent of “Squirrels peed on my homework and ate all my books.”

And here’s the icing on the cake, the bees’ knees, the summit of Everest: the engine light came on in our old car, so I dropped it off at the dealership and drove the SquirrelMobile home. Sure enough – I get a call about an hour later saying the squirrels had once again done their dirty deeds, but they didn’t do as much damage. However, in one of those hilarious curveballs that life throws at us, the intake valves were apparently plugged and damage was estimated at $900. And you’ve got to love this: I had to call in a new claim and tell them “the squirrels ate my parents.”

It’s all so comical that I’m laughing all the way to the bank. With Xanax and a muscle relaxer and wine (good for my heart!), I’m already able to look back and laugh. Hysterically. My husband and kids fail to see the humor, though – they keep knocking on my bedroom door and asking me if I’m okay. I think they just want me to fix dinner for them. To distract myself, I envision how the girls will talk about this later in therapy, whining about he Christmas when they received nothing but socks, moth balls and fox glands in their stockings.

Although things have been bleak, I was proud of myself for using my arsenal of moth balls and pee to take out the enemy before they take me out. Then I received the following email from my girlfriend Kristy:
I can certainly sympathize with you regarding the squirrels. If you recall, I spent 6 years fighting squirrels in my old house until it burned down. Considering all the effort and money spent trying to eradicate them, I took lots of flack from people accusing me of burning down the house just to get rid of the squirrels. I’ll never forget the day Jim H. and I went over there to get some antique hardware off a door. We went into the burned out husk of my home and discovered there were no longer squirrels in the wall chewing up everything….they had built their nests smack in the middle of the den!

Nasty little beasts! Be careful with that chewed wiring. It could cause your car to burn! I can also attest to the fact that nothing…I mean nothing I tried worked. I remember the time I was told to put moth balls in the soffits to prevent them from chewing holes to access the house. I learned that day they are very tidy little creatures. I had nice little stacks (like little cannon balls) of moth balls on the ground under every single hole they chewed into my soffits.

For the record, in addition to the mothballs, the home “recipes”, poison traps, cayenne pepper, poison corn, and sound devices don’t work either Maybe if you just clip a 660-volt charger to your engine block when it is parked in the driveway…
Upon hearing this, my husband ordered Wrist-Rocket slingshots for the girls for Christmas and a shotgum and hunting license for himself.
My first idea, to both recoup our losses and get rid of the filthy tree rats, was to invite squirrel hunters to the house, where they could shoot as many squirrels as they wanted, drink as much beer as they could hold AND get a ride home, all for a reasonable price.

Since I was pretty sure he wouldn’t go for that idea, I am putting my next plan into action: I am working on a heartfelt letter to send to my family, best friends, close personal friends, backup friends, former friends, acquaintances and co-workers: they are to send a minimum of $10 to the P.O. Box I rented and forward the letter to at least 10 people OR risk their next holiday being even more jinxed than mine.

(For the record, the last time Sweetie brought me a dead animal, Sugar (below) had actually killed it, which is amazing since she has a bum leg and who knew she could outrun a rabbit. She knew everyone saw her, so only lingered over her kill for a few minutes before Sweetie grabbed it and proudly presented it.)

Epilog: I posted this earlier today. When John came home at noon, I told him the dead squirrel was on the deck, but it was gone when he went out to check. A few minutes ago I saw it from the corner of my eye -- all I noticed was that it wasn't in very good condition. I flew downstairs yelling, "the squirrel is in the house!" From my voice, he thought it was hanging from the ceiling or something, ready to attack. I said "I don't know how it got in here," and he said "Sweetie ate it," adding that "our dogs aren't even smart enough to let us keep our presents."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Please Join Me for the Celebrity Blowup!

My horoscope a few weeks ago:  "You are powerful - everyone senses it already. In fact, you are in danger of overpowering the room. A bit of humility will help others feel comfortable. Your graciousness will set a tone for the rest of the crew."

I felt irritated and bitter, both by the horoscope and things in general, but not the least bit powerful. My graciousness was approximately the level of Paris and Lindsay when they are drugged up and chew out the help for not vacuuming the cocaine from their purses. Instead of being humble when dealing with people, all I did was complain about my lot. Poor, poor pitiful me. Unemployed and raising teenagers -- play your teensy little violins for me. I'd feel vaguely guilty for not inquiring about the lives of friends to whom I incessantly bitched, but then would get caught up in beating myself up for all my faults and start wallowing in self pity again.

Later, I realized that I am indeed powerful:  my family are very unhappy but too frequent guests at my pity parties. When I'm in a dark mood, the atmosphere at home is charged with tension. My dogs endure indifference from me, the worst form of punishment. My friends suffer, usually of the "I wish she'd shut up and blow up" variety. For those of you not familiar with that phrase, do a search on "SCTV Farmville Celebrity Blowup," in which John Candy and Joe Flaherty, dressed in overalls, interview fake celebrities, who then blow up real good.  It's much funnier than it sounds.

When I say things like "Nothing's wrong; I'm just tired" instead of "shut up and blow up real good!" it's a sign that the family unit is in trouble.

I lecture my girls about a lot of things, including grace under pressure. I tell them how anyone can be gracious when things are going well; champions display it when things fall apart. I tell them to treat everyone with respect, to follow the Golden Rule, to demonstrate compassion. My words crumble under their own weight when I can't find joy in a loving family, a good home, fabulous friends and neighbors and good health.

I love the feeling of having something restored that we take for granted: electricity after a storm, a hot shower and warm, soft bed after sleeping on a deflated air mattress while camping, everyone making it home safely after the roads turn icy.

Much of my reflection has come because of the lightness I feel after having something else restored: I was offered a job today. I took a few years off to spend more time with the girls, do volunteer work (both very satisfying) and to try to make a modest living at freelance writing (fulfilling, but I could have made more money panhandling). I wasn't working then. I took another job that I loved and lost, and I was in a whole new ballgame: I was unemployed.

Remember Whoopi's infamous "it's not rape-rape" that Roman Polanski committed?  What a stupid comment, which has no relevance to my circumstances except it still pisses me off. I've had way too much time to think about dim-witted comments like that and the galaxy between not working and being unemployed.  I felt a bit weird at first about my husband supporting me when I wasn't working (especially since I never did really clean the house). But he cheered me on; I felt good about myself and what I was doing. Being unemployed sapped my energy and strength; I had the summer to spend with my girls but I ruined so much of it by obsessing that I'd never find work again. Because unfortunately, obsessing and worrying are core competencies.

However, I'm going to try to learn something from my madness. When my girls come home, I'm going to loudly tell them to shut up and blow up. We're going to dinner to celebrate, and hopefully I won't get too choked up to tell my family how precious they are to me. I'm getting all choked up thinking about it, so if you are in a Mexican restaurant in Little Rock tonight and see a woman blubbering, please stop by and blow up with us.

Speaking of choking up, knowing that someone out there is listening to me rant and rave is the icing on the cake, the bees' knees, the whole enchilada. Thank you, loyal readers.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Queen for a Day

My youngest daughter now calls me Vlad, as in that Roguish Romanian Prince of the 15th century who decorated his palace with heads on spikes -- that's where we got the modern idea for food on a stick at county fairs.  That impish Transylvanian impaler was commonly known as Dracula and was also was a three-time Voivode of Wallachia, ruling mainly from 1456 to 1462. Interesting tidbit: Elvis originally wanted to sing "Viva Voivode" but was overruled by his agents, who said that Americans were just not that into Slavic titles.

The reason she calls me Vlad is that she refuses to call me by my preferred name, which is Queen or Your Royal Highness. This moniker came about last weekend when, after getting attitude from both daughters, I informed them that they are NOT living in a democracy in this house; this is a Monarchy and I'm the Queen. If I politely ask them to do something, it is not a request -- it is a demand that they are to obey immediately.

I even showed them how to leave a room when we're in it, backing up and bowing and scraping and doing silly things with their hands.

I've strayed way too far from my dad's patented method of Parenting through Terror. (My sisters' friends called him Terrible Tom -- this is true). It would never have dawned on him to ASK us to do anything; if he commanded me to dress like a monkey and play my accordion in the street for money, I was out there in a flash.

Other members of the family stood up to him; the consequences were often dire. As the youngest of five, I never subjected myself to his wrath -- I tiptoed through childhood, wanting only to stay out of his way. My kids can't imagine life where they're afraid of their dad or me. Like many kids, they seem to save their worst behavior for me: whining, arguing, throwing hissy fits. When I told my oldest daughter the other day that she can't miss homework assignments with the excuse "I forgot," she reminded me that I forget things all the time. And added, for good measure, that I was fired from my job (which is not the case, but we won't go into that).

My kids generally know where to draw the line - I'm a smart-ass and they come by it naturally. As an example, one of my sisters visited from Pennsylvania over the summer; we were in line to get snacks for "The A-Team" -- sophisticated humor runs through my family, as my loyal readers know.  I can't remember why, but my sister called my youngest daughter a big loser -- shock, gasps and dirty looks pointed in our direction. My daughter, of course, thought it funny -- she knows she's not a loser and that no one in the family thinks so.

However, the girls seem to have forgotten what a fine line it is between being funny and disrespecting mom. First their friend across the street told my youngest daughter "I can't believe you talk to your mom like that." Then my next door neighbor essentially said the same thing. Confronted with both of them not only crossing the line but kicking sand in my face,  I snapped -- they are lucky they only got a lecture; we seriously talked about hanging them by their thumbs in the garage. My youngest started calling me Vlad after things had calmed down -- that's the kind of sassiness I find funny.

Some tranquility has returned to the house, as much as it can for a household where mom's morning coffee contains less caffeine than anxiety, tension, nervous tension and constant worry. I'll admit, I've been a bit more on edge than usual. I've been unemployed since July. The girls have moved from a home school environment to a magnet school with about 1,500 kids. Both are pissed that I signed them up for the science house vs. the arts. I tell them they'll have plenty of time to wait tables in their lives; no sense doing it at 37 while waiting for their big break. Besides, I thought the chances of their getting into that school were pretty slim to begin with.

I sent a note to a friend today telling her that I'm surviving (because it is all about me). Actually, we're all surviving. I've been as hard on the girls in some ways as my dad was on us:  I found myself  pouncing on them as soon as they walked in the door from school, peppering them with questions, blowing every misstep way out of proportion, wailing and gnashing my teeth - acting like a martyr is one of my core competencies. (A special thanks to Vicki, Lori, Kristy and Sherry for responding to my crazy messages instead of un-friending me.)  At their old school, we took for granted that if they were doing okay, we wouldn't hear much from the teachers.  Now we can check online to see their assignments and progress: what a mixed blessing. I found myself acting Ike a teenager in love - checking obsessively to see if my boyfriend has posted anything there. 

Now I only check edline three times a day and my tongue has been bleeding at an alarming rate from biting it. I miss the days when they thought I hung the moon and knew everything. My oldest turned 14 yesterday, and sometimes I have to catch my breath when I see them walking away from me.

"Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town
And they tell him 'Take your time, it's won't be long now
'Til you drag your feet to slow the circles down.' "

Joni Mitchell, the Circle Game

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fill 'er Up with Botox, Please

I'd never heard of Heidi Montag until her 10 surgeries in one day; nor had I heard of an 18-year old who didn't feel "fresh enough" on screen (Glee) without some Botox and tightening.  Her rep said the Botox was for jaw pain. Yeah, the oxycodeine I pop like Nerds is because I've got a recurring cold. Nora Ephron waited until she was 60 to write how she felt bad about her neck. I know how she feels -- I hole up in the house during turkey season, nursing my colds.

I have complex feelings when I read things like this: "the horror of it all", "vain ninnies" "brainless vain ninnies" and "gullible dim-witted ninnies." Then I think of the type of writing I've seen a million times:

 "She was a long-legged drink of cool water, with a mane of hair I fantasized sweeping over my chest as we made passionate love. I felt dizzy when I looked into her violet eyes -- they were as deep as the ocean where people can't go -- you have to send those submersibles, and even then their windshields sometimes crack. Her voice was like that Bach melody I like -- I was kind of surprised the guy wrote music like that because I always associated him with those depressing fugues. But I heard this one song and thought -- wow -- the guy can rock. I still can't believe a 40-year old chick could be so hot."

Sour grapes might come into the scenario -- if a good friend drugged me and took me in to get nipped and tucked and paid the surgeon and for my recovery on her private island, I would not complain. I could continue to say that the lines on my face give me character and that my butt might be drooping but I'm just grateful not to have rectal cancer -- I count my blessings instead of my flaws! I'm deep, not shallow like Heidi.

But enough about age, for lack of a better segue  -- let's talk about weight. No matter how young, generous, fit, funny or gorgeous, women are never thin enough to suit ourselves or the general public. I offer the following story as an illustration:  Several years ago, a columnist for our local paper wrote a feature article on my dear friend and (then) yoga teacher, Stephanie Young, who now lives in San Francisco -- yes, she's that cool. Sheer grace and elegance, as you can see from the picture. As you can also see, she can't wear Gwyneth Paltrow's skinny jeans because she enjoys eating more than farm-raised, cruelty-free seaweed twice a week. The headline, however was another story: Fat and Fit.

In the story, the author was astonished, rendered speechless, dumbfounded, -- dare I say flabbergasted!!!!! to find out that women size 10!!!!!! could touch their toes!!!! and do yoga!!!!!  The whole message was basically that if you can't fit into Gwyneth's jeans, stay out of the studio so the svelte people don't have to look at you. If you are above a size 2 and can actually do a few asanas, you are a freak of nature. If you are a size 2 but 40 and over, you should cover yourself from head to tow, including wearing a bag over your head. People just shouldn't have to look at you.

(My youngest daughter is forever telling me that I should use emoticons because people tend to take me literally. For the record, I am a woman of a certain age and a certain size and do not consider myself a bloated corpse-like figure, nor do I see other women in this light.)

Several of us wrote scathing letters to the editor; some were published. We didn't find the article itself totally offensive, but the the headline was rude, tasteless and hateful. We also wrote letters to the features editor, who approved the article and wrote the headline.  I was sure that she would offer a mea culpa (who doesn't like Latin phrases?)  I didn't expect her to admit that maybe she'd been drunk or stoned -- just that she had made a serious error in judgement -- for one thing, the odious headline didn't even have a verb!!!!!!  She stood by her headline;  she probably thought it brave and provocative. I don't know her, but I know that she's married to another writer for the paper who can best be described as a pompous ass. It would take him 12 paragraphs to write this one, and he would use lots of references to obscure foreign movies -- excuse me -- films, and would somehow work in his close personal, individual, private, special friendship with Bobby Duvall. But I digress, as usual.

Back to bitching. Remember the Diary of Bridget Jones -- wasn't the weight at which she was considered a huge cow something like 130?  And I found this about Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan on Mad Men:

Christina Hendricks has never publicly stated her weight, but that is definitely not going to let us stop from speculating on it. We think she weighs approximately 70 kilograms which is 154 pounds. We’ve spent literally hundreds of hours pouring over photos and videos of Christina Hendricks to come up with this figure.  If you want the low down on Christina Hendricks (sic) other measurements be sure to check out the following pages: What are Christina Hendricks Measurements?  What dress size is Christina Hendricks?
(The last two sentences had links for research purposes.)

Really? Someone pores over pictures of her just figure out her weight?  That's pathetic, like visiting Notre-Dame Cathedral because you thought you might see some football players. Boy, did you feel stupid when you got there and saw only a lonely hunchback hawking Disney watches!
Our pouts aren't poufy enough, our choppers not bright enough, our hair not thick or glossy enough; our boobs are too large or too small (ditto our derrières) -- how do we even find the courage to leave our houses? 

Dedicated to Stephanie Young, Yoga Goddess, and all the other gorgeous women I know.

Monday, August 23, 2010

High School Daze

It's the third day of high school for the girls, and I am already dazed and confused. Tonight, for example, I put some brown rice into the rice cooker, to mix with salmon and spinach, for a nutritious meal. No junk food on the first Monday of school! I watched the news, did some chores and was ready to put the spinach in the steamer (handily located on top of the rice cooker). Except I hadn't pushed the button down to "cook" -- it's been sitting on "warm" for the past hour. My youngest just came in and said "So we have to wait another hour on dinner?" before demanding a snack. I have said before that children are relentless. At least they show some mercy; teenagers take no prisoners. Can you guest who the smart ass is?

My kids have gone to a private school since pre-school. Not a fancy $10,000 a year private school -- more a home school where their grandmother and aunt were among their teachers. My children were loved unconditionally at the school. One of my friends (whose daughter also attended the school) told me about the time her daughter's cell phone had been accidentally left on, so she could hear Aunt Renée spend 30 minutes trying to make one of my kids understand a basic math concept - not once did she even raise her voice or sound out of sorts. My girlfriend and I agreed that we would have at one point screamed "what don't you GET?"

Another of their teachers added REALLY silly questions to multiple-choice tests, the kind that had us howling as the girls would read them to me on the way home. He sent a lovely note home last year soon after school started, saying one of my kids had made a C- on a science test. He didn't see a big problem but just wanted to let us know so we could all keep an eye on her. He wore shorts year round, although during ice storms he put on a sweater.

I made my husband call the principal, who had also been their teacher at one point, to tell them we were switching schools - I knew I'd break down. I had developed a twitch in my right eye because of the stress. I couldn't believe I was taking them out of a warm, loving environment and letting them swim with the sharks.
And Grandma -- she had them write in their journals every day -- and she wrote back to them! One of my daughters -- the smart-ass one, just read over my shoulder and said "she never wrote back in our journals. That was our Readers Notebook."  I made my husband call and tell her the news too. We still haven't talked in depth; we are both way too emotional.

It was a wrenching decision to take them out of the school, where, in addition to getting a good education, they were loved and cherished. Two of their cousins are there. My husband is still having trouble with the decision, to say the least. Let's say the mama wolf in our family drinks beer and has hairy toes. After they had been accepted to Parkview, I tried to convince them to stay at their school another year, so they would be ready for a school of more than 1,000 vs. 20-something. Although they weren't happy I'd enrolled them in the science school (vs. the arts), they were also adamant: they were ready to be small fish in a big pond. At dinner one night, my oldest said "it's a parent's job to help children develop roots, and then let them spread their wings and fly." I got all blubbery.

Here are the main differences as I see them today:
  • They are riding a bus.  The first day of school, I took the obligatory picture of them by their bus stop. It wasn't a very good picture -- I didn't get in close enough and they were both displaying their fakest smiles, which look even worse with braces. I made sure I got in the name of the street at which they were standing -- won't this be a good memory!  It didn't dawn on me until my friend and niece both commented on how cute the picture was -- taking a closer look, I realized that I was advertising where they'd be in the mornings and afternoons when I wasn't around. The last time I couldn't find one of my pooches, I was sure someone had captured her for use in medical experiments. Seriously-- I was weeping at the thought of her being shaved and connected to electrodes, and wept harder when we found her. So you can imagine the direction my thoughts were taking.
  •  Absences from school must be documented -- school officials do not trust me. They both had an appointment at the orthodontist today (and yes, I'll remind them of what this cost for the rest of their lives).  Unlike at their old school, they needed a written excuse. I e-mailed the teachers whose classes they'd missed (someone correct me if that should be who's -- I get so confused). One of them told me that in the future, I should schedule appointments around his class. Yeah, maybe their orthodontist will make an exception for my exceptional children and see them after hours - other children can miss school, but mine are destined for greatness and can't miss a minute!  When I checked them in, the women in the attendance office pointed and laughed at us (maybe not literally) because we did not have their student IDs memorized. My kids are a number now?
  • I can check online to see what homework they have!!!! And what their grades are -- school officials don't trust me, and I sure don't trust my kids.
  • When a family member or friend from out of state visits, I can't call school and say "can we play hooky today?"
  • When we have all had our fill of routine, I can't call school and say "can we play hooky today?"
Still, so far so good. In fact, so far - excellent.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bad Mommy Chronicles

Like many of you, I did my best parenting before I had children. I was the one sitting on a plane by a harried mother with a cranky toddler, pursing my lips and thinking "can't she see how annoying her kid is being? It's really irritating the rest of us and it pisses me off that she doesn't even look upset!"

I was the one behind you in the grocery store, hoping my stare of disapproval was boring holes in your back as your 3-year old screamed "But I want to SEEEEEEEEE the bathroom!!!!  Why can't I SEEEEEE the bathroom?"  If that was MY kid, I'd give him a lesson he wouldn't forget!!!!"

And yes, that also was me thinking that if MY teenager acted that sullen, I'd ground her for a month. HELLO.

I could have given you so much good advice, if only you'd asked. Sometimes you didn't even have to ask, but seemed really offended when I offered a nugget of wisdom such as "why don't you hit him?"

My first nugget of understanding came when a friend told me about taking her young daughter shopping for a comforter. They spent some time window shopping and by the time they came to the comforters, sweet, loving daughter had morphed into the Bad Seed. "Well," I said indignantly, "I hope you didn't buy her a comforter!"

She said "Of course I bought her a comforter -- she NEEDED one. It would punish me, not her, if I took her home without one."  Wow -- what a concept.

It wasn't until the summer of 1999 that I really understood the concept of "if you threaten your kids, prepare to follow through."  My 2-year old daughter and I were at a pool as guests of another friend, who was raising three boys. We live in different towns so being together, was a real treat. (It still is.)

Everything was going swimmingly (get it? aren't I the punster!!!!!) until my daughter got tired and started whining and complaining. Instead of finding her some shade, comforting her and encouraging her to rest on a cozy towel in a lawn chair, I shouted at her "Do you want to go home?"

"Yes," she cried in a tiny, exhausted voice - TOTALLY the wrong answer -- she was supposed to beg to stay! This was not going the way I planned. I said in a mean voice, "Well, I don't! You better behave!"

As her face crumpled, so did I. In shame and guilt and remorse and mortification -- you get the gist. I was being a bully and threatening my baby. Good mommy took the reins, and I took her in my arms, begged forgiveness, found a nice spot where I could cuddle her to sleep, and we had a lovely day that stretched into evening.

When I have done something dreadful like that, I call or email my sisters and girlfriends and tell them what a horrible mother I've been. And they all e-mail me back with their stories. In this way, we know we're going to be okay, and our shameful actions don't fester inside us, causing us to feel even more inept than we sometimes feel. As one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott says, kids don't come with operating instructions. They are the best thing to happen to us, but their care and feeding is unrelenting and we sometimes crack.

One day I called a girlfriend and sobbed that I felt I yelled at my kids every day. The mother of four, she said "I feel good when I don't beat mine every day." Just the tone of her voice cheered me immensely -- she obviously didn't feel the need to call child protective services. (For the record, she does not beat her children. Although she thinks about it sometimes.)

One of my sisters had the best offering after some particularly bad parenting/martyrdom. I saved the emails.

My note to my sisters read:

Girls, I absolutely channeled mother today. The girls were just at each other's throats and I yelled in exactly mother's voice for them to "shut the hell up." I was hoping to get some things done at home and then do something fun. Then I started feeling really sorry for myself, and while I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom  floor, I was literally sniveling and taking these rather loud sniffs. Scary stuff..they are both taking naps now and I am trying to channel a good mother like Sarah Palin.

My sister's note:

Susie, oh, how I can feel your pain as far as becoming Mother goes. One of my finest moments was when (her kids) were maybe around 6 and 7. I had just stripped the old wax off the kitchen floor, scrubbed it and then rewaxed it. I was giving the two of them lunch, and, not one, but BOTH of them spilled their milk onto the clean kitchen floor while I was unloading the dishwasher. I had a handful of butter knives and when the second glass of milk went down, I started screaming and  throwing the knives, one at a time, into the dining room. I remember their sweet little faces looking horror-stricken. What really surprises me now is that neither of them even remembers the episode and it is indelibly inked into my brain! So, take heart, if you think you have become Mother! She really did have a hard job, didn't she?  And, she had to deal with Himself.

(I was the youngest of five, and to understand my dad and men like him, read or see The Great Santini by Pat Conroy. The scene with his son in the kitchen rang so true that I had to leave the movie for a few minutes.)

I offer my stories as a gift for those of you who might not share bad parenting stories for fear you'll be harshly judged -- we've all been there and sharing our pain is a great coping mechanism. And as my sister's story illustrates, our children forgive us so much easier than we forgive ourselves.

p.s. I heard a mother say that she yelled at her child once - that was her worst sin. If you have stories like this, we don't want to hear from you.

p.s.s. If you are a mother or are thinking of becoming a mother, read Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott.

p.s.s.s. Kids don't appreciate the whole martry concept -- they just think we are being dorks.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wedding Bell Blues

I'm on the third day of an online class called 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. I didn't do well the first day, which called for me to write an "elevator pitch" for my blog. I think the guy also expects me to think deeply about what I'm trying to get across. Please.

However, here goes with the second day's assignment: create a list.

Wedding Faux Pas: (Fox Pass for those of you who don't speak French)

If you want your bridesmaids to dress like hookers or Evangelicals, don't make them pay for their own dresses.

For any wedding past your second, don't expect family and friends to stock your linen closet, your kitchen, your walls, your bar or your entertainment room.

Don't use gaily-decorated money trees as the centerpieces on tables.

Don't have a cash bar.

Don't take your bridesmaids shoe shopping and start weeping and pulling out your hair in front of a pair of Prada shoes you can't afford -- but that will make you the happiest bride in the world!

Hint only once about how broke you are and how nice it would be if everyone pitched in to help you pay for the venue (the Titanic model in Branson, MO), food, flowers, cruise and some jewelry that would make your special day even specialer. If no one pitches in after your first appeal, drop it.

Don't post on Facebook how hot your honey gets you -- the general reaction will be "ewwwww." Ditto how you love your mate right down to the toenail clippings you find on the sofa, how even your pooches long for his touch and how you are going to explode into flames and it's not because of the weather!!!!!

Don't invite everyone you know on Facebook or other social networking sites -- your BFF's BFF's great aunt who commented on one of your pictures will not be hurt if she is left off the mass invitation.

Don't post nasty comments about people who don't get caught up in all the excitement: it does not necessarily mean they are shallow, bitter, cold or non-orgasmic.

If you are marrying a relative, your ex's best friend with whom you cheated, a 17-year old or someone you met in Vegas over the weekend, let me know and I'll revise the list. Happy Day!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blogher CheeseburgHer Party: the Prologue

Quick: What's more nerve-wracking than going on a first date with a guy you want not only to impress but also to father your children?

Here's what: attending a gathering at a posh place to mingle with women you don't know, to whom you already feel inferior. My husband assures me that as long as I don't drink too much and hurl on some one's Jimmy Choo shoes, I'll be fine. I tell him that most of them are undoubtedly way younger than I, so he gives me a second piece of advice: impress them with the fact that I can use the Internet at my age.

Here's how I'll try to imagine myself:

The event is being held in Little Rock for women bloggers, and it's being hosted by BlogHer, which I'd never heard of until this week. I've not met our local hostess but know she is a terrific writer with three blogs, a gig at Good Housekeeping and a book deal. Did I already mention feeling inferior?

I'm going with two friends, both seriously gorgeous, witty and smart, and I imagine myself basking in their glory in a Forrest Gump-ish kind of way. They know our hostess and assure me that she's kind and gracious. I believe them, but still imagine myself as an old impression of Princess Anne: when our hostess tries to make me feel at home by asking a question, I'll begin pawing the ground.

Here's how I imagine others will see me:

Dress is "casual cocktail." I look up pictures and realize that I have nothing in my wardrobe faintly resembling casual cocktail, and since I am unemployed, I have no money to splurge on an outfit. I'll wear my black shapeless dress that I wear to all such events; I wish that I had at least indulged in some of that lingerie that holds in your stomach. It doesn't help that I'm wolfing down a French dip as I write this, and that a piece of dark chocolate mousse cake was my appetizer. I wish I wore contact lenses and that I knew how to apply makeup and fix my hair.

Since my feet resembled hooves, I did spring for a pedicure at a local beauty school today. The color I chose looked quite elegant, but alas, on my toes, it looks like doses of Pepto Bismol. My friend Sherry said to think of it as Granny Pink, which is apparently quite hip -- if you're in your 20s. All it looks like to me is a bad polish job.

My eyes, always dry, look red, which isn't helped when I stick a pencil in my right eye while trying to outline my lower lids. Wisps of mascera appear under my eye almost as soon as I blink.

At the last minute, I decided to wear all white. A simple white nightgown I got for $2.50 at a flea market, paired with white pants; over that I wear a sheer tunic I picked up years ago. In some countries, I look like a widow but it's loose and comfortable and I don't have to hold in my stomach.

I didn't mean to wear scent; I rarely do, but while rustling through some bins in the bathroom looking for makeup, I come across an old bottle that has spilled, so I am wearing Oscar, which takes me back at least 25 years.

I'm am army brat, meaning I'm never fashionably late. However, tonight we've decided we want to make an entrance. One of our husbands is driving us to the event and we're catching a cab home, although if we had the money, we'd spring for a limo.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Are You Being Served?

"I didn't think you were going to stop," is what the teenage boy said after he slammed into my car. He was too young to remember the Beach Boys, so it must have been the voices in my head singing "Tach it up, tach it up/Buddy gonna shut you down."

He shut me down, all right. My neck felt as if someone had tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to wring it for Sunday dinner. My head was throbbing, it was 140 degrees in the shade, and I needed to pick up my kids and their friend from climbing camp. Suddenly the Beach Boys were shut out by Blondie singing "One way or another, I’m gonna find ya’, I’m gonna get ya’, get ya’, get ya’, get ya’.....”

I was about to leave the scene when a friend called and assured me that the possibility was slight that stalkers were lurking about, giddy at the prospect of kidnapping the girls. She commanded me to stay until the police arrived.

My children were not as sympathetic as they might have been. Almost comatose from sitting in my car in the heat (but too cheap to keep the AC going), I called my youngest. I was reassuring: "I've been in an accident. I'm not really hurt, and Monica is on her way to pick you up." She said "Okay, bye." About 30 minutes after I got home, my eldest came bouncing up the stairs and said "you okay?" Both of them apparently got a big kick of seeing the accident on the way home -- they treated it like a celebrity sighting: "Hey, that's mom! Boy, she's sweating like a pig!"

Let's say I wasn't feeling the love.

However, I soon began receiving letters that made me feel like the prettiest, most popular girl at the Polka Guild.

Unlike my children, my new friends the personal injury lawyers realized that I was "suddenly dealing with personal injuries, medical expenses, property damage and lost wages," and their mission in life is to protect me from an insurance adjuster so vile that he makes his feeble grandma eat Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen because she drools. This adjuster would employ any depraved means to take me down....with extreme prejudice.

I retained an eminent attorney who graduated with honors from the University of Baton Rouge School of Law. Butch is so skillful that he came to my house and personally fitted me with a full-body cast, which has a cunning seam that lets me remove it when I'm not in public - I feel like the Girl from U.N.C.L.E. sometimes!

With Butch's help, I've come to realize that in addition to my agonizing physical injuries, my husband has lost my wifely affections (wink, wink, nod, nod). He'll probably run off with a tramp, leading to loss of income for me. I also can't take care of my children properly. Although, frankly, that doesn't bother me too much after their responses to my pain and suffering. Also, I often have ditzy spells that leave me pale and weak.

As my fans know, I've been looking for gainful employment, which has not been that much fun -- I'm sick of people asking me what contributions I made at my previous company. As if they could even recognize talent when it walked in the door and fixed a drink for itself!!!!! Butch told me that I'm in no condition to look for work, and he also shaved my head, although I'm not quite sure why.

I admit that when I'm not bored, I'm in a bad mood -- wrapping myself in that fucking cast every time I leave the house is getting REALLY old. Plus it's gone dingy and has begun emitting a foul odor. Friends have stopped visiting, and even the dotty old bat across the street has stopped bringing me her lousy green bean casserole.

However, Butch assures me that I will get my day in court and that the teenager who hit me can kiss his college funds goodbye! He says it's too bad he can't dig up an old iron lung -- seeing me in that would get some sympathy! I feel kind of bad about the kid - I'm a real people person.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Buddy, Can You Spare Some Bread?

As my fans know, I've joined the ranks of the unemployed. Not because I want to spend more time with my kids or try freelance writing or because of a need to find myself. I don't even want to know where I am. No, I am unemployed because I lost my job. I applied for unemployment, but I keep getting these notices saying that not only is my case "pending" but that I can forget about a check this week. I'm a deep thinker, which has made me realize some errors I might have made during my application.

Following are some things NOT to say when applying for unemployment:

I really don't want to find a job right away. My girls are at that awkward age -- 13 -- when they are too old for daycare, but I can't leave them to their own devices all summer! HELLO!!!! Besides, I'm going to Cocos for a few weeks -- the last year has been rough and diving with sharks is just the thing to take my mind off things.

Officially, I CAN work full time but I'd rather find a job where I can make my own hours and that pays really well. I have a lot on my plate, including being the family chauffeur and writing my blog -- it would be hard for me to make it to work on time. And I'd like to hire back my housekeeper as soon as possible and resume horseback riding and art lessons for the girls. It's not as though I want a career --I require something that allows me to break free from paradigms, enables me be creative in ways that best utilize my singular skills, and enables a win/win situation for all involved. And that's not too demanding -- I want to go home at the end of the day and relax with a nice cocktail and not even think about work.

I need a job that gives me plenty of time to work out. I'm a big girl and you couldn't tell by looking at me, but my bones are thinning a bit! I thought only tiny blondes had bones that thinned - you could have knocked me over with a feather when the doctor told me that! So I need to do plenty of weight-bearing exercise and some aerobics to keep my weight down -- I weigh less now than I did in college! And aside from being on anti-depressants and blood pressure medicine, I'm as healthy as a horse. Except my blood sugar level is up to 180 and my doctor wants to see me again -something about diabetes, although there is no family history of it in my family. Unlike heart disease, which runs through the family like Bougainvillea vines run through the Garden District. You know -- that place in New Orleans by the Quarter. Surely you read Anne Rice when she was in vogue? Although I didn't like the Catholic stuff she wrote after all that.

No, I really can't work out early in the morning -- I am a TOTAL night owl -- I get my second wind about 9:30 p.m. I can barely get myself up by 7:30 a.m.

Exercise after work? HA HA HA HA HA HA! You are one funny guy! Shopping and dinner doesn't happen by myself!!!! Besides, whether I'm working or not, I really need a cocktail by 5:30 -- as I said, I have a lot on my plate.

One other tiny thing: I don't want to work with people -- the older I get, the less tolerance I have for stupidity. And it seems to be all I encounter these days -- stupid people with their petty problems. Like I don't have problems of my own - my house is a wreck.

So when do I get my first check? Because I really need it for my Cocos trip.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Girls in the 'Hood

Girls in my hood at a recent sleepover

I was covered in goosebumps the other evening while watching my youngest daughter and her friend -- all they did was walk across the street to retrieve the friend's bike, yet I felt almost physically propelled back to El Paso, Texas. Through the wonders of Facebook, I am in touch with my best friend from childhood. "I remember how I felt at home at your house with your mom always feeding us and how she would shuffle her feet on the carpet and then shock us with her fingernails and laugh," read part of my note to her, adding how blessed my children are to have friends right across the street.

What I didn't say is that watching the girls that evening gave me such joy that it was almost a pang, which I've felt for the past year as I watch the girls playing: everything from weddings to flower sales take place.

They hang out, they bike to the neighborhood pool together, they build elaborate tents and houses in the front yard.

They fly kites and talk endlessly. It's hard to tear my eyes away sometimes, especially after living so long without any neighbors.

El Paso in the late 50s and early 60s was where I discovered friendship and found my kindred spirit, Jana, who lived across the street. I can't remember my address from a year ago, but 108 Manor Place, phone number PR8-1490 is fixed in my mind, along with, for some inexplicable reason, my dad's army serial number. Manor Place was where Jana and I discovered Elvis (and later, the Beatles) together, bopping and whirling in our too-cool-for-school white go-go boots. We couldn't get enough of him in GI Blues.

"I've got those hup, two, three, four
occupation G.I. Blues
From my G.I. hair to the heels of my G.I. shoes
And if I don't go stateside soon
I'm gonna blow my fuse"

We rode our bikes all around the neighborhood and to and from Cedar Grove Elementary. I'd briefly check in after school; my mother said I would yell "Mom" and as soon as I knew she was there, I'd head out to skate, ride bikes, play fort, make endless cups of tea from honeysuckle and climb trees, our favorite being one in our yard that provided plenty of camouflage from which to launch water balloons or chats, depending on who was passing below. Occasionally, we were allowed to ride the bus downtown -- by ourselves!!!!! -- to see a movie, where at least one of my sisters worked the concession stand. I think we saw either Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music, but my fans know that my memory is as sharp as my kneecap.

Not Let Anybody See Me was our favorite indoor game, consisting of us creeping around the house while spying on people or the dog. My mom used to joke that our skulking about behind the furniture, often in plain sight, sometimes gave her the willies. Our favorite place to spy was my sisters' bedroom, where we would cram ourselves into the small closet and thrill to their glamorous talk. What they spoke of didn't matter as much as being covert, training for when we grew up and became spies.

Sleepovers were spontaneous, ordinary and yet sweetly scented with possibilities: a movie agent might see us dancing through the picture window and insist we star in Elvis' next movie, or implore us to sing backup for the Beatles. While we waited for stardom, we'd spend the evening discussing things like why the man right across the street from my house made his children lie under their beds for punishment, and what might be wrong with that guy who paced the sidewalk in front of his house, sternly lecturing his shrubs while gesturing wildly. Don't even get me started about another neighbor, Margot - I'd never heard that name - who would ask my sisters to watch her dog and insist that they wipe the dog's bum after he did his business. And who repeatedly advised them to bleach the crotches of their skivvies.

Two sleepovers stand out in my mind. The heat was almost unbearable one night-- this probably happened at my house since dad was reluctant to turn on the AC unless we literally burst into flames and set the furniture on fire. Unable to sleep and too tired to talk, we decided to sleep in the bathtub in cool water, which of course quickly presented its own problems. Our next solution was to sprinkle the sheets with cold water -- don't try either of these at home. We spent an endless, miserable night on damp, sticky sheets. Another night we stood on the edge of the tub to check whether our armpit hair was coming in -- another common event -- but this time we decided that we'd swing from the curtain rod while checking -- again, don't try this at home.

My sister Barbie, forever generous, would often give us 50 cents APIECE, a fortune. We'd walk to the end of the street, where we could buy tons of candy at the store, or more often, two or three tacos at the taco stand. (If I gave my kids 50 cents and told them to go enjoy themselves, they'd stare at me as if I had just placed a steaming horse turd in their hands, but hey, try buying even one taco with 50 cents today.)

The girls don't roam the neighborhood freely as Jana and I did, and they carry cell phones so we can keep in close touch: call when you get to the pool, call when you get to the park, call when you head home. I watched them retrieve the bike the other night because it was dark and even though it's a 60-second walk, I parent in an age where we do such things; our mothers would find our actions absurd. Which I felt, along with feeling a bit like a stalker as I peeked out the window, back to playing Not Let Anybody See Me. I watch them surreptitiously because I don't want them to think danger lurks in the very air they breathe. (I blame the liberal elite privileged press: those pusillanimous pussyfooting nattering nabobs of negativism bring horror stories into our homes every night.)

I sent Jana another note, reminiscing about a few things, to which she replied: "What a great memory! I read all this to my Mother and it made her so happy. I remember our childhood with great fondness. We were so free to roam. The back field was a great playground. I'm sorry to hear about your parents. Your Mom was always so happy and fun. I loved spying on your sisters, they always seemed so COOL! Especially Barbie. They were fun, and always going off to Disneyland to work and be surfer girls. They could dance and have wonderful parties and I wanted to be like them!! I also remember your dog-Fritzen Hammer Jonathan Walter Toone!!! I told my kids that story often, they love it!!! We are big dog lovers. I also used your name when I didn't want to tell a guy my real name!!! lol!!!"

That's okay, Jana -- I still use your name.

Blog Title Courtesy of the Sisters of Satisfaction, from their song of the same name. The sisters are indeed girls in the hood, as they live a stone's throw away from each other in PA.

Friday, June 11, 2010

What, Me Worry?

I started a blog about injustices, real and imagined, that I felt had been perpetrated against me and someone very dear to my heart. Both my sister and my attorney advised me not to publish it -- they said it was beneath me. My sister tried to charge me $80 for the advice. However, I'll start with the same beginning: when one door closes, another usually opens.

I tell my kids that everyone has problems in their lives; the difference is how we cope with them. We can do so with grace or spend our lives blaming others and tasting only bitterness. I know people in both categories, and I choose grace. I like the concept of divine grace: it's a gift to us, not something we've earned. Whether you call it grace or luck, I've been blessed in abundance. I'm a high-maintenance spouse and mother and sibling and friend, and yet my life overflows with unconditional love. I've also been blessed with a sense of humor; I crack myself up all the time.

People handle obstacles in different ways: the brightest immediately plan how to surmount them, follow through and continue muddling through life; others repeatedly hurl themselves at the obstacle with the same (wrong) results each time and whine about their bad luck; and the pitiful ones curl up in a fetal position and wait for problems to magically disappear.

I lost my job. So far my strategy for finding another has been whining to lots of people about the favors they owe me and padding my one-page resume to eight, including being a Rhodes scholar, all the awards I've never received, the Boards on which I've never served and the scholarly articles I've never written. If I had the money or need for whatever skills I possess (I haven't figured that out yet), I would certainly hire myself.

My horoscope lately has predicted that I'll make to-die-for lemonade from rotten lemons and how if I hadn't experienced a painful event, I wouldn't have the opportunity I'm about to have, which has yet to reveal itself. Those horoscope writers are deep. And although I'm not truly happy unless I'm anxious and worried about something -- anything -- I have been aware of the silver linings, the dark before the dawn and all those other clichés that never fail to make me want to hurl. (As I write this paragraph - seriously - I received a letter from from someone named E. Wright informing me that "they" are trying to reach me about my $1,100,000.00 prize. Sometimes you win.)

I lost a job I loved; however, I made a lifelong friend. Although only a few years older than I, my colleague often treats me like a daughter, including giving me lots of gifts, advice and unconditional support in my personal and professional life. I just cut a lot of sentimental stuff about her because it would make her gag. Like my mother and sisters, she always encourages me to take the high road, which is sometimes difficult for me. I'm that one who says, in the words of Alice Roosevelt "if you don't have something nice to say about someone, come and sit by me."

The timing for my job loss is serendipitous. My girls are too old for daycare and no way am I leaving them to their own devices all day. I'm going to be earth mother, although I'll wear better-looking shoes. My children's lives will be enriched and their futures assured because of this time I'm about to spend with them. Who needs a vacation when you're got mommy dearest hovering over you, making you clip coupons and hammering home the value of doing something because it's the right thing. And they never tire of me bursting into their rooms screaming "No wire coat hangers!"

The girls after one of my lectures about making good choices, not doing drugs and not having sex.

Until I find work, I can sponge off my husband, who depends on me for transportation and food and beer and can't really afford to piss me off right now. Plus he's crazy about me, even after 25 years. And I'll get an unemployment check -- I know it will be huge because I had a two-figure salary.

As I already mentioned, I have an amazing support system; not only my immediate family but my extended family (including many who are not related by blood -- you know who you are), friends, special emergency backup friends, acquaintances and my pups Sugar and Sweetie. I would be a basket case without all of you, and I thank you for your love and casseroles.

I'll close with a quote from another great woman, Bette Midler, "enough about me -- what do you think of me?" I think I'm going to be fine -- living well is the best revenge.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Of Gyms and Poop and Disappearing Panties

Maybe it's me, but this couple at the gym this morning seemed really squirrely. They carried a big red bag around with them, from which they pulled towels and hand sanitizer (even though the gym provides both). They layered every inch of each machine with towels and carefully sanitized their hands before and after using the machine - like they were even afraid of their own cooties. I'm not sure, but from the size of the bag and the number of the towels, they might have used new towels on each machine.

I didn't pay much attention to them until the end of my workout, where I rotate on three machines. The unspoken etiquette is that if someone is rotating on the same machine, you politely ask if you can work in with them, and they politely say "but of course!" While I'm on the first machine, I notice that Sanitizer Lady has spread her wealth of towels all over two machines, one being the the second in my rotation. Since she wasn't using it, I politely asked her if I could work in with her. She reacted as if I'd ask to borrow the panties she was wearing. Not saying a word, she got up from the machine, yanked the towels off and stalked away. She and Mr. Clean no doubt had words about the filthy swine trying to horn in on their workout. On my second round on said machine, Mr. Clean has spread all his germ-free towels on it but is standing in front of another machine. The same request ensues, except as he snatches the towels away, he hissed at me "we are working a circuit!" I cheerfully told him that I, too, was working a circuit, and he again hissed at me "well, isn't that good for you." He sounded a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I badly wanted to say "I'll be beck."

If they use the locker rooms, I'm guessing they also carry those disposable things you put on the toilet seat to ensure you don't get crabs or herpes, as well as Lysol, Drano, bleach and lots of rubber gloves. Except I bet they don't use locker rooms, even to pee.

I don't know of any specific rules for locker rooms, but I don't appreciate women who act offended that I comb my hair, apply moisturizer, etc., while in my unmentionables. For one thing, I'm hot after a good workout and shower, and for another I was raised with three sisters and a brother and we shared one bathroom. Enough said. But from some reactions, you would think I'm pooping on the floor or dancing around stark naked using a toilet plunger as a microphone while singing "I Enjoy Being a Girl." I know what you're thinking -- maybe she looks like a troll -- but I don't look like this.

Not that there's anything wrong with working your way up to 1,000 pounds.

Although I admit I look a little scary after bathing, especially when I can't camouflage my extra head, Tiny.

I must digress here because we love poop stories in my family and we love to share them with loved ones. Years ago, John and I were packing for Florida and I could only find a few pair of panties. So when we got there, we stopped in a K-Mart to shop for temporary emergency backup panties. While there, I walked into the bathroom and someone had pooped right in the middle of the floor -- not on the floor of a stall, but the almost exact center of the floor. Aside from what goes through the mind of someone who takes a crap in the middle of the floor -- wouldn't you worry about getting caught? (And my skivvies never showed up at home - it is still a mystery.) My youngest daughter REALLY couldn't believe it when she discovered that someone had pooped in the middle of the shower on a camping trip to Petit Jean. This was many years ago, and it provided conversation for the entire weekend, mostly starting with the girls saying, "Mom, why would someone poop in the shower? That's SO disgusting! How could someone do that?"

One more story about the locker room. On two occasions, I've seen a very sweet but perhaps a bit dotty older woman wash her hands vigorously -- as if she's prepping for surgery. Then she carefully dries them and then steps in to use the toilet. Then she exits without even rinsing her hands. On the other hand, she doesn't bat at eye at me.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Is This What's Called a Tempest?

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, A tale of a fateful trip/
That started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship.

Although the forecast yesterday called for heavy thunderstorms, I rationalized that Dallas, our Captain, had been in the National Guard -- he obviously has inside intelligence about all sorts of things. It might rain all over Arkansas, but Lake Ouachita would be spared. And look what a handsome guy he is.

Note how Susan, sitting behind him, seems a bit skeptical that his training has anything to do with being able to control the weather.

Realizing that things might get rough, our Captain turned over control of the boat; our new skipper was obviously wary but determined to get his passengers home safely.

We left the marina in high spirits, not knowing what was ahead. Or maybe Billie knew but couldn't tell us; like Cassandra, she too often made predictions that were ignored. Can you guess which one is Billie?

We hadn't gotten very far when gentle rainfall began. This did not dampen our spirits.

The weather started getting rough, The tiny ship was tossed/
If not for the courage of the fearless crew,The minnow would be lost, the minnow would be lost.

Okay, so we were wet and cold; that couldn't dampen our spirits. At least until we heard ominous thunder. We had taken shelter on one island and for some reason decided to move to another. Maybe it was because the first island had what looked to be a grave, complete with cross. And a stack of firewood and bricks placed strategically for ceremonies. The kids all swore that what came next happened because some of us had to pee on holy land.

Not all of us had to pee. One provided coverage with a towel, but I'm not saying who. One peed on her feet and had to wash her shoes in the lake. "Washing your shoes" is a euphemism among some tribes for peeing in the water.

This is what we looked like not long after we offended the gods.

Our Captain said "Just five more minutes of this, and then the sun will come out!" We heard a variation of that several times, and some of us began to doubt. We pulled up to the second island, whose trees seemed to designed specifically as lightning rods. The Lightning God obliged with a very cool show. The dilemna: struck by lightning under a tree or on the boat - it had lots of metal, which I hear is very atractive to lightning. We stuck with the boat. I felt compelled to capture our last moments. Note to self: bring disposable, waterproof camera next time so I can capture the boat flooding, lightning and hail.

I cowered in terror under my soaking towel, contemplating the saying about how there are no athiests in foxholes. I hadn't had the pleasure of sucking my thumb in many years!!!! However, being from Liverpool, Sherry is used to rain. How could we be worried when our hostess was obviously having such a great time? When we first met, she told me that her favorite memory was eating fish and chips while wearing her rubbers and macintosh, dodging lightning as she sprinted through the streets singing obscure Beatles songs like "Rain."

I think she might have been zapped by a wee bit of lightning sometime in her youth.

Our Captain, meanwhile, grew weary of the whining.

I think his exact words were "Don't make me come back there and take you out."

I was deep into making up various scenarios in which, if I made it home alive, I explained the crispness of our children to my husband. Then one of the teenagers began yelling "Ouch! It's hailing! Ouch! Ouch!" I thought it was a joke until I heard the clatter on the boat and felt the hail on my head. They were the size and weight of bowling balls. By this point, I was hysterical with laughter. Or maybe I had a concussion from the hail. I had stashed one extra additional bonus emergency backup towel in our waterproof bag that I was saving for (myself) when the rain stopped. When my youngest daughter's lips turned blue and she begged me for it, I couldn't refuse. I would appear a much better mother if I handed it over instead of fighting her for it. One has to keep up appearances. Note to self: bring at least two towels apiece on future outings.

I even gave her the lion's share of the towel. Because that's the kind of mother I am.

This is how we ended the trip, knowing that a nice sunny day would have been nice, but we had memories to last a lifetime.