Packing Up The Old Hobo Bag

A&Rphotopolaroid


Sometimes I dream about running away. Packing up the old hobo bag and taking to the road. It’s likely I wouldn’t get far. I mean, let’s face it, your average bandana tied to a stick doesn’t hold much. It probably wouldn’t even be large enough for all of my cosmetics. And at my age I NEED my cosmetics.

The last time I ran away I wound up two blocks away at my best friend’s house. I hadn’t even had the forethought to take my credit card, let alone fashion a hobo bag. I realized the error of my ways when we, fancying ourselves an updated version of Thelma and Louise, took to the roads. We made it as far as the local Target where, much to my disgust, I had to choose between spending the $20 in my wallet on something extravagant — you know, to make A POINT to that rat bastard I’m married to — or to use some of it for a hot dog value meal at the snack counter.

I must have been hungry because I’m pretty sure I had a deluxe dog, french fries, and a large soda. I toyed with purchasing a set of Legos that were on clearance, but decided, if memory serves, on a small shelf. My husband hates when I buy shelves. I’m sure that I thought that returning home with a new shelf would make more of a statement AND more of a noise than slamming a set of Legos on the dining room table ever could. Plus, what would I have done with Legos once I got them home?

Now that I think of it, I have no idea whatever became of the shelf. It’s probably sitting at the bottom of the hall closet with all of the other shelves that I’ve purchased, but never installed, over the years. Yeah. I like buying shelves, I just don’t like hanging shelves.

My husband will have nothing to do with shelves. He’s suspicious of them. They make him nervous. In his words, he “doesn’t trust shelves”. He has deep-seated psychological issues regarding shelves. Perhaps, some time in his youth, he was standing underneath one when it fell on his head and knocked the manliness out of him.

Yes, I said “manliness” because I’m sick, sick, sick of doing all the dirty work around here. For the record, ALL of the shelves I’ve ever purchased are NOT languishing in the bottom of the hall closet. Some of them have been installed — by ME! Outside of taking out the garbage and attending to the recycling, I do everything else around this joint.

I used to do trash duty, but I could never get the schedule right. My husband took over after hearing — from the neighbors — one too many stories that involved me racing down the street chasing after the garbage truck. These folks may or may not have been exaggerating when they described in fits and starts, through snorting guffaws, the various states of undress and shoelessness that often accompanied my failure to catch the DPW guy. I could be wrong, but I think he took responsibility for the trash more to save himself the embarrassment that these stories produced than because he wanted to lighten my load.

I even do things that send most women running for cover — like killing bugs. The only exception to this rule are bees — and that’s only because I’m allergic. Lord knows no one in this house wants me laid up with swelling or, God forbid, hospitalized with anaphylaxis. Because then who would kill the mice?

Certainly not my husband. Certainly not the teenager daughter. Certainly not the cat.

Yes, we have another mouse. I discovered our uninvited houseguest this morning, as I was bleary-eyed and coffeeless, but suddenly, upon happening upon it in the middle of the kitchen floor, wide awake. There’s nothing like coming face-to-face with a rodent at the crack of dawn to get your heart pumping, I’ll tell you that.

That I was up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning was because I was required to attend one of our all too frequently held staff meetings at work. I’ll bet the executives who are employed by IBM or members of The National Security Council have fewer meetings than we do. I’ll bet their meetings are a damn sight more interesting, too.

I’d guess they discuss things of importance, like new technologies and what the hell to do with that crazy guy in South Korea. We, on the other hand, are expected to listen attentively on subjects like golden beets and quinoa. It just feels silly.

I found it difficult, given the anxiety-producing events of my morning, to concentrate on new menu items. I’ll have to pretend to be excited about grilled watermelon, tilapia, and corn on the cob another day. I’d like to think that under normal circumstances I may have been able to muster up some enthusiasm for the fried green tomato, but I had other things on my mind.

Things like, for example, where could I lay my hands on some steel wool? I know this stuff will seal the small holes around the heating pipes. I had previously tried Target and the grocery store to no avail. I called my husband and asked him to take a quick trip to the home improvement store. I told him to get steel wool. I counseled him against purchasing Brill-O pads. I explained what I needed and why I needed it. I advised him, in the event that he became baffled in the vastness of the home improvement store, to ask someone roaming around in an orange apron about their steel wool inventory. I found it necessary to give these very specific instructions because I know my husband quite well.

It turns out, sadly, that my lack of faith in his ability to purchase some steel wool was not misplaced. I came home to discover that he had gotten stainless steel scrubbers. Do I even need to tell you that stainless steel scrubbers are NOT steel wool? Do I even need to tell you that my husband didn’t ask anybody in an orange apron anything.

Up until then, the highlight of my day had been waiting on the family who let me know that they were “in the business” and then insisted upon using five coupons, ordering children’s meals for their teenagers, demanding seventeen water refills each, and enjoying three courses for less than forty bucks. I’m not sure what “business” they were in, but I can assure you that it wasn’t the restaurant business. Still, I suppose dealing with them wasn’t so bad considering that prior to their appearance on the scene I thought that the crowning achievement of my workday would be all the fun facts that I had learned about kale.

Undeterred, even in light of having the wrong supplies and of having spent my day in the trenches over at The Annoying Bar and Grill, I was prepared to soldier on — to continue waging war against the furry, beady-eyed enemy or, I suspected, enemies, that were, no doubt, lurking under the appliances and the baseboard in my kitchen. Frankly, I had visions of pulling out the stove to discover a gaggle of mice sporting party hats and throwing confetti.

It was at this point that I sat aside of my husband and asked him to help me to formulate a “game plan”. I should have known by the look on his face that he had no intention of grabbing a mitt and getting into any game — even one that didn’t include rodent participants. I chose to ignore both his disinterested look and what I would characterize as mild harrumphing. In the midst of what was shaping up to be my version of the “St. Crispin’s Day” speech from Henry V, he looked me in the eye, much as the mouse had done just that morning, and told me that he wasn’t getting involved in anything of this nature.

As calmly as I could, in my best cajoling tone, I reminded him that I am, as he well knows, slightly mouse-phobic. My fear of mice in party hats under the stove notwithstanding, he flat out refused to help me embark upon Operation: Rodent Removal. Flat. Out. Refused.

When I asked him if he had a better plan, he told me that he was just going to wait until the cat took care of it. Seriously. That’s his plan. He’s going to rely upon our elderly, overweight feline to rid our living space of rodents. An elderly, overweight feline that doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record where hunting mice are concerned, let me just add.

I feel like I may as well look to hire The Pied Piper of Hamelin. I know that story is a fairy tale. So is my husband’s belief that our cat will somehow, uncharacteristically rise to the occasion and solve our mouse problem.

My game plan is to give up. I’m plum tuckered out. I’ve located a bandana. Now I just need a good stick. I’m packing my hobo bag and getting the hell out of Dodge.

This post also appeared as part of a “Best of 2014” blog hop over at Midlife Boulevard!

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What’s Going On?

whatsgoingon


I don’t always know what is going on in the world — I suspect that most of the time it’s going to hell in a hand basket, but I don’t actually know that for sure. Admittedly, I’m a little self-centered. My world, being as Jackie-centric as it is, means that I pay very little attention to things that don’t impact me. It’s a good bet that I’ll have some idea what the weather is supposed to be like on my day off, but don’t expect me to know that there are changes afoot in Turkey’s political landscape.

In an effort to help me stay a little more on top of things, my husband, the far more interested in keeping current, Fang, recommended that, to this end, I download an app. This was prompted, no doubt, by his exasperation with his ill-informed wife. In an urgent tone, he reported that this app would send breaking news directly and immediately to my phone. I’ve forgotten what exactly it was that I didn’t know that so exasperated him. Whatever it was it caused him to nearly beg that I show a little more interest in both national and international events. He may have mumbled something about being an embarrassment to the family name.

I would like to take this opportunity to defend myself — and the family name — by saying that I often know when there’s big stuff going on in the world — not always, but often enough. I knew about the missing Malaysian airliner, for example. That this may have been the result of social media being all abuzz about it, I can’t recall. It’s probable that I had come by this information by clicking on a link that some helpful friend posted and which I stumbled across while I was trolling around on Facebook while awaiting new lives to load for Candy Crush. While it’s possible that I got the information in another way, it’s not bloody likely.

Unless there’s a baseball game on, I don’t watch television when I’m home alone. Outside of the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, I can’t remember a time that a sports network interrupted my enjoyment of a game with current events. As I didn’t have the app yet, it’s a pretty good bet that I got the airliner news, one way or another, via the internet. Even if The Mets were on that day, I don’t remember Keith, Ronnie, Kevin, or Gary commenting on it.

Because I was so proud of myself for finally being in the loop about something newsworthy, I not only had a conversation with Fang about it, I initiated one. I know. It was cocky of me, but sometimes I have to take my successes where I find them. Breezily and confidently, I just threw a comment out there, over dinner or some such, in a nonchalant way about how it was so odd that such a large thing could just disappear into thin air. By way of a response, Fang just looked at me and said, “It’s good to know that news made it to Facebook.” Alas, he’s always on to my shenanigans.

I decided to let this mildly snarky comment slide. I had already allowed my mind to wander. That it wandered in the direction of “Where We Get Our News Today”, instead of whether I had remembered to tape last week’s installment of “Ripper Street” or when, if ever, PBS would provide the world with another episode of “Endeavour”, surprised even me.

Normally, those are the sorts of questions that take up space in my brain, not why I, and I suspect millions of others, no longer keep up with what’s going on in the world through newspapers, television, and/or radio. Honestly, if the event doesn’t make it to my home page or if someone doesn’t post or comment on it through social media — it’s helpful when they provide a link — I won’t know about it.

Frankly, I’ve never been one to read a daily newspaper. I used to get The New York Times delivered, but that was mainly for show and for the crossword puzzle. National television news spends far too much air time time covering wars, famines, and natural disasters; local television expends its energy on fires and murders. It’s downright depressing.

As far as the radio is concerned, if we even own one, I don’t know where it is. Once in a while I’ll tune in to NPR, but I do that via the internet, too. I do so enjoy “This American Life”.

With this topic in mind, I interrupted my husband, the guy who foolishly thought he was having a conversation with me, while he was going on and on about the theories that were swirling around regarding the circumstances of how a gigantic aircraft could just disappear. I asked him how he happened to come by all of this information — these theories, I suspected, weren’t his own. That’s when he told me about the fabulous app he had on his phone, the one that delivers to him, in real time, breaking news stories.

I did not ask him why he thought his means for keeping current was better than mine. I knew then, as I know now, that he would make the argument that his source was better, more professional, more substantial, even, than my more willy-nilly method. I wasn’t looking to tangle with him, I simply wanted to know.

Ultimately and for some inexplicable reason — perhaps I thought that my husband and I would converse about issues and affairs not related to baseball if I knew something about issues and affairs unrelated to baseball — I did something that seemed a good idea at the time. I downloaded the app. I’ve regretted it ever since.

This thing beeps and blips all night long! It has, thus far, alerted me to many, many things in the middle of the night that are of little or no interest to me, but that I fear, as a result of the incessant beeping and blipping, may be of utmost importance. Every time the noise alerts me to something new, I worry that if I don’t at least glance at it, I may miss out on life-saving information.

This gripping dread has led me on far too many recent evenings to roll over, bolt upright, begin a search for my glasses, and wearily click on the app, as I hope against hope that I won’t be instructed to evacuate my premises or, God forbid, the State of New Jersey. I know all too well that in my mismatched pajamas and brightly colored fuzzy socks, I’m not really dressed for that sort of thing.

Fortunately, no such instructions have been forthcoming. Instead, I have been advised about fires in Russian shipyards that may, or may not, involve nuclear submarines, nearly minute-by-minute reports about what Congress may or may not be up to (in the dead of the night?), and sanctions that the UN may or may not levy upon some country that up to now I didn’t even know how to spell.

I could go on and on, as the stupid app does, but I won’t. I’ll spare you that. Suffice it to say that this app hasn’t provided me with new information on anything that is of any real concern to me. I still, for example, do not know what the BBC is up to in reference to “Endeavour”. As soon as I delete the app, I am going to do what I always do when I want to discover something — search the internet or head on over to Facebook or Twitter. What’s nice about my method, willy-nilly though it is, is that I can use it at my convenience, like when I’m awake.

My husband can go ahead and think me shallow and ill-informed. That’s fine. I’ll learn to live with being a disgrace to our name, which is his name anyway, so, really, what do I care? If I’m going to plow through life shallow and ill-informed, at least I’ll be both of those things AND well-rested. I’ll just have to rely upon Fang to rouse me from my slumber if, indeed, the zombies (or the Russians, or the Redcoats) are coming. Hopefully, I’ll be wearing matching pajamas.

“The Pencil Story”

pencilstory

My daughter recently attained adulthood, at least in the eyes of the law. Personally, I won’t be conferring that status upon her until she learns to pick the wet towels up off of her bedroom floor. Still, this milestone in both of our lives has given me reason to reflect upon how my idea of successful parenting has changed in the intervening years.

If I’d been asked eighteen years ago what my parenting goals were, it is very likely that I would have responded, in much the same breathy, heartfelt, yet misguided, way that every “Miss America” contestant discusses how she wants to “make the world a better place for the children”. I would have said that I hoped to raise a kind, confident, happy person. As scary, not to mention overly optimistic, as this may sound, I would have meant it. I suppose those young pageant-y types mean what they say, too. Never mind that none of them have any real chance of achieving the very lofty goals they were foolish enough to share publicly.

It’s lucky that I set my goals privately — I didn’t report them to Regis on national television. Still, I had visions that I could turn out a person that had all of these qualities in spades, plus a bag of chips. That’s just the kind of Pollyanna I was back in the days when motherhood was more theoretical, when tending to my child’s physical needs were paramount and all-consuming. Her spiritual needs would have to wait until I was a more well rested.

What I failed to realize was that feeding and diapering an infant, taking a toddler to the park, or throwing a ball around to a youngster would be far easier, both for me and for her, than molding her into that kind, confident, and happy person that I was so convinced she could become. Having now been in the trenches and seen motherhood for what it really is — a series of pitched battles where ground is gained and lost, resulting, ultimately, in something that more often than not resembles a Mexican stand-off, I can’t help but wonder whether I set the parenting bar a little high when I was still cuddling a newborn.

Those “Miss America” contestants would undoubtedly agree. If, after having backed themselves into a corner with their idealistic vision of the world, they traded in their glamorous evening wear and their tiaras for khakis and bandanas — clothing and accessories more in line with hut building — and spent eighteen years knee-deep in mud fighting off killer mosquitos in some malaria-filled jungle only to discover that the very people they were trying to help were in no way interested in their silly project.

That realization would have to change a person, even if that person was a well-intentioned beauty queen, which I, most definitely, am not. I suppose I should be grateful that I didn’t have to come by my lessons by wielding a machete in some godforsaken rainforest. Having a great tan might have been nice, though.

Fairly early on I realized that I should have set less lofty goals for my child and, by extension, for myself. Qualities like kindness, confidence, and happiness are difficult things to measure, to be sure. At some point, when reality set in, I gave up the idea of building castles in the sky — or huts in the jungle — and contented myself, instead, with constructing things that were more in keeping with my skills — things like small Lego outbuildings.

I did manage to come up with one example where she demonstrated all three of these qualities. It was years ago, but I’m going to go ahead and count it anyway because, you know, it gives me some small comfort to know that somewhere inside the snarky young adult that I now share my life with, the one who shows a remarkable ability for towel littering, there once existed a kind, confident, and happy child.

While mine was never the kid who spent years growing her hair out only to have it shorn off so that wigs could be made for cancer victims, she did once return a pencil to a friend. I know this doesn’t sound like much on the surface, but the act meant a great deal to the friend — a friend who, to put it bluntly, had formed what I and many others, including the child’s own mother, considered an unhealthy attachment to said pencil.

Somehow, during what were, no doubt, some schoolroom shenanigans, the pencil managed to find its way into my daughter’s backpack or her pencil case or her pants pocket. Who knows? Who can remember? A siren call was put out by the somewhat embarrassed pencil owner’s mother for the return of the item. I gave (and still give) that woman a lot of credit for realizing the importance of the pencil to her daughter. Even though her child’s reaction to the loss of something as ordinary and easily replaced as a pencil was a tad south of loony, this mother went ahead and organized a search for it anyway. I don’t think I would have done anything of the sort. Perhaps if I had treated the loss of a pencil with such tenaciousness my daughter would have more respect for me now. Maybe she’d even pick her wet towels up off the floor.

As a result of the numerous phone calls made and emails sent by this tenacious and, let’s just be honest, a little high-strung mother, I required my child to search for the foolish pencil, which was nowhere to be found. And then one afternoon, weeks after the pencil in question went missing, my daughter discovered it somewhere among her belongings. She decided to return it all on her own, an act that I proudly attributed at the time to her emerging kind and caring nature.

I had very little doubt that her possession of the pencil was accidental, still it may have looked a little suspicious from another’s perspective. She could have just thrown it away. She was, after all, the one who happened upon it, not me. She demonstrated real confidence in this situation. So confident was she that her role in the disappearance of the much searched for pencil was innocent that she went ahead and returned it.

When I asked her how it felt to have returned the item to its rightful owner, she told me that it felt good. I asked her if it felt good because she had made her friend happy. “I guess”, she said, “Really, though, I’m just happy to not have to hear about the dumb pencil anymore.” It still warms my heart to know that she experienced happiness at some point in her life.

There have been many moments over the years when this incident and my daughter’s role in it has given me comfort. I have to admit that most of these moments have tended to occur while I am removing wet towels from one surface or another, still I am reminded that at least there was one time when my kid was kind, confident, and happy. It may not compare with the memories that other, possibly better, parents may be able to dredge up regarding how their kid gave all of his Christmas presents to the needy or stood up to a bully, but, like I said, I’ve learned to be more realistic in terms of measuring my success as a parent.

Now that I’ve sat down and thought about it, it’s nice to know that if anyone ever asks whether or not I’ve met my parenting goals I can answer in the affirmative. And, I’ve got “The Pencil Story” to prove it.

Stay Home — Make Some Memories!

It never fails. It’s as sure as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. When it snows like a son-of-a-bitch, restaurants located along highways will be filled with families with young children.

At some point the other night, during the first snowfall of the season, I looked up at the “holding area” and thought, “Yup. Here we go. It’s gonna be ‘Romper Room’ in here in a minute!” And, I wasn’t wrong. The idiotic parents of several toddlers, a few infants, and two (!) newborns had chosen to bundle up the kids and make their way along the snowy highway in CARS. And, for what? A plate of chicken fingers? A change of scenery?

Frankly, I just don’t get it. What makes parents decide to brave the icy roadways, take to the snowy highways, and careen along the slippery byways, to dine out? I don’t believe for a minute that their household cupboards are bare. Nope. What I think is that THEY, the parents, want to do something that THEY consider “F-U-N!” — never mind what the kids want. Or what’s safe.

What happened to making snowmen or snow angels with your children? How about constructing an igloo or throwing a few snowballs? Aren’t those the fun, family-oriented snowy day activities people should be enjoying with their progeny? Did I miss the memo?

When I was a kid, my sisters and I — often joined by our father, my mother’s other child — used to play outside in the snow for hours. Hours! When it was time to come inside, usually owing to the loss of feeling in our extremities and our noses, we would, reluctantly, trudge inside, place our woolens on and our boots under the radiator (so that they’d be dry for when we wanted to go outside AGAIN!). Traditionally, we’d enjoy a nice grilled cheese sandwich, a warm bowl of Campbell’s Tomato soup, and a piping hot cup of cocoa. If we were very, very lucky AND if my mother (or my grandmother) had felt industrious — if either of them had had the wherewithal to drag out the deep fryer AND peeled some potatoes — homemade french fries may have made it to the menu! Yum!

It wouldn’t have occurred to either of my parents, the child-like one or the more responsible one, to bundle us up, pack us into the station wagon, and head on over to the nearest dining establishment. Once the roads were clear and provided my father hadn’t expended all of his energy pelting us with snowballs, we could usually look forward to him taking us across town to do some sledding — but he would never have put us in the car in the middle of a snowstorm and hauled us to a restaurant. Only some of his screws were loose — he was still in possession of most of them.

Of course, back then, families didn’t dine out much — at least my family didn’t. Going out to a restaurant was an EVENT!

If you were lucky enough to be out with my father alone he could sometimes be convinced to buy you a McDonald’s burger or, depending on the hour, an Egg McMuffin sandwich. Like solar eclipses, these opportunities did not present themselves on a regular basis. And, like viewing the solar eclipse through that little pinhole on a piece of cardboard, an indirect approach worked best.

In other words, you had to play your cards right — looking longingly as you passed the golden arches without directly asking for anything was my tried and true method. My father was not one to spend good money on restaurant food. Nor was he the type of guy who gave in to demands for food. You could not, for example, just blurt out “I’m hungry” nor — and here’s something that one of my sisters NEVER learned — which cost the both of us a few fast food meals back in the day — could you WHINE about it, for heaven’s sakes! If you did either of these things, it was highly likely that he’d just tell you that there was cereal at home. And that, my friend, was that. Game over. (WAHT-WA-WAH!)

What worked in our favor was that my father actually LIKED fast food. So, IF you had done a good job helping him out at the hardware store or had hauled quadruple your weight in newspapers down at the recycling center, IF he had enough money, and IF you were actually going to pass the fast food joint on the way home — you might just be in luck. Crossing your fingers sometimes helped, too.

It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway — this was a clandestine affair. If you managed to wrangle a cheeseburger and some of those gloriously salty fries out of my father, you had to be very careful to cover your tracks. The others, the ones who had been left behind, having been in your position in the past, were often waiting on the driveway for your return. They’d be lined up, looking for the telltale signs that you had gotten something that they hadn’t. Being found out would, inevitably, result in crying. To avoid the aggravation associated with three crying daughters, my father would do a face and finger check — for remnants of salt, ketchup, and errant pickle juice. On at least one occasion I can remember being sprayed with car freshener. My father was not one to allow a “T” to go uncrossed or an “I” to remain undotted.

In my family, eating out in a restaurant staffed by waitresses was, as you can imagine, a rare treat and one that occurred only on special occasions. A snowstorm or even some mild rain could halt the entire proceedings! Maybe I’m just old and curmudgeonly, but I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around bundling up the kids and playing fast and loose with their safety in wintry driving conditions to fill my face with food.

I’d like to suggest to these folks that they warm up a can of soup, grill up a sandwich, and make some real hot cocoa — with whole milk, none of that 2% bullshit, and real chocolate melted in a pan, on the stove, as God intended cocoa to be made! If dangerous living is what you’re after, add some extra sugar to it!

Or, how about just heading out to the backyard — on foot — make some angels, some snowmen, some memories. Seriously, though, STOP risking their lives for a plate of onion rings. I guarantee you that they won’t remember the stupid onion rings, but the snow fort? They’ll never forget a lovingly crafted snow fort, especially if they can hide behind it and gleefully nail a sister (or a parent who foolishly lets his guard down!) with a snowball or two. Never.




photo credits:
snow angel
kid eating in restaurant

A Banner Day!

hanramblog

I found myself in a position today, outside of the blogosphere, in a real-world setting, to identify myself not as a waitress, not as a Candy Crush player of some renown, not even as a woman teetering on the verge of complete home organization, but as a writer. It was, to put it mildly, a banner day.

It was the kind of day that happens so infrequently that it not only bears mentioning, but also required at least some small celebratory measure. I had some chocolate chip cookies. That’s how I choose to celebrate these days. I thought of putting them in a champagne flute, but, really who needs to fish out crumbled cookies from the bottom of a glass during an impromptu celebration? Not this writer, that’s for sure. (Also, I’m pretty sure that I got rid of all the fancy stemware when I stopped drinking.)

I took a break today from the five Granny square-a-day schedule that I’ve been trying my best to adhere to — the one I put myself on in an attempt to finish the “Creeper” blanket in time for Christmas. What did I do with my Granny square-free day? Did I do a little power shopping? No. I did not. Sadly, there are still no presents under my tree. Did I take a backhoe to my bedroom — the last stop on the “hovel purge” express? Nope. Didn’t do that, either.

What, then, did I do? Fang and I took the lovely Fangette to “Immediate Decision Day” at a local college. I should mention that it wasn’t any old, local college. It was, in fact, the college from which I graduated in 1995. Life, as it happens, does, indeed, come full circle.

When Fangette announced that she was interested in exploring the possibility of attending its School of Nursing, I was happy. It’s close. It’s affordable. But, most importantly, I was happy to hear that she had some interest in attending Ramapo because, well, I just loved it there.

Whenever I’ve found myself in a position to offer either solicited or unsolicited advice to the young people, usually the latter, I encourage them to take a look at Ramapo. Over the years, some of them have listened. To a one, they always thank me. Mostly they tell me how much they love it there, too — the bucolic setting, the small class sizes, and the relationships that they are able to forge with their professors — professors who are invested in their success almost as much as they, themselves, are.

As the day approached, I toyed with the idea of contacting the professor who had the biggest impact on my academic success while I was a student there. I was hesitant, though. Not because I didn’t want to see her or because I didn’t think she’d want to see me, but because I worried that she would think — as some do, as even I sometimes do — that I had wasted my education, that I had squandered the opportunities that I had been given.

I hadn’t, after all, pursued, as I had planned, an advanced degree. (Not a decision that I have ever regretted, by the way.) At the very least it would have been nice to tell her that I had obtained my teaching certification, but I haven’t even done that. (That’s a decision that I sometimes do regret — particularly when my teacher friends are hanging out by the pool on a hot summer day or when they get to spend a “snow day” in their pajamas while I’m out slinging hash in the sweltering heat or the frigid cold. I don’t really think twice about it when the weather is temperate, though.)

How would I tell her that I was still a waitress? As the day of our scheduled visit approached, I grew more and more reluctant to contact her. Finally, and with little time to spare, I decided to just go ahead and let her know that I would be on campus and to ask her if she would be there too. As I hit the “send” button on the email — the one that I had deliberately constructed to sound breezy and as if it had just occurred to me to dash it off — I adopted the old “if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be” attitude for which I am semi-famous.

It was, as it turned out, meant to be. She responded quickly and enthusiastically to my email.

At the appointed time I made my way easily and with something akin to “muscle memory” through the maze of labyrinthine corridors and found her in her office. She looked much the same, even after fifteen years. The years, in the famous words of Dan Fogelberg, had been “a friend to her.” I hope that she thought the same of me.

I braced for the inevitable query — the one that always arises when old friends meet — “So, what are you up to?” What, indeed.

Without apology, I told her that I was still in the “waitressing game”. She seemed neither disappointed nor distressed by this information. On some level I knew that she wouldn’t be — she’s just not that kind of person. And then, I revealed to her what I was really “up to”. I told her about my blog, I discussed my writing, I explained how I’d finally found that creative outlet that I’ve always craved.

Believe me, no one is more familiar with my “flowery language” and/or my “verbosity” than she. No one. I was never the sort of student who had to be asked to “elaborate” — while my contemporaries often received the dreaded red ink comment of “more?!?”, I was likely to see “less?!” scribbled in the margins of my research papers. Come examination time, my classmates were often supplied with a couple of blue books, I was always given a stack — and, sometimes, I needed more. A ten-page paper on some minor figure from “The Gilded Age”? Puh-leese, people! I could write that in my sleep!

She remembered things about me that, quite frankly, even I had forgotten — or swept under the carpet. She wasn’t, as I sometimes am, at all surprised to discover that I am still married to the same man. (I wasn’t shocked to discover that she, too, has rolled into middle age with the same life partner.) We fell into easy conversation about our children — both of our daughters will be college-bound in the Fall. We talked about the seemingly endless, but necessary, campus construction and the staff changes that have occurred in my almost twenty-year absence as a result of retirement and, sadly, death.

I’m glad that I mustered up the courage to hit the “send” button on that email — and not just because we had a delightful visit. (We did!) More significant, however, than the mere delightfulness of our visit and, as was so often the case whenever I had the pleasure to be in her company, was that I learned something. In our time together today she taught me an accidental lesson, one wholly unrelated to knowledge that she had previously imparted to me — things like the importance of the contributions made by Charles Grandison Finney and the other evangelicals who set the stage for the abolitionist movement in 1830’s America, for example. No. Today’s lesson was far more personal. And, I daresay, more valuable.

For the first time, as I sat upon the teetering chair in her office, I felt like a writer. Not because I chose to define myself as such, possibly to steer the conversation away from the fact that I was still a waitress, but because I found myself taking note of my physical surroundings and paying careful attention not just to the unbalanced chair that I had chosen, but of how I felt emotionally in this setting. Even as we were chit-chatting, I realized that part of my brain was engaged in not just the simple and deliberate act of observing, but that I was engaged in a more refined and instinctive way — the way that writers are. I was recording and preserving information. Up to now, I had only heard of or read about this phenomenon — I never thought it would happen to me. After all, I’m just a waitress.

Except that I’m not. Just a waitress, that is. I am, as we all are, more than the sum of my parts. I can choose to define myself in a negative way, to be embarrassed by a life spent in service to people who can’t manage to suss out the proper pronunciation of something as simple as “sirloin” (note the spelling, people, it’s not Sir Lion!) or I can choose to hold my head high and call myself what I always knew that I could be and what I finally feel like I’ve become — a writer!


NOTE: Fangette enjoyed a successful day as well — she was accepted to the Nursing program AND she received an actual banner — unlike her mother’s metaphorical one! They even offered her a nice scholarship package. And, it is here, at this juncture, that I’d like you to imagine the angels singing, okay? She liked it — the school, the program, the surroundings. Hallelujah! As for Fang? He found the campus Starbuck’s. It was a banner day for the lot of us.

photo credit: me

Mind the Manual!

mindthemanual

I like to think of myself as a “straight-shooter”, a “tell it like it is” kind of gal. And, for the most part, I am that. I try to be as honest and as straightforward as I can be without being mean. There are, however, certain situations that call for the use of other, more subtle methods of persuasion. These situations include, but are not limited to, any time I find myself in a position where my husband and I are at odds over how to go about a thing — recently, during “the hovel purge”, we have found ourselves in such a position on a number of occasions.

For many years I have been threatening to throw together something called “Fang’s Manual For Living”, which, for the sake of brevity, we commonly refer to up in this joint as “The Manual”. We refer to it pretty often. Oh, yes. We do. Seldom does a day go by in which Fang does not utter something along the lines of “Mind the Manual!”

We can regularly be overheard saying things like, “Oh, I can’t use a butter knife in lieu of a flathead screwdriver? I didn’t realize that. That’s in ‘The Manual’, is it? Okay. Now I know. It won’t happen again!”

Of course this is an outright lie. And, I will definitely employ the same method again. Why? Two reasons. First, I’m not going to go through the trouble of digging out the toolbox when a butter knife, which is far more accessible, can very easily tighten the screw on the drawer of the kitchen cabinet — a drawer that, as luck would have it, actually houses the butter knives! Second, because his rules annoy me. So, there!

The reason I’ve yet to compile this tome is because I’ve always thought that it would be a great deal of work for very little return — Fang has a lot of rules. While it would provide an amusing look into the way in which my husband’s mind works, it probably wouldn’t be useful to anyone living outside of the hovel.

And then it occurred to me that there may, indeed, be large numbers of folks who have their own Fangs, their own significant others who have their own manuals. I’m here to tell you that ignoring their rules isn’t always the best way to go. They get a little excited when you do this. There are, however, other weapons in the arsenal that can be employed.

This is especially important to know when you find yourself in a position to deal with matters that are included in Chapter Four. Chapter Four covers, among other home improvement tasks, hanging things on walls. Getting around the rules set forth in Chapter Four often requires that you bring out the big guns.

If you find yourself in this unfortunate position, do not despair. All is not lost. Use this recent conversation between Fang and myself as your guide.

What I really want is to put some sort of inspirational quote up on the wall over the television — possibly something from “Harry Potter”, I haven’t decided yet. I know that Fang will think this “stupid” — and not just the quote that I may or may not have in mind, but the idea of any quote on any wall.

What follows is an example of how I managed, through what others might term “manipulation”, but that I like to think of as “mental sleight of hand” — it has a much better ring to it than “manipulation”, don’t you think? — to bring Fang around to my way of thinking. Sure, he hasn’t wholeheartedly embraced it, but, as you shall see, he has reconciled himself to this design choice.


Hon, the living room looks swell, but I think we need to put a few pictures up on the walls. Ya know, I was thinking, some fine art might be nice. You like that sort of thing.

Yes, I do. Like that sort of thing. I’m weird like that.

After Christmas I’d like to paint and get the new blinds. Once that’s been accomplished, I was thinking that we could put a ledge over there. (I say this as I point to the blank wall in the dining area.) I’d like to create a gallery of family photos and such. I’ll put them on a ledge and display them that way. (I say this because I KNOW that Fang has an affinity for family photos. Feel free to substitute whatever your partner has a soft spot for — I hope it’s not ceramic replicas of rodeo clowns, but that’s really your problem, isn’t it?)

You want to paint??? Again???

This room has never been painted. At least not by us. So, I’m not sure where the “again” you’re referring to comes in.

We just painted.

To be clear, “We” only painted Fangette’s room. “I” painted the hallway and the bathroom.

Let’s get back to the blank walls.

Let’s!

I feel like a ledge is another way of saying shelf. Is it? Because I don’t want any more shelves. You have a mania for shelves. You see a blank wall and think, ‘That would be a nice place for a shelf!’ I don’t understand why you need to put shelves everywhere.

Because they hold and display things. And we have things. Things that need to be held. Things that need to be displayed.

But, you’ve got all of these shelves! (He says this as he is pointing to the two 16-unit cubby shelves that line the living room wall.)

Agreed, but they’re more for storage. I’d like the ledge to be for displaying things.

Stop calling it a ledge. Let’s just agree that it’s a shelf and dispense with the lying. And, what kinds of ‘things’ are going to be displayed on this ledge, I mean, shelf?

I just told you. Family photos and such.

Yeah. It’s the “and such” that worries me.

Don’t worry your pretty little head over it.

You’re going to put bowls on it, aren’t you? Or roosters? Or owls? You are, aren’t you? I know you are.

Perhaps. We’ll see how it goes.

How what goes? Your trip to Home Goods? I’m telling you right now that I don’t want to see any bowls or roosters or owls up there. Or platters. I forgot about platters. No platters. That place is ugly with platters. And owls. And roosters.

And bowls. You forgot to mention bowls.

Yeah, them too.

I’m not making any promises.

Oh, my God! The walls are going to be lined with shelves aren’t they? And platters!

Don’t worry. There’ll be family photos sprinkled in.

What about the fine art? Where are you going to put the fine art? If you’ve got all these shelves with platters and pictures where will you put your fine art? Huh? You didn’t think of that, did you? And do not say that you’re going to hang pictures behind the television. I don’t want any pictures back there! They’re liable to fall and bust the TV. You know I don’t want anything back there.

Yes, I know. You’re very concerned about the remote possibility that the next earthquake that hits New Jersey will cause pictures to fly off of the walls and “bust the TV”.

It could happen. We had an earthquake here a few years ago. Do you remember that?

I do. I was in the kitchen sorting through plastic ware. Do you remember how you thought that I was somehow responsible for the tremors that we experienced? Do you recall how you thought that whatever I was “up to” in the kitchen had caused the house to rattle and shake a bit?

Well, how did I know what you were doing?

You were in the next room in a five-room apartment. And, really, putting away plastic ware does not, generally, require sledgehammering, does it? I mean, I would have had to be using such a thing to cause the shaking and rolling that we experienced in that minor quake.

Okay, so we do have to worry about earthquakes.

Nothing even came close to falling off the walls in that — the largest quake we have ever experienced here in New Jersey. Not even close. Frankly, if you hadn’t thought I was ‘up to something’, you wouldn’t even have noticed it.

On the subject of you being “up to something”, let’s firm up this fine art thing. Let’s get back to how you haven’t figured it into the shelf/photo equation. And, let me remind you, earthquakes or no, nothing is getting hung up behind MY television. Nothing.

I know. I know. Nothing can be hung above or behind a television EVER. It’s in “The Manual”. Chapter Four, I think.

I believe so. I’m glad you’ve familiarized yourself with that chapter.

I have. But, I was thinking that there is a great deal of “dead space” above that television. You know what would eliminate this problem? One of those thingies. You know, those thingies that allow the television to hang from the wall. Those thingies are nice. They are designed to allow the television to tilt and to telescope. Are you familiar with them? Having one of those would eliminate all of that dead space.

They’re called brackets, I think. And, are you crazy? Those things can’t be safe.

They must be safe. Hundreds of thousands of people install them every day.

Hundreds of thousands of people ride roller coasters every day, too. They’re not safe either.

Oh, please. Let’s not have another roller coaster conversation.

Let’s not. Let’s get back to the fine art that you are NOT going to hang anywhere near my television. A television that will also not be suspended from any wall by any bracket. It’s fine where it is. On a stand. A nice stand with drawers. A stand that I spent four hours putting together.

A stand with one drawer askew.

Never mind that. It’s fine. You’re the only one who notices it.

I’m the only one who says anything about it. Everyone who sees it notices it. I’ll bet the students at “St. Mary’s School For the Blind” would notice it.

Whatever. What’s your plan for this “dead space” behind the television. I’m intrigued.

Have we abandoned the fine art conversation?

We’ll get back to that. What’s going on behind my television. That’s what I’d like to know.

I was thinking that I could put a quote up there.

Absolutely not. Quotes are stupid.

Really? How, I wonder, if they’re so “stupid” did they become famous quotes at all?

Okay. Quotes aren’t stupid. Quotes painted on walls are stupid.

I could order a decal. It’ll be nice.

No decals.

I don’t think “No Decals” is in “The Manual”.

I’ll work it into the revision. No decals.

Because they’re stupid, too.

When they’re decals of quotes they are.

What if I got a decal that read: “Mind ‘The Manual'”?

Now you’re just being ridiculous.

Okay, I’ll figure something out. After we paint and hang the ledge.

That’s fine. Whatever. Just no quotes.

What about roosters or owls?

I give up.

Okay.


Do you see what I did there? With a bit of finesse I skirted my way around “The Manual” and his lack of vision where wall quotes are concerned. I’ll get my ledge. I’ll get my platters, my bowls, my roosters, my owls. I’ll display my family pictures. I’ll fill that dead space with a quote. He’ll be fine with that, knowing that it could have been a rooster. And this, my friends, is how these things are accomplished.

You’re welcome.

photo credits:
rooster

The Unbalanced Forces Always Find Me

nablo13daysevenI often feel like I can’t catch a break. For example, there I was Monday evening, just about to climb into bed. I was ready for some much-needed shut-eye. Monday had been a long day. A good day, but a long day. I thoroughly enjoyed the pampering that my makeover entailed. My husband presented me with a dozen roses and we, the “new” me and the fam, enjoyed a nice 24th Anniversary dinner.

I was exhausted though, owing to the little sleep I had gotten the night before — a result of the combination of pre-makeover jitters and the fact that I had to arise at the ungodly hour of 5:30 AM in order to make my 9:00 AM hair appointment on Madison Avenue. Getting across town to Madison Avenue from New Jersey while certainly better than getting downtown from New Jersey, still requires being transported by bus and by subway. I had just settled in, when BAM!, my good day ended on a sour note.

My life often feels like one big, honking, real-world application of Newton’s First Law of Motion, which states that “an object at rest will stay at rest, an object in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by an unbalanced force”. Monday evening turned out to be an excellent example of how I am routinely acted upon by unbalanced forces.

All I wanted to do was to remain at rest, but that was not to be. Outside forces of the unbalanced variety were set loose. The relative peace and quiet that I had expected would be available to me at nearly 10 PM that evening was disturbed — by an outside force of the most unbalanced variety. The Garden State Plaza Mall shooter.

The event itself was bad enough. Scary, even. What was worse, though, was the news coverage that we were graced with.

There was a time when we got our news from trusted sources, like Walter Cronkite, for example. Not so much anymore. Sure, Anderson Cooper is easy on the eyes, but he often has very little of value to impart to the viewing public. I take some small comfort in the fact that he’s better than that guy Shepard Smith. I swear THAT guy attended the “Ted Baxter School of News Reading”. At least Anderson Cooper can pronounce things properly.

The other evening, during the coverage of this “entirely too close for comfort” event, Anderson Cooper and the fine folks over at CNN picked up a news feed from a local affiliate, WPIX, who had a reporter on the scene. This was, quite possibly, the dopiest thing that I have ever seen pass for news coverage.

Somehow, WPIX had managed to find the MOST unreliable source of information in the known universe. That WPIX chose to air his story is one thing, that CNN gave it any credence was nothing short of amazing. Oh, and CNN aired it twice — just in case the home viewer had missed out on the idiocy the first time.

At about the same time as this nonsense was taking up space on the airwaves, my Facebook page went crazy — crazy with people who were, apparently, also watching CNN. The difference between me and them? They were encouraging people to “tune to CNN” for a “firsthand account” of the incidents. I was sitting in my bedroom shaking my head at how anyone anywhere could be taking this guy seriously.

I don’t want to accuse this kid, “the eyewitness”, of being stoned because there does exist an outside chance that he had simply missed a dose of the Adderall or the Ritalin that may be necessary for him to form something as simple as a sentence, to do something as basic as follow a thought. Either that or he was “on something”. Whatever the case, a crack team of journalists, broadcasters, and news producers, chose to take him seriously. As did some of my less pessimistic Facebook friends.

I expect to participate in “Adventures in Idiocy” at the grocery store, a place that just seems to be riddled with loony birds — everyone needs to eat, I suppose — but, COME ON, PEOPLE!, when a major news story is unfolding not half a mile from my front door, when no one could report with any accuracy whether there might be an armed gunman on the loose in my neighborhood, must I rely upon “Charlie the Crackhead” for information? Must I?

CNN, in their infinite wisdom, also had Anderson speaking with a young woman who, along with her co-workers, was locked in a storage room in one of the stores located at the crime scene. All I could think of was, “Oh, my God! Stop Talking! What if the gunman HEARS you!” Wouldn’t it have been smarter if Anderson or one of the producers had just given her their cell number so that she could TEXT them? This whole exchange made me extremely nervous.

At the end of the day, the gunman proved dangerous only to himself, but no one KNEW that as the story was unfolding. Was it wrong of me, of others, to expect that CNN and other trusted news outlets would use reliable sources of information? Even if the reliable sources had no answers, it would have been far better to report THAT than to fill the time with a bogus eyewitness account and the play-by-play of a scared young woman whose only frame of reference was a stock room.

If I learned little else on Monday evening, I suppose I learned that I don’t even have to get out of my pajamas or haul my cookies to the grocery store to have the unbalanced forces that exist in the world act upon me. It has been made abundantly clear to me, following the events of Monday evening, that all I have to do is lie abed, the unbalanced forces will find me.

photo credit: News van