Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wild Animal Safari

Given the last blog entry, perhaps it’s not so surprising that earlier this week I found myself hiding in the aisles of the toy store, clutching plastic animals to my chest and wondering how to escape without being seen by a particularly annoying student. Most people, if they have moments like this, do it for something more dramatic: ex lovers, estranged husbands, bill collectors. But not me.

In my defense, I’ve had a bad week, involving a lot of university politics, a rejected sabbatical proposal, and failed attempts to dial internationally so I can say hello to Z, who has gone to his native land for the holiday. And also, “Jeffie” is on the list of top ten most annoying students ever. He failed the class last semester, but even with his prior knowledge of how my classroom operates, he still manages to hand in virtually every assignment late with a host of excuses, comes to class late, contributes excessively to discussions about readings he has not done, and always, always relies on his dumbness as if it is the key element in his arsenal of charm. Maybe it works with some people (some really drunk people, perhaps?), but it doesn’t work with me. His latest sin is that he SWEARS he handed two papers in via email that I never got. I don’t believe him, but I also want him to pass the class so I never have to see him again.

I’ve been trying to figure out why he gets under my skin, when any given semester provides at least two students with similar characteristics. The best I can come up with is that he has come to represent everything that is wrong with the United States: a) the thought that being “dumb” is an admirable characteristic b) the thought that every opinion matters no matter how ignorant and uninformed c) that an untested/unquestioned belief system makes passing judgment on other people okay as long as a pastor says its okay e) that it is acceptable for a grown man to refer to himself with the nickname an aunty gave him when he was still wearing diapers.

And yes, yes I am passing judgment on Jeffie but it is not uninformed or untested and is therefore valid.

When I saw him, I was already stressed out because I was buying animals for Leibovitz’s seven year old and I couldn’t remember the differences between Indian and African elephants and somehow I felt my choosing the wrong (i.e. Indian) elephant would disappoint Z, though he will likely never see it. Also, I felt stressed because I couldn’t justify buying any single animal, but had to buy in pairs, Noah style, since I attribute human emotions to virtually every inanimate object, including lumps of molded plastic, and I knew an elephant alone would be a sad, miserable elephant. Ditto the zebra and giraffe. I had just made my final selections when I turned around and saw Jeffie talking to someone, and I almost did a Starsky & Hutch style roll into an adjoining aisle because I did NOT want to have a conversation with him about whether I would accept those papers and I did not want to hear again all the reasons why the papers didn’t come thru as attachments when the real reason they didn’t come thru is they weren’t written yet. I hunkered down so he couldn’t see the top of my head, and lest the store clerk think I’d gone mental, I pretended to be really interested in a magic set on the lower shelf. Finally, when I was brave enough to peek around the shelving unit to see if Jeffie had moved on, I saw the back of his head and had the strongest urge to pelt him with the animals clutched in my hand. Oh, it would have been the perfect ending to my semester, if only it wouldn’t have resulted in my arrest and subsequent community service. Also, terribly unfair to the animals.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Holiday Spirit

It’s that time of year where I should be full of love for my fellow humans, but instead what I am is feeling heaps of loathing for my students. Not all of them. Just the ones who handed their papers in late, which forces me into three days of soul-searching while I try to figure out how important deadlines are in the grand scheme of things. Am I teaching them survival skills when I refuse papers after 6:00 p.m. on deadline day or am I just being a bitch? (The polls are still open.) I’ve been teaching 13 years now, so I shouldn’t let that slackers and procrastinators put me thru these paces every year, but I do.

I’m thinking I should write a book for beginning college students called What Your College Instructor Really Thinks When You Say Your Paper is Finished But Your Hard Drive Exploded. The only thing holding me back is that I know the students who need it wouldn’t read it. Also, there could be legal action.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Feels Like the First Time

Z and I may have reached a new threshold of familiarity this week while I was spending a lengthy Thanksgiving holiday with him. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I found myself in his bathroom with only one Sheryl Crowe approved square of toilet tissue when what I needed was something more along the lines of 43 squares. For space saving reasons, the “loo paper” is kept in a kitchen cabinet, which is thru the living room where the blinds were up. So I put my pride aside, stuck my head out the bathroom door, and sent a distress signal to Z, who rescued me.

It was a visit of firsts. Though I make no bones about how much I hate theatre (philistine that I am) and though just two weeks ago I called Z begging him to figure out a way for me to escape the second half of “Wicked”, Z and I decided to go see a play in a little theatre near his apartment. I was convinced because it was written by the Alan Ball, who created “Six Feet Under” and also because it was about bridesmaids, a topic about which I am an expert, having served my time in the bridesmaid corp on no less than four overly floral tours of duty.

If we were in New York, we would have been so far off Broadway we would have been in New Jersey. We scoped out the place before the show to figure out how long it would take us to get there before the curtain went up. “If there IS a curtain,” I said to Z. And then he joked about how we’d probably be sitting on folding chairs. Sure enough, when we arrived, we were ushered into a big room with no curtain and we found our place on two of the thirty folding chairs. Over head, we could hear the cast of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” racing around in the other “theatre.” At this point, my heart was racing. What if this was some sort of avant garde production wherein audience participation would be required. We could hardly escape during the performance without hurting someone’s feelings. I was ready to bolt, but then the lights came down and the not curtain went up, and the play began.

It was instantly engaging. The casting was nicely done (not a lot of “arm acting”) and the dialogue was good. The first half zipped by, though I warned Z at intermission that the second half was going to stink. It just felt like it was probably going to suddenly get really preachy, and sure enough, by the time it was over, a bevy of social issues had been covered including drug abuse, sexual abuse, homosexuality, evangelical intolerance, and bad parenting. Since half of it was good, we decided it was not a failed experiment, though Z concluded that his favorite part of the whole evening had been intermission, when the ticket taker arrived with a little wheeled cabinet that had refreshment for sale. (He bought me a Coke.) I doubt if that’s what Alan Ball or the director had in mind.

Other firsts: my first Thanksgiving with Z. The two Thanksgivings he lived in my hometown were frought with angst for me. For both of them, a gaggle of his female friends from St. Paul were in town visiting, which meant I did not get to see him. I was in love with him, he was oblivious, and I admit I was sure he was sleeping with at least one, possibly all of those girls, and I HATED them, particularly during the second visit when I made the ill-advised choice to go to Meijer on a day when I had not washed my hair or put on make-up and was wearing relaxi pants to accommodate my turkey-filled stomach. And of course he was there with these temptresses who were dressed and had clean hair and looked smug and satisfied. Yes, I really hated them that day. (For the record, I’ve met half of them since, and they are lovely people and the hatred has been rescinded.)

Aside from getting homesick the night before because you cannot buy a box mix of gingerbread in all of King County, it was a perfect Thanksgiving. We ate with friends of Z’s, in what seemed to be a real Norman Rockwell celebration, at their beautiful home in Everett overlooking Puget Sound. The turkey was free-range, hormone free, and my sugar crème pie was not too burned to serve. The company was good. I even met the now 21 year old version of the two year old who made Z swear he never wanted to kids. She was charming.

The next morning, I went to my first ever Macy’s (post) Thanksgiving Day parade and also my first ever parade with a man. Z knew I wanted to see it, so set the alarm and insisted we go, though my inclination was to sleep in. It was a treat. Instead of giant balloon floats like we would have seen the day before in Manhattan, the floats were made of tiny balloons. We behaved like a couple of kids, elbowing our way to the front, snatching candy as it was thrown to the crowd, and clapping. (Extra loud claps for the Scottie dog float.)

And another first, while Z was putting money in the parking meter for Groovy Grey, our rental car du jour, a woman came up to him and asked if I was pregnant. Since I was sitting in the car and was only visible from the steering wheel up, I assume she wasn’t offering commentary on this year’s turkey-filled stomach, but I was still indignant the rest of the day, hrmmphing periodically. Z kept insisting that she was a mental case, but then I started wondering if perhaps she was one of those people who appears on the surface to be mental but is really gifted with the second sight, so I spent the rest of the week trying to determine if I was nauseous from too much food at the Cheesecake Factory or if it was something else.

(It was the cheesecake. And the fried macaroni. And the queso dip.)

Seattle has itself gussied up for the holidays, and it’s been fun to see the lights and what appears to be a giant version of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree at Westlake Center. And though my natural inclination is to feel a little blue because I won’t BE with Z at Christmas in Seattle, Zimbabwe, or anywhere else, he’s starting to wear off on me so I’m looking on the bright side. If the U.S. had Thanksgiving when Canada does, the decorations wouldn’t be up yet and I couldn’t pretend I’m also getting to have my first ever Christmas with him too.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Wiz

Seriously. How does my hair know I’m on my way to Seattle? It has been fluffy enough for weeks, and today it is hanging in flat, greasy hanks even though I washed it two hours ago.

Z reports that he is sick with a sore throat, so this might not be the twelve-day lovefest I’d been imagining. Oh well. I bought him fleecey pajama bottoms and a robe for his belated birthday, so maybe this will be the visit of loungewear and medicinal cocktails.

I’m at the airport, looking at the Indianapolis skyline, popping its collective head up like a tenacious prairie dog. It’s funny how the size of Indy shifts depending on where I’ve been. If I haven’t been anywhere for awhile, it seems like the big city. But in the last month I’ve been to St. Paul, New York City, and Chicago, so it sort of looks like a miniature golf course today.

To celebrate her birthday, my mother and I went to New York a couple of weeks ago. Other than rain and blistered feet, it was a near perfect trip. She hadn’t been since 1979, so it was like visiting a completely different place. Clean, for instance. Mary Poppins and Spamalot tickets on sale in Times Square instead of cocaine and sex. iPods thrumming quietly thru earphones instead of ghetto blasters the size of VW Beetles hoisted on the shoulders of passersby. A lot has been written about the Disneyfication of New York, both good and bad, and I was ever so briefly nostalgic for the sense that the City could eat a person whole and not even bother to belch up the bones yet here was I, fearlessly leading my mother around like a pro. But there’s a lot to be said for clean and safe and not hostile to tourists when you are a hayseed from Indiana who wants to feel like a native. Within our first hour there we were meandering thru the park on our way to meet a former colleague of mine for lunch just like we do that sort of thing all the time. Except the Cannon Elph getting whipped out every ten paces to take photos of Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Andersen and the horse drawn carriages and the skyline probably blew our cover.

What I’ve discovered about going to New York is that no matter what you saw or what you did, when you get back the only thing anybody will ask you is what shows you saw. Nobody cares that we strolled around the market at Union Square munching on the best apples ever grown or that we watched dogs frolic at two different dog parks or that I tricked Mom into going to Ground Zero though she had made me promise not to drag her there simply because I felt the need to see the space before it is filled in and up or that in a weak moment we decided it would be “fun” to go to the Sex Museum on Fifth Avenue. No sir. All people want to know is if we saw Jersey Boys or Clueless. And when you say, “No, I don’t really like theatre,” there’s this look you see flicker across the eyes that indicates your stock as a sophisticated person has just plummeted.

The only thing I hate worse than theatre is musical theatre, but given the negative response to not having taken advantage of Broadway, I agreed to go see Wicked in Chicago last week with my oldest friend, the Annie Leibovitz of Eastern Indiana. I was optimistic going in. People love the show. I like The Wizard of Oz. Also, they were selling necklaces that said “Oz” but the “Z” was the prominent thing, and I was sure when the show was over, I’d be more than willing to plunk down whatever ridiculous price they were charging for it in honor of my non-emerald Z.

Five minutes in, I was in agony from all the projecting and enunciating. The costumes and lights and what I’ve come to think of as “arm acting” distracted me from the story. The theatre was hot and the woman sitting next to me was a leg jiggler and the girl behind me sang all the songs with gusto, not at all embarrassed. It seemed a complete impossibility to me that Leibovitz wasn’t as miserable as I was, so at half-time, er, intermission, I looked at her expectantly, assuming we would be blowing the place in lieu of a couple of hours browsing thru books and sipping cocoa in the Borders overlooking the Water Tower. Instead, she nodded her head happily and said, “It’s goooood, isn’t it?” So I escaped to the restroom, called Z, and begged him to call in a threat of some sort, but even he let me down and said he was afraid such an action would have a negative impact on his visa. So I suffered thru. I dozed. I pretended to care about the plight of the anti-hero, all the while wondering if there was some sort of Clinque product that could reduce her green pallor, and when the house lights came up, I nearly wept with relief. Thank goodness no precious New York minutes were wasted on Broadway.

(And no, I did not buy the commemorative Oz necklace.)

Plane is boarding. I’m off to see the sore-throated but otherwise Great and Powerful Z.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Podiatrist Aesthetics

Today I saw my podiatrist. It pains me to say I have a podiatrist because it makes me sound older than I feel, but I’ve been seeing my old podiatrist since I was twenty-two. Not for any particular issue, but for a variety—troublesome toenails, heel spurs, and the occasional fight with a screen door or vacuum cleaner that ends with late night stitches and a season of wound abrading.

The old podiatrist was talkative. You might go in for an ingrown toenail but while there, you would talk about Star Trek, car shows, war, and relationships. You never knew what you’d get, but it definitely wouldn’t be foot talk and it would always be something a bit odd. It harkened back to some bygone era that I sometimes crave, when doctors knew you for longer than the three minutes they spend with you and when, if times were hard, you could pay with a chicken. So I was a little sad when my old podiatrist sold his practice to a whipper snapper, and I worry that if I have another late night entanglement with the sharp edge of a small home appliance, the new guy won’t get himself out of bed to stitch me up and I will have to go to the ER (a.k.a. The Barber Shop) where I will most likely end up with a staph infection or some other completely avoidable complication.

One thing that has always been problematic though was the décor of the office. The old podiatrist had a thing for bad clown art (though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen good clown art). In fact, not just bad clown art, but bad hobo clown art: cartoony in nature, neon in color, and all clowns with giant feet, usually with toes poking out of the fronts of raggedy shoes. I never could reconcile how a doctor so smart and sure of himself could have such horrendous taste.

It wouldn’t hurt to note that I hate clowns. Possibly I’ve mentioned this before. I feel a little guilty about it because my great grandfather was a clown, ran away and joined the circus—the whole deal. My grandmother grew up playing with his clown make-up and wearing his clown clothes. But it doesn’t change my intense dislike for people who draw their emotions on their faces and then expect audience members to ooh and aah at madcap pantomime. When I first discovered there were devout Christians in the world who had clown ministries I was horrified, so far from God are clowns in my mind.

When the new guy started, I assumed the clown art would be the first to go. However, it remained. This led me to wonder if perhaps podiatrists universally have a thing for clowns. Maybe it has something to do with the giant feet. The new doctor didn’t share many other characteristics with the old doctor. He’s friendly enough. He is helpful enough. He always asks where I’ve recently traveled to, but I know his question comes from a Post-It note in my chart reminding him this is my thing so it establishes a doctor-patient relationship that really doesn’t exist. This is fine though—I prefer that he read medical foot journals in his spare time in lieu of memorizing patient names and hobbies.

It was a shock today, though, to walk in and discover that not only were the clowns gone but the good fairy of tasteful interior decorating had made a visit. The neon is gone and in its place, sage walls. The Early American furniture haunting doctor’s office across America for the past 40 years is gone, and in its place, tasteful, clean-lined chairs, tables, and lamps from Ikea. And the clowns are just gone. I was so shocked by their absence that I didn’t even notice what replaced them.

After the good doctor asked how my gout was and asked where I’d traveled to (nodding his head and saying “good good” before I ever answered), I commended him on the absence of clowns. He thanked me and said the shocking thing was that my old doctor asked if he could have the clown art back. I asked why he hadn’t just taken the art when the practice sold, and the new doctor said, “I think he thought I would like it.” He grimaced and we laughed.

I felt a little closer to the new doctor after this exchange, though I also felt something else. I won’t say I missed the clowns, because that would be a lie. There should be legislations banning clown art, statuary, and let’s face it, clowns themselves. But what I missed is the kooky uniqueness of my old doctor, who was not only certain that his peculiar décor would appeal to his patients, but he was also certain his younger, hipper successor would love it too. It’s not hard to decorate tastefully—all you need is a credit card and a Pottery Barn catalog. But to decorate so hideously and with pride…there is something admirable in that.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Of Hope and Despair and Inferior Lodging

Priceline has treated me well in the past, allowing me to stay in hotels I could never afford, lathering my body with soaps and lotions better than the buy-one-get-one-free specials in my own bathroom, and sleeping on sheets of thread counts higher than my bank balance.

But not this weekend, when Z and I were treating ourselves to a rendezvous in the Twin Cities. Despite our best bidding strategies, instead of a four-star hotel in downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis, we ended up in Roseville. In a motel sandwiched between the interstate and the mall.

When our cab driver dropped us off he asked if we were there for business or if we were going to spend the weekend “kickin’ it in Roseville” and that sort of set the tone for what was in store for us. Namely, waiting until the exact check-in time before we were allowed to check in (though others checked in before us), getting two double-beds instead of a king because “that’s how it is when you book online” (never mind in another instance with a friend I didn’t want to share a bed with, I was told the same thing when I was given a king bed unless I forked over an additional $20 dollars for two fulls), there was no mini fridge, our room looked out over the parking lot, the power went out for a bit, and the video games ate Z’s tokens.

Also, apologies to Garrison Keelor and the fine people at “Prairie Home Companion” but the Sleep Number Bed blows.

It was a good weekend. We visited with his old friends. We walked along the Mississippi. We saw various points of interest from Z’s undergrad and grad school days. We went to the St. Paul Cathedral. We visited my favorite Irish shop, where I bought my favorite Irish crisps and a couple of CDs. We ate some good food, had some good drinks, and listened to some good Irish music.

On the drive to the hotel from the airport, our cab driver took us past the ill-fated 35W bridge, and it was surprising to see how gone it was. I don't know what I expected--a sign hanging in the air pointing to it that said "former bridge" or "site of tragedy." Instead, it just looked like a place where the road stopped. Which, I guess, is exactly what it was for some of the people who were on it that day. I always expect things to be frozen in time--sites of tragedy or historical events, my old college campus or places of some personal importance to me, city skylines. Possibly, my belief that this will be the case stems from a childhood interest in Pompeii and how the victims of Vesuvius's eruption were frozen in time as a testament to the tragedy that befell the residents there.

There is also the possibility that I'm only drawing the Pompeii connection because we visited the Pompeii exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota on this trip, but I'm just going to run with it because the metaphor works.

The exhibit was interesting. We learned not only how the citizens of Pomepeii died, but also how they lived, and they lived well. (Well, some of them--the slaves, not so much.) Their houses were palatial and appeared to have good chi, their decor and jewelry was classic and intricate, their society was sophisticated. The single most disturbing piece of information for me (aside from the volcano thing) was that the commercial laundry used urine to get the clothes clean, and becaucse they did A LOT of laundry, they needed A LOT of urine, so had big jugs sitting outside the laundry where passers by could uriante. Definitely better for the environment than my beloved bottles of Purex and Downey, but ick.

While looking at the plaster casts of the victims, I realized that I'd grown up with a misguided sense that the residents didn’t really know what hit them—that they’d been frozen in time eating their dinner and tending livestock and playing on hillsides when they were stopped, surprise, dead. Sort of how Samantha on Bewitched would wiggle her nose and Larry and Darren would be frozen in the midst of a high-powered advertising deal so she could fix whatever misunderstanding was about to unfold.

It turns out, however, that despite lack of cable television and radios and emergency alert sirens, the Pompeiians knew what was about to befall them. Some—the wealthier ones—got out quickly. Others, did not and knew there was no chance of survival. The casts illustrated how keenly aware they were, as they huddled together, covered their faces, and cried out. The one that moved me most was of a man who was found in a gymnasium, leaning against a wall, knees pulled up to his chin, head in his hands. He could have been covering his face from the heat, cupping his last breaths of oxygen. Or he could have been praying to whoever the god of volcano traffic control was, but it looked more like the complete absence of hope. Like someone who two hours before had been working out, thinking about the evening's plans to sit on the hillside with his date and watch sparks fly from the lip of Vesuvius but who had then heard some rumbling and suddenly had the realization, oh shit, I really should have left town sooner--I thought I'd have more time.

Well, when you look in the face of despair--even if it is covered and from a few millenia ago--you can hardly complain about lost video game tokens or inferior quality towels. Instead, you say a prayer of thanksgiving that at this very moment the bridges of Minnesota are possibly safer than they have ever been, that the horizon is volcano free, and that your excellent boyfriend is in a full-sized Sleep Number Bed with you. And while you respect the fleeting nature of life, you cross your fingers that you'll be granted the later check-out time--preferably when you are together. And 102.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Day in the Life

Aside from Global Warming, I’m thinking Planet Earth has a more pressing problem, and that is this: time is speeding up. What used to be a day is now a week, what used to be a week is now a month. A year is three months long, tops. I seriously thought I could start writing blogs three or four times a week, but instead, I’m not even managing one a month. Why? I don’t have a real house, a real husband and children or real pets, and my real job is not one of those jobs where you have to work eighteen hour days just to avoid being fired. (You can work eighteen hour days if you want, but it isn’t a requirement.) So where does my time go?

It’s Saturday. Here is where it went today:

  • Wake up at 10:15.
  • Sit and stare and plan day: main goal is to grade papers.
  • Go to gym during last 60 minutes gym is open.
  • Go to grocery for foods that pretty much render pointless the last 60 minutes at gym.
  • Unload groceries.
  • Eat some of groceries.
  • Sit and stare.
  • Shuffle papers to be graded.
  • E-mail Z.
  • E-mail old friend who accidentally got pregnant for Baby #3.
  • Read some of novel, Mammoth Cheese, and vow to grade papers after two chapters.
  • Talk on phone.
  • Sit and stare.
  • Prod pile of papers with toe.
  • Read article about Nicole Kidman in new Vanity Fair.
  • Sit and stare and think about Nicole Kidman and how she seems like a nice person and how hope she really is happy and not just pretending.
  • Sort clothes to do laundry.
  • Read more of Mammoth Cheese.
  • Nap.
  • Wake up surprised it is two hours later.
  • Notice papers have not miraculously been graded by elves while sleeping.
  • Lament false sense of reality gotten from childhood spent reading fairy tales.
  • Eat supper.
  • Sit and stare.
  • Speculate papers could be graded most efficiently between ten and midnight.
  • Talk on phone.
  • Decide too hot to do laundry.
  • Read forward to book on Joseph Cornell.
  • Check web to see where most of Joseph Cornell’s art is.
  • E-mail Z to see if he would consider taking a break from next week’s dirty weekend activities in order to go to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to see Cornell work there.
  • Sit and think about next weekend’s rendezvous with Z in Minnesota.
  • Wonder if will regret choice of hotel in suburbs instead of one in downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul.
  • Read Z’s reply in which he agrees to go see the art.
  • Eat ice cream.
  • Watch last half of Blood Diamond and critique both Leonardo’s supposed Zimbabwean accent and the diamond industry.
  • Read the news, berate self for being more interested in celebrity news than world events (no wonder world falling apart in manner of Blood Diamond when people care more about what Britney has done today than what peoples are being oppressed in the Third World).
  • Eat popcorn to drown concerns about lack of civic engagement and global activism.
  • E-mail Indiana Jones style friend who leaves Tuesday for new life in Sweden.
  • Read more Mammoth Cheese.
  • Talk to Z on phone about day’s events. (His: papers graded. Mine: papers not graded.)
  • Play with iPod.
  • Decide too late to grade papers.
  • Write blog.

Does Phizer have a drug for procrastination?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Wet Spot

This is the story of Z, the Hero.

The Dog House was cursed by angry gods of water and sewage at some point, and now whenever I am here, there is . . . wetness.

On my watch, the finished basement has flooded three times, the ice maker has sprung a leak and flooded the kitchen and living room twice (for which the previous Scottie was soundly chastised until I realized no matter how full his little bladder, he could not have made a mess that covered so much square footage), the outside water faucet has gone wonky once and backed water into the guest bathroom, the garbage disposal has broken twice, the city sewer has threatened to fill the house, the fountain that aerates the pond has broken multiple times, and all three toilets at one time or another have had issues. It is uncommon for me to stay here and NOT have to get out the wet vac, so you’d think I’d be prepared.

But no. Very late last night Z and I were up wet vaccing the master bedroom, bath, as well as the basement underneath these rooms because the toilet overflowed while we slept.

I was rendered completely useless, like one of those idiot women in the movies who wrings her hands and moans “ooooo…..oooooo” while a burglar pummels the husband. She could whack the burglar with a frying pan, but no, she stands, quaking, and saying oooooooooo. I’ve been staying in this house since I was in high school, yet suddenly I had no earthly idea how to attack this problem. I momentarily considered grabbing the dog, locking the door behind us, and spending the rest of the next two weeks at a dog-friendly motel.

Z though, he was amazing. He immediately leapt out of bed and came up with a plan. He knew the practical things to do, like turn the water off, and also the clever things like where the wet vac was because two years ago he was here when there was another water crisis. He exerted the majority of the strength needed to move the giant dresser. While I was wringing my hands and toe-dabbing at a small duck pond with a hand towel, he did the wet vaccing and managed to keep up a steady stream of dog-directed conversation. Hello you. What are we doing up in the middle of the night making all this racket and interrupting your sleep, eh? Eh? And all of this while wearing his underpants and a pair of the owner’s paint-splattered cowboy boots.

I don’t mind telling you I discovered whole new ways that I love him last night. He worked up a sweat, scrubbing and emptying wet vac buckets, and I stood there, toe-dabbing the carpet and staring at these excellent legs and strong back and capable hands and I felt a little like I’d woken up in someone else’s life. Who was this man who could take care of business and how did he come to be in my life?

It would be nice if I could report that after an hour of this work we tumbled into bed and all was right with the world. As it turns out, though, the dinner party we planned for tonight very nearly had to be canceled because at five minutes to five (you know, when the plumbers are just clocking out) the city sewer was thinking seriously about backing into the house. Toilets gurgled and made the dog bark in Amityville Horror style and though the water was clean, it was only a matter of time before it got ugly. This was beyond even Z’s scope of plan-making and problem-fixing, so the big dogs had to be called in and paid overtime to flip a little valve that turned the tide.

The party was excellent. Z and I and the Scottie made good hosts in our fake house and our guests were entertaining and none the wiser that just a few hours before we'd considered telling them they'd have to drive up the road to use the facilities at McDonald's if they needed to. For most of the night, I had this desire to flood the bathroom again just so I could see Z in his underpants and cowboy boots, slaving away and affording me the strange joy of hand-wringing.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Z Minus Eighteen

It has been a long, hot summer, and I don’t mean that in a sexy kind of way, or even a melodramatic, Tennessee Williams kind of way. No. I mean it in the It’s not so much the heat as the humidity kind of way. It’s been miserable for the last two months and with some kind of protective shield around my section of Wayne County that has left us impervious to rain. The reservoir is nearly empty, the flowers look like they’ve just barely survived some holocaust, and everywhere Grapes of Wrath style clouds get kicked up by the teensiest of movements.

I’ve been having my own internal Dust Bowl as well, as evidenced by the lack of blog entries, lack of ready-to-publish fiction and essays, and lack of completed creative projects of the knitting, drawing, and gluing persuasion. I’ve been busy going places and seeing people and teaching students, but it’s always a little disappointing at the end of the summer to see all of the things not accomplished in what previously seemed like a vast expanse of time.

The Scottie dog is back from his cowboy adventure out west, and since his parents are gone on yet another trip, we’re figuring out how to deal with the heat together. Since we’re both of Celtic lineage, we don’t LIKE the heat. He seems to have complete confidence in my ability to turn down the thermostat, which is unfortunate. To make us both more comfortable, I decided that we’d start walking in the early morning instead of the late afternoon. The squirrels are much juicier and unsuspecting in the morning, and it has made the Scottie dog quite happy. The only problem is he still expects his afternoon walk and keeps giving me these meaningful looks in attempt to remind me that walking should take place at 7:00 p.m., not 7:00 a.m.

Z is in transit after two and a half months in Zimbabwe, where he has been dealing with astronomical inflation, food shortages, petrol shortages, power outages, water outages, telephone outages, and crap television programming. To celebrate his imminent return, I went out today and bought new underwear, three tops, and a new set of jersey knit sheets in Shrek green. The closer South African Air Flight 207 gets to America’s shores, the more sure I am that the drought is about over. The sky is clouding up as I write this, and it’s a welcome sight.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


What might be wrong with me:

Brain tumor
Heart attack
Multiple Sclerosis
Blood clot
Spinal Stenosis
Pulmonary Fibrosis
Chronic Pulmonary Lung Disease
Lung Cancer
Skin Cancer
Breast Cancer
Ovarian Cancer
Cervical Cancer
Uterine Cancer
Esophageal Cancer
Tonsil Cancer
Mitro Valve Prolapse
Lou Gehrig’s Disease

What’s really wrong with me:

General Malaise

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wild Mouse

For something like twenty-five years D.B. and I have been taking trips together that usually have an amusement park destination. Sure, we’d like to see Graceland and the Grand Canyon and Mt. Rushmore, but if we can’t find a thrill ride within an hour’s drive, we make other plans.

We both attribute this obsession to our divorced childhoods and our divorced fathers who took us to King’s Island once a year. (Though technically, D.B. went with both parents and while he and his little brother ran wild thru the park, the parents argued and hollered and discussed the terms of their impending separation and subsequent divorce.) Also, The Brady Bunch filmed an episode there, and to this day, if either of us sees that it’s on, we call the other, shrieking, and we watch as the family races from one side of the park to the other, not riding rides, no, but trying to track down Mr. Brady’s blueprints that Jan misplaced. We watch from beginning to end and wonder why Jan wasn’t just sold to the gypsies because she was a hindrance to good times for everyone, including Alice.

There is no rollercoaster too terrifying for us. We like them big and we are not purists who insist on wood or thrill-seekers who only want the insane gymnastics that steel can provide. Mostly though, the higher and faster and more certain the death, the happier we are.

Only here’s the thing: I really only like the little ones now, the ones that kids under 48” are allowed to ride. There are several possibilities for what caused my change of heart, but here are the most likely culprits:

1. I rode Mission Space at Epcot three years ago and my life flashed before my eyes as Gary Senese narrated my few seconds of supposed weightlessness.
2. I turned 40.
3. I am suggestible now that I’m middle aged, and those warning signs about back trouble, heart trouble, high blood pressure, and pregnancy convince me that I have all four conditions and should walk myself immediately to First Aid and rest on a cot.
4. I’m not really keen to die now that I’m in love. (For the record, as far as D.B. is concerned, it’s all about Mission Space and my age. If he thought I let a man come between me and our good rollercoaster times, he’d never forgive me. He’s barely forgiven me for becoming a part of a couple.)

It has been difficult to hide this recent development from D.B. Last year, when I was just beginning to lose my bottle, our schedules didn’t allow for a trip, so he was none the wiser. This year, I carefully planned a trip to a city with only a teeeeeeny amusement park that I knew I could handle: Rochester’s Sea Breeze.

Sea Breeze is cute and historical and not really a thrill park. It sits on the edge of Lake Ontario and is adorable. How could historical or adorable be scary? Well, to a normal person it wouldn’t be, but to a 40 year old hypochondriac lover of Z who once nearly had to use a Mission: Space barf bag, it’s all scary now. The wooden bobsleds were the tamest and even those seemed like they could hurtle me into the lake. The old out-and-back jack rabbit coaster that was smaller than the kiddie rollercoaster at King’s Island jiggled my brain around in its casing so severely that I was sure brain damage was a possibility, and the tricked-out wild mouse that spins and loops and twists, well dear reader, it scared me so much I couldn’t even get on it. Do you hear this: I, rider of standy uppy and hangy downy and steepest and twistiest coasters all over the country was scared away from a wild mouse.

The end of an era is upon me. I will now be forced to divide my life into two neat halves: before and after the wild mouse. From this point on, it’s just museums and garden shows and watching, I don’t know, birds. The horror.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


I’m dogsitting without the dog. He’s on a cowboy vacation in Montana with his parents. This morning some impertinent neighbor called to demand to speak to the owners about something. She can’t be a good neighbor, or she would have known they were gone. She insisted I give her their phone number and then asked if I cleaned houses because she needs someone. I don’t know why this last question irked me so much. It’s not that I’m above housecleaning (though certainly I do it rarely enough) and I think being a house cleaner or maid is a worthy enough job. But there was something about the superior tone in her voice that set the mood of my day. I’ve been wondering if I can isolate which neighbor it is and then leave a flaming bag of dryer lint on her front stoop.

Because the owners’ housecleaner was here this morning and because I have something like 400 papers to grade, I decided to go to my town’s only real coffee bar. I know as a writer and lover of literature and free thinking I’m supposed to embrace the idea of the coffee bar as if it were a country where everything is good and pure and where you do not need a passport. But here’s the thing: I kind of hate them. Other than the wireless access, I don’t really get them. The wares are overpriced and I hate being confronted by those insufferable tip jars, begging money for extra slow, snooty service. There are flies buzzing around the two-day old baked goods, no matter how upscale the coffee bar in question. The furniture, though cozy, is always stained and looks like it had a life somewhere else (in the Merchant Marines, perhaps) before becoming a coffee bar sofa or chair. It is, inevitably either jazz or Ani di Franco on the sound system, and both unnerve me.

And also, I have no use for coffee. It shames me, as a writer, not to be a smoker, a real drinker or a lover of the java--fatty and sugary foods are as good a vice as any, but they are not literary. To me, coffee is a poor substitute for a delicious carbonated, high fructose corn syrup soda. But if you order one of those in a coffee bar— heaven help you. Judging from the curl of the barrista’s lip it is clearly the equivalent of public urination. In fact, I suspect public urination would be more acceptable as it would seem somehow French, and thus sophisticated in its own way.

Today was no exception to my bad coffee house experience. First, the person behind the till was a former student. He’s a talented writer and has a wicked sense of humor, but he hasn’t been to school for two years and was lamenting the frustrations of the life he is stuck in because of bad blood between himself and Sallie Mae. I wasn’t in counseling mode, but I did my best job of suggesting possibilities for finding his way back to school, but he clearly only wanted to lament the state of his life and wasn’t interested in problem-solving.

I ordered a bagel and a Coke. He grimaced. Ugh. “Do you not like latte?” he asked. I confessed I’d never HAD a latte, but that I didn’t like coffee. “I’m making you a latte and you’ll like it,” he said. This seems to be standard operating procedure. I am Sam I Am and the barrista is determined to get me to like whatever potion he or she has created--in a box with a fox, and on a train in the rain. He charged me for the bagel and the Coke, and while he was going thru the complicated motions of making a complimentary drink I didn’t want, I filled up my plastic cup with the sweet nectar that is Coca-Cola. Only it was just carbonation with no cola syrup. I mentioned this to him and he said that oh, yeah, he needed to change the tanks. So I took my drink and pretended that latte was indeed the perfect drink, though for me, it is only something I could tolerate at dinner party where I didn’t want to be rude. It IS better than coffee, but what I wanted was my morning Coke. My former student made no move to change the Coke tank and started a conversation with another person. I took my empty Coke cup, my latte, and my bagel (flies already hovering) to a table and started working. I could just tell there was no way those tanks were ever going to get changed and they didn’t, though I was there an hour and half.

Then a mother arrived with two ill-behaved children with giant bows in their hair, and they were met by another mother with two only slightly less ill-behaved children, one with a giant bow in her hair, and the crying and whining began. It occurred to me that I might actually learn to LIKE coffee bars if they were like REAL bars and there was an age limit on who could enter. I’m not anti child. I love children. Somedays I even want a small quiet one of my own, but these bow-laden princesses pretty much put an end to the grading and the latte drinking. I never did figure out if their shrieks were of joy or pain, though when I took my last drink of latte and nodded my thanks to the barrista, I nearly joined them.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Wages of Sin

Lord, I am heartily sorry.

I have been shamed. Not more than twenty minutes ago, I was clutching a book to my chest and having a cry because the book in question seemed so good and true. The shame part comes in because I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks publicly decrying the author as superior and unkind to her townsfolk and completely unable to string together a satisfying non-fiction narrative. And this after five years of being more silently contemptuous of her, in no small part because she was writing about Indiana during my era and she had the gall to have a nickname too close to one I had.

Also, I once went to a workshop she led and was annoyed beyond repair by the way people gushed over her when she was a mediocre teacher at best. So talented, so clever, so unique, they said. Bleh. I began to loathe her. I began to feel she had stolen away some title I deserved. The fact that I have not written a memoir of my Indiana girlhood for critics and readers to gush over did not alter my sense of injustice. The fact that I loved her fiction did not strike me as being a contradiction when I would curl my lip if someone dared mention the name Zippy to me.

So anyhow, I was fairly surprised when I slammed shut She Got Up Off the Couch and promptly burst into tears. All I can figure is Haven Kimmel got something right—some alchemy of description of a blizzardy Hoosier winter or growing up in the 70s or loving common items shrunk down to miniature size—that made my heart shift positions and not turn so bitterly against her.

I feel much better now that I have confessed that sin.

Other things that have been disturbing me today: I think Paris Hilton is robbing me of quality time with Z.

Since Z, I have a laundry list in my head of things to tick off until I see him again. In fact, when he was here last month, healing me of terminal hypochondria, I even happily ticked off his departure because I knew that meant I would see him all the sooner.

My shrink would say, “Why do you think you are this powerful—to speed up time?” and I’m not sure why except that my maternal grandmother soundly chastised me once for
wishing away my life, something I should never do, even if it was for a truly good thing, such as I wish summer vacation were here. (That one, I still contend, is not bad because life in the confines of the public school system was not worth living.) My grandmother’s belief that I had the power to fast-forward thru my life must have made an impression, because I do. I do honestly believe that when I see Z on Tuesday morning at the airport, it will be in no small part because I thought so long and hard on how to get through the minutes more quickly until I could see him again.

But then there is this: not only have I been wishing away my life, but it occurs to me, I’ve also been, with my desire for speedier clocks and quicker reunions, wishing away other people’s lives—Z’s, my mother’s, my aunt who dreads the passing of time because it removes her further from her recently departed husband, my other aunt who is now—with no thanks to me—down to about nine thousand heart ticks of her own—and so on and so forth. I’m pretty sure this makes me a selfish, bad person.

And the wages of such a sin is this: this flagrant speeding up of time that I have caused means that at the end of those paltry few days I’ll have in Seattle with Z, he flies off to Zimbabwe for…oh, I keep hoping there will be some papal dispensation that will make this untrue!…two months. No nightly phone calls; no reliable, multiple-times-a-day e-mails; no possibility of a mid-way weekend meeting place if the Travelocity deals are superior. Just me, my suitcase of abandonment issues and the void sprinkled with occasional emails when he has electrical power and occasional phone calls when I can manage to punch in the international codes correctly and the phones on his end are actually working, and daily news reports of how things in his homeland have slid so far past “pear-shaped” that they aren’t even in the fruit category anymore. That’s what I have to look forward to for not taking heed when Grandma told me to stop wishing.

No. I must require of myself and insist that others—including Paris Hilton who is no doubt in a hurry to get out of the L.A. County jail—QUIT WISHING THE DAYS AWAY. I believe if we are all united on this front time can be slowed to a crawl and Z will never leave my shores for his native ones. I’m not sure what the pay off will be for Paris or how she can be convinced to cooperate, but I’m working on it. Her money, power, and connections give her an unfair advantage in persuading the earth to rotate a bit faster, so I’m hoping she’ll see reason & find peace in her current unfortunate circumstances.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Signs and Wonders

Two weeks ago I saw my father, which in and of itself isn’t odd, except for the fact that he’s been dead six years. When I saw him, sitting in the garage of my step-mother and her new husband on the occasion of her 60th birthday, I thought, “Oh. Good. Dad is here. I haven’t seen him for awhile.” On closer inspection, the balding head, supporting the reading glasses, the golf clothes—including the shirt with “Firestone” emblazoned on it, which is where my father worked when I was a small child—these elements did not add up to Dad. Instead, the details belonged to a minor player in my step-mother’s new family, and as it turns out, I was the only person who thought he momentarily resembled Dad. In fact, I seem to be the only person who recognized the man was even there. No one spoke to him. He sat, sipping a drink, and looking benignly at the May sky. He was a breathing ghost.

Because I’m a little bit of hypochondriac, who feels pains and finds lumps on a weekly basis, I feared Dad’s presence was some indication that I was going to be visiting him sooner rather than later on that great golf course in the sky. Then Z came for a long weekend of bliss, which miraculously caused the aches and swelling nodules to disappear. He’s magic, my African. The Great and Powerful oZ.

When I see the unbelievable, or even just the remarkable, I need to assign meaning, though sometimes I get it wrong. Six years ago, on the way to the hospital for the lung resection that was meant to give my father more time, I saw a turtle in the middle of the road. A road where there have never been turtles before. I took it as a positive sign—his recovery would be slow-going, but he would make it and we could bond in ways we had never previously managed.

Three hours later he was dead.

What to do with that turtle? I didn’t know, but other turtles kept popping up in unexpected places as I grieved, as I traveled alone through Ireland, when I met and said goodbye forever to Z (even though I didn’t believe it was really that kind of a goodbye). Here a turtle, there a turtle. I had to reassign meaning, and what the turtle began to mean when I would see one is this: You are exactly in the place you are supposed to be; quit borrowing future pain. You are at home in the world.

This weekend the Scottie dog and I hosted a Memorial Day party for my paternal side of the family. Cousins have come in from the Great Lakes, from Kentucky, from Ohio. We’ve spent time feeding our stomachs and our inclination to connect. None of us grew up together nor do we have many shared childhood memories. We were all raised very differently in different towns, but in our young adulthoods when the first round of weddings and funerals brought us together, we discovered similar interests and deep affection for each other.

The cousins all come together happily and fall into and out of conversations and group photos and long-standing jokes like a litter of middle-aged puppies, but the dwindling older generation cannot do the same. The stress of having everyone together makes them behave irrationally and sometimes badly, fretting about the exact time of dinner and what “out law” is in attendance, and which of the 40something children has misbehaved, looks unhappy, or has generally disappointed. We, their offspring, get questioned as if by Interpol, and we know no matter how carefully we answer that the information given will be used later, or sooner, to add kindling to some grievance that will be publicly aired or disseminated through the grapevine.

Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe it’s too emotional for my father’s generation to see the family as the upper tiers peel away and fly up to heaven, making way for new babies and new sets of out laws, and so other little mini-dramas must be constructed. Maybe it was some injustice done to them during their post-war childhoods. I try not to judge too harshly. After all, I don’t know what it is like to lose a husband, through a heart that has gone bad physically or emotionally, thru treachery or inertia. I don’t know what it is like to get the diagnosis that your own heart has about twelve thousand ticks left in it and this is probably your last family party. So the Scottie dog and I leave them to their outbursts and hope the grandkids tumbling into the creek or putting on a play or the happiness of their own children in concert with their cousins will soothe those demons.

Before the party started, I got a disgruntled phone call from an aunt. Something was upsetting to her, and because this party was for her and her faulty heart, I was upset because I wasn’t delivering the perfect party, conceivably her last. At that moment, I was ready to call the whole thing off. Who needed the strife? Have your own party if the potato salad here is not to your liking and so on and so forth.

My mood did not improve when I drove out of the driveway, right past a snake. I hate snakes. HATE. I, who believe serial killers and child molesters should not get the death penalty, want all snakes to die horrible, painful deaths. No amount of debate can convince me they aren’t bent on evil or that the planet would not be in better shape without their presence.

I drove past that snake and was filled with rage. How dare this snake sun himself (reptiles are always male in my book) on MY borrowed driveway, as he plotted some sort of trespass against me? (How dare my aunt be annoyed at me when I was offering up my borrowed house for HER party.) I looked him in the snakey eye and I said out loud, “You, you little bastard, will die if I get back and you are still here.” I went on to the grocery and shopped angrily and was probably rude to the check-out girl whose red, white, and blue fingernails disturbed me. I was still angry as I drove back up the driveway, and I was determined to deal justice to that snake with my Goodyear tires.

He was not there. He’d slithered off to make some other person’s blood run cold. What was in his place? Yeah, that’s right, a turtle. Just sitting there and, I SWEAR, sniffing flowers. Not only that, but he paused and looked at me with his wizened face—combination dinosaur and Dali Lama—and I think he said, “Chill out. It’s all good.”

And it was.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lucky Duck

New ways I’ve embarrassed myself: In a moment of panic two minutes before the taxi came to carry me away to the airport, I scrawled a love note to Z on the back of a rent-a-car scratch-and-dent checklist and shoved it under his pillow when he wasn’t looking. Surely this is not behavior befitting a middle-aged woman. What if he’s repulsed by its cartoonish sentiment?

And so here I am at the Seattle Airport, undoing all of the steps that brought me here ten days ago, a sort of unwilling reverse time-traveler. Despite my bad attitude about having to leave, I don’t hate the people surrounding me and like to think that if the winkdog lady was here—even WITH her winkdogs—that I wouldn’t hate her either. This is what ten days in the love bubble with Z does for me.

Seattle has a pattern of celebrating my departure with good weather. I try not to take it personally. Today, there was plenty of time before my late-night flight to soak it up. Z and I walked down to Pike Place Market and ate at Lowell’s, which overlooks Puget Sound. Because it was Sunday, the place was crawling with tourists and crowds of people that made it more exciting, though I was secretly loathing them all, sure that they were in Seattle for more than the next six hours. Other people I loathed: couples walking dogs and/or babies because there is a good chance they live in the same zip code. Z doesn’t understand this quality in me—this melancholy how-can-I-enjoy-the-present-when-the-immediate-future-is-not-to-my-liking. I am thinking that if he doesn’t understand my sadness at leaving that I must remember to never tell him about how the only time I was ever happy in 1979-1980 was Friday evenings because it was the only point on the weekly calendar at which I was furthest from phys. ed with a woman known as Ms. Hitler-man. He’d never understand that by Saturday evening I was mournful at the thought of having to tug on my embarrassing red-and-white striped gymsuit on Monday morning, like some sort of junior high convict.

What he does get, however, and what always surprises me because not many other people do, is the way my brain works. We took a walk on his campus today, where a pair of mallard ducks has taken up residence in the chapel reflecting pool. All week I’d been hoping to see them, but they never made an appearance and Z speculated that they’d moved on to fancier, duckier digs. While we were walking this afternoon, I was in a particularly forlorn (okay, okay, pouty) state re: my impending departure, the nature of long-distance relationships, how us together is too good to be true and hence too depressing to leave, blah blah blah, but as soon we approached the pool and I saw them I brightened a little, and Z said, “See. There you go. A sign. Everything will be okay.” He didn’t actually know I was in a complete funk. He definitely didn’t know that I’ve taken particular comfort in waterfowl sightings ever since he left my world permanently five years ago & on the day of his departure I stopped at one of our haunts to collect myself before going to work when seventeen or so Canadian geese and goslings waddled right past me, as if to let me know everything would be fine. But he knew a couple of displaced city ducks would mean something to me. I find this condition of being known so surprising and welcome, even if it does mean I can no longer hide behind a blank façade.

So anyhow, here I am in the airport, surrounded by people who don’t know me and who will likely elbow me and nudge me into a corner so they have more room on the sardine can of a plane I’m about to get on, but it’s okay. I’m sad, but it’s okay. I’ve had a good ten days, Z knows me, and planes fly both directions.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Maybe it’s because I’m here with Z—cocooned in layers of affection, far away from real-life frustrations like the 82 annotated bibliographies that will be waiting for me when I get home—but it is so much easier to enjoy the small things in this city. Like for instance, I helped Z pick out table service for four at the thrift shop and we were both quite pleased with how much six dollars will buy when you aren’t at Macy’s. Buying a newspaper seems like an event. At home I would drive around a parking lot six times looking for the spot closest to the front door, but here I think nothing of walking twelve (or twenty) blocks to get a cup of hot chocolate.

Today I can feel sadness trying to lap at my shores, but I’m not having it. I’m not wasting one day with Z because I’m sad that I don’t get more time with him when the time I have had has been so delicious. I’ll be sad tomorrow and I won’t be able to keep the tide at bay, but today I. WILL. NOT. GIVE. IN.

It’s a nothing of a day. We get out of bed late, we eat breakfast late, we wander around a grocery buying nothing in particular, we stop in another bookshop that I wish I would have discovered earlier. Eventually we end up at Dilettante, a little wine bar of place that sells chocolate instead of vino. It is decorated in dark, chocolaty colors and I’m instantly sure that this is the place I wanted to come five minutes after Chocolat was over the first time I saw it. We both have versions of hot chocolate—Z’s is sweeter than mine, both come with cups of teeny chocolate chips. Surely nothing ever tastes this good at home.

No, it might, but at home I would be in such hurry to get to my next thing that I’d never enjoy licking the cream off of my lip or listening to the hushed conversations that are taking place around us. Instead, I’d go zip-bang from my hot chocolate to whatever was waiting for me next. I want to stay here, drinking chocolate and sitting with Z, forever, pretending this is my place of habitation, but knowing if it were, I wouldn’t be enjoying the simple things half so much.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Where the Streets are Paved with Mold

Crawling thru rat-infested sewers didn’t sound like a good time but the guidebooks said Seattle’s Underground Tour was worth the eleven bucks, so we went. It takes place in the oldest part of Seattle,--an area called Pioneer Square where many buildings are now on the National Historic Register, and which has been so nicely restored that it doesn’t feel like the rest of the city. It is shady and bricky and trendy. The best independent bookstore I have possibly ever been in, Elliott Bay Book Company, is there, and there is a clog store. Nothing inside but clogs. Big clogs, Little clogs. Red clogs, Blue clogs. Even used clogs. It, coupled with the bookstore across the street, is like my (and Dr. Seuss’s) dream shopping experience.

What’s even more interesting to me is that all this splendor is on Skid Row. Literally. This is where the term was coined. Logs used to skid down one of the big hills toward the lumber mill at the base, which was a good thing during the Boom, but when the Boom went bust, the area became derelict. There are a few remnants of what the place was like before the revitalization of the 1980s and 1990s. For instance, the Bread of Life mission is still there, advertised with neon lights that give Jesus an eerie glow and makes the place look more fun than it probably is. Across the street there is still a hotel sign that advertises rooms for 75 cents. (I assume those rooms weren’t en suite either.)

The tour took us underground into a series of dusty tunnels where we were told we were walking on what used to be the main streets of Seattle. The city burned (like all good city’s did back then) and it was decided that ground level needed to be raised, but since that would take awhile, business owners were encouraged to go ahead and rebuild at the original, lower level and add a door on the second story where ground level would eventually be. As we winded thru the tunnels we looked through archways and doorways that would have been the front doors and windows of the shops and banks that are now above ground. Of course there were also ghost stories and 4th grade sewer jokes and a gift shop at the end that the tour spills out into, but it was all good.

At the end of the tour, we both signed the guest book, and our tour guide was suddenly agitated about what we’d written. I assumed that there would follow a conversation about Zimbabwe and how did Z get here from there and aren’t things bad there right now, etc. This happens sometimes and I’m always amazed at how Z acts like it’s the first time he’s ever had to explain his origins.

Instead of conversations about Africa, Ed the Tour Guide said the name of my town and exclaimed that he is from just up the road, that he went to college in town, and so we talk. He was in The Sound of Music at the local community theater with my aunt when I was just a kid. He cautioned me that his 98 year old grandmother was still driving and that I should be careful on the roads. It was good fun to run into a paisano on the other side of the country. I should have asked him if he found the geography in the Pacific Northwest difficult to navigate and if he had an inclination like Cousin #3 to root for Indiana basketball teams.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Island Girl

Here’s a tip: when you find a deal for a cheap room in an historic inn on the San Juan Islands, make sure the room has a bathroom included and that you aren’t expected to share with other guests.

The ferry ride on Monday from Anacortes to San Juan Island was beautiful but cold. We wended our way between islands and Z and I made periodic dashes outside to stand on the bow for a cold but unobstructed view. We guessed about what islands we were passing, and as is typical of me, I feared we were passing better islands than the one we had made arrangements to be on. In a little less than an hour we had docked in Friday Harbor—the “city” by island standards—and made our way up to Friday’s Historic Inn, where we were cordially greeted and given a key to our room. That’s when we discovered that despite beautiful antique furnishings and a harbor view, we would have to go downstairs for the shower and toilet. I’m not a princess, but I am an introvert with certain hygiene requirements, and I was not prepared to spend my two-night un-honeymoon in the hallway of Friday’s Inn making small talk with hair-shedding, toilet-seat-leaving-up tourists while I waited my turn. No, it wouldn’t do.
The desk clerk didn’t seem surprised at all when I came lumbering back down the stairs with my credit card in hand and was directed to a slightly pricier suite with private bath and Jacuzzi.

I don’t know if I’m cut out for island life. The San Juan Islands are beautiful and the views are breathtaking. The people are friendly and the pace is very laid back. But there is this tiny panic in my core—what if I need to go to Wal-mart at two in the morning for nail polish remover? There is no Wal-mart unless you go back to the mainland, and there is no ferry at 2:00 a.m. WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU HAVE A LATE NIGHT NAIL POLISH REMOVER EMERGENCY??? I’m reminded of my last visit to the much less inhabited and much more rustic Inisbofin off the western coast of Ireland, when the electricity was shut off for the entire day while they did upgrades on power supply from the mainland and I had this sudden, crazed desire to plug something in.

But mostly I am able to keep the dogs of anxiety from barking. Z is good for that. We have tame adventures, driving around the island, having an impromptu picnic on the doc in front of the Hiro Hotel where Teddy Roosevelt stayed a couple of times. We walk on the beach and pick up driftwood for a shelf Z hopes to build (but fears will stay driftwood on his kitchen floor). We look for whales and see them with every crest of wave, only to discover a log or a shadow instead. We look at a seal/sea lion and try to remember how you can tell one from the other before it swims away. We drive past Pelendaba Lavender Farm after buying lavender from their shop in town, where Z impressed me terribly with his internationalness and asked the clerk what the South African connection was because he recognized the name as Zulu. (I can’t remember what it means now, but think it is “please do not gag while eating our lavender-flavored chocolates.”) We visit baby alpaca's and I consider buying $75 alpaca slippers and say a silent prayer of thanks when they do not fit. It's a good life, this island one.

There is a lot to be said for a few days of relaxation on vacation instead of the style of tourism I usually sign up for, which involves packing as much activity into as little time as possible so I can say I’ve done it all. They say Friday Harbor is hopping during high season, and if that is so, I’m glad we came in March when the roads weren’t crowded, their were no waits in restaurants, and we had our pick of rooms that were en suite. We both agree that it is a place we would return to, though I know as the ferry takes us back to Anacortes I’m going to wonder if next time we shouldn’t visit one of the other islands to see what it has to offer.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Crimes Against Humanity

We meant to see a movie downtown, but somehow we ended up in the middle of a war protest instead. Z and I were killing time before our movie started when we saw some picket signs, some barricades, and heard the bullhorns. If we’d watched the news the night before instead of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, we might have known to avoid the area, but we quickly got caught up in it and I had a sudden vision of Helene Hanff accidentally getting arrested in 84 Charing Cross Road in a protest.

There were all sorts of people there: old hippies, mothers of sons in Iraq, children, and even a little beagle who proudly wore a dog-sized sandwich board outlining this administration's sins. The downtown square was packed full of people with anti-war T-shirts and signs. There were a few anti-protestors (surely there’s a better term) on the fringes, but even so, it was a very civilized gathering. The police outlined the group on motorcycles and horses, but they didn’t look too worried that violence was going to break out. One of my favorites was a grizzled old guy in a tie-dyed shirt who was doing some sort of spinning scarf dance for peace.

Z and I are both observers—he’s a bit more scientific about it than I am because all I’m looking for is good story material whereas he has en eye peeled for crimes against reason and sound rhetoric. Another difference between us is that Z easily moves from observer to engager, so when he went up to a woman holding a banner that read “Give Peace a Chance” I skittered off to the sidelines with the homeless people and street musicians and, I’ll admit it, pretended I didn’t know him all that well. I could say it was because I felt it was wrong to harass someone who had strong political convictions—stronger than mine since my main concern was would this dalliance with the politically active make me late for the 2:00 showing of Wild Hogs, but truthfully, it was just that I like for everyone to get along and I don’t think it’s nice to add to someone’s distress by pointing out to them that peace isn’t really on the table. Troops out now, sure, Try Bush and Cheney for war crimes, why not, but it will be a long, long time before peace is an option.

Mostly though I didn’t want Z engaging the protestors because I feared a scene. You can put a Midwestern WASP in the middle of the apocalypse and her primary concern will be fretting about whether someone is causing a scene just because the rivers are running with blood. This isn’t really a characteristic about myself that I like, but it has its advantages. For instance, I’ve never had a black eye for provoking a war protestor.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to look oblivious to a person and simultaneously watch him out of the corner of your eye because you want to make sure he doesn’t get strangled with a bed sheet spray painted with Quaker slogans? I was relieved when he finished his debate and suggested I go buy a disposable camera and snap some photos. And I was even more relieved when Quaker Bed Sheet Lady stopped during the parade so we could take her photo—an indication that whatever Z had said to her, she had no hard feelings. I shouldn’t have doubted him. He is not without charm, not without compassion, and of course he wouldn’t have caused a scene. I should have had a little faith.

My favorite part of the day, post protest and post movie, was when we stopped in a little park and sat amongst the daffodils and tulips while eating $6 cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. So peaceful. No confrontation. Delicious.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Remembrance of Things Past

The geography here confuses this Midwesterner, who is used to her wide-open spaces, her linear roads that occasionally curve softly around a creek or gorge. Today, we drove to Bremerton to see my cousin and his family, and I had a hard time with the notion that if Puget Sound had been frozen over, we could have driven straight there in less than 30 minutes, but since it wasn’t and since we didn’t want to fork out the money for the ferry ride, we drove down to Tacoma and up the other side of the Sound.

My youth was spent with Cousin #3, playing Frankenstein on my grandparents’ farm and attending weekly UMYF meetings together. But we grew up and he joined the navy and had a family and I went to college and misplaced my religion. We haven’t kept in touch, so I was nervous about the visit. I didn’t know what I’d find, what I might be inflicting on Z, or how long it might take the two of us to remember that we used to eat Fudgecicles together.

I worried needlessly. He looked the same, though older and a bit more like my grandfather. His wife was friendly, and though his three year old was cranky and his daughters looked at us with detachment (If you were that important we would have met you by now seemed to be the sentiment), it was an easy afternoon, catching up on family and former classmates, and hearing about his life in the Pacific Northwest. When we were kids he had been a serious, bright kid who was tormented a little by his older brothers, so I was happy to see him grown up and not harboring any grudges for the summer they called him “Waffle Pants” because of an unfortunate incident with a too-hot register.

He’s a practical guy and this is his life out here where the roads are not straight, but I got a hint from him of what it would be like to leave the Midwest for a different geography. He’s obsessed with Hoosier basketball and any team for any sport that is from Indiana. He longs for the quieter pace of what he remembers of Midwestern life. He laments that airfare from here to “home” is steep for a family of five, so visits with relatives are few and far between. In fact, other than his mother and brother, I am the only other family member who has made the visit and witnessed where he lives his life.

I wonder how long it would take me, if I lived where he does, to realize that the closest distance between two points is not the direction you point your car when you are ready to make a journey. Do you get used to circuitous routes or do you always hanker for an open road and a clear horizon?

He took us to the naval base where he works, and we had to show ID before we were allowed access. Z’s ID gave the guard pause, and I had a sudden vision of all of us being stripped searched. To my mind, Z is not a shifty looking character, but in a world where old women get flagged at airports for security checks, it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Luckily, we were given the nod and so got to see the base where Cousin #3 was stationed when he first joined the navy, see a hint of the work he is doing there, the PX, the base McDonald’s, the bowling alley, and then, for some reason the part that fascinated me most, the area where the tired, old ships are “mothballed.” To me, it looked like something out of a horror movie: the amusement park after hours, the empty school gymnasium, the meat-packing plant after the last shift has gone home for the weekend. The ships look like ghosts of themselves, their names and identifying numbers have been painted over and some of their parts have been salvaged. I kept asking what would happen to the ships because I couldn’t imagine that they’d just have to sit there for the rest of forever, like they are in some sort of boat nursing home. But that’s the plan. I stared at them and felt like if we were very quiet we could have heard the voices and sounds of the life that used to be on them. Should we should bring them flowers, bake them cookies, set up televisions so they can at least watch “The Price is Right” as they wile away the days in familiar geography but with no place to go and no one who would recognize them anyhow?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Eternal-ish City

When I was in Rome two years ago, I met a friend of the cousin I’d gone to see who was resident director for some American college students who were staying in the university’s hotel/dorm. She was in her early twenties, small and perky, and she was climbing onto the back of a motorcycle with a handsome Italian man. They even said ciao as they sped away into the night. God help me, I was jealous. I was jealous because I was no longer twentysomething. I was jealous because when I was twentysomething not only was I not living in Rome, but I was in Indiana not riding motorcycles with handsome foreign men. I was jealous because I imagined their ride would end somewhere romantic, outside the Pantheon, on the banks of the Tibor, near the Trevi fountain, and then at some point they would get back on that bike and go somewhere private to have loud, hot, sweaty, Italian sex. While Puccini played in the background.

I really kind of hated that girl and I only knew her about three minutes.

Today, I was in Seattle, which is not as sexy as Rome. I was walking in army green Crocs (not sexy leather boots) instead of riding on the back of a sexy motorcycle. My hair was it’s typical Seattle, Meredith Grey unsexy. Instead of looking at ancient, sexy lifelike sculptures carved into Italian marble, I was looking at abstract cubes and giant typerwriter erasers in the Olympic Sculpture Park. But I was with Z, who smelled so good and held my hand so well and who occasionally molested me in little, welcome ways behind particularly big sculptures. I thought about that girl and realized young, young her could not have been half as content, half as giddy, half as sexed up as I was, standing next to my 50% Italian as we tried to figure out what in the world a series of rusted shapes could possibly mean, as we laughed at the sometimes pretentious explanations of the hulking heaps of metal, as we noticed a young mother who was breastfeeding her baby on one of the works of million dollar art. The sky was clear, the Olympic Mountains were in the distance, the waters of Elliott Bay were calm.

Yeah, I feel a little guilty about that hate now.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Flying Alone

The main reason I shouldn’t fly alone is this: I hate people. When I fly with another person, I’m usually too engaged in conversation to notice that despite a sea of empty chairs at the Indianapolis airport, two different sets of people have decided to bookend me. I loathe them instantly for crowding me, and even though I know it is the airport that smells of dirty feet and not my new neighbors, I blame them just the same. The lady next to me just flopped down a red and white L.L. Bean tote that has “winkdogs” embroidered on the side. There’s no telling what a winkdog is, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like them either.

Anyhow, this is one of my character flaws. When it is 6:30 in the morning and I’ve been up since 3:00 a.m. and I had to drive thru the Spring rains Central Indiana to get to the airport, I just don’t want to be bothered. Add to this that it isn’t even the REAL 6:30 but the imposter 6:30 the governor imposed on us when he made us adopt Daylight Savings Time. My jeans are soaked to the knee from the walk from the car to the shuttle stop and back to the car to retrieve my iPod, which, it turns out, was actually in my pocket, and then back to the shuttle.

But I’m not complaining. So far my flight is on time and Z is on the other end of it waiting on me. (Well, technically Z is asleep, but if he were awake, he would be waiting on me.) I must learn to embrace my co-travelers and their winkdogs.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

February Harvest

Here’s what not to do when one of your major uncles dies and you are minutes from going to the visitation at the funeral home: do not try out new waterproof mascara with microfiber. In fact, make it a policy to never even use waterproof mascara, particularly when it has ingredients commonly found in raincoats.

I can’t decide if I look more like a four year old who got into her mother’s make-up stash or if I look like a mime. Either way, it is not good, though possibly the freaky quality of my eyelashes might distract the bereaved throngs from their grief for fifteen seconds while they speculate about what manner of insect has crawled onto both of my eyes.

This major uncle was a farmer with a love of history, conspiracy theories, and the farm where he grew up and then grew his own family. He was moody and given to loud outbursts of displeasure when something was not to his liking, but he was also personable and funny and handsome. He had things he believed in: rules, lines you didn’t cross, respect you paid. He was the last of the older generation of males in my life to call me by the childhood version of my name, and I liked that. There might not have always been displays of affection or even acknowledged appreciation between us, but hearing him say that softer version of my name somehow always made me feel connected.

Of course he also called me Nose Picker with some regularity, but we won’t speak of that.

In that way that when I hear the word “house” I picture something white with a picket fence, when I hear “farmer” I picture him: shock of hair sticking out of the back of a seed cap, overalls, ruddy weather-creased face, thick, strong hands.

His farm was the backdrop for some of my happier days. Though the outdoors makes me sneeze, it is where I romped in hay mows, rubbed my face on the fur of livestock and barn cats alike, and where I learned that hamburgers and Green Giant corn do not miraculously appear in my grocer’s freezer but actually come from a farm somewhere. One July I was with him and his oldest son in their pick-up, surveying corn not quite ripe for picking, and he said with great pride to my cousin, “Look at that. That’s ours,” and it clicked for me, those hours they spent on the tractor, in the farm lot, testing corn at the kitchen table, plowing, planting, harvesting, hauling--all of it adding up to a job you could be proud of, that you could own because it meant something. It was tangible. You could taste it.

And so now my spider eyes and I are off to say goodbye to him and to try to offer comfort to my aunt and cousins, though there is no comfort for this unexpected loss. Instead, like with any death, there are now just memories and photos and the stories that will be told to remember what the dash between 1947 and 2007 stood for. There is also the very real possibility that for my aunt, my cousins, his grandchildren, and those of us who grew used to August sacks full of his season’s yield, that corn will never again taste so sweet.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Shining

The Scottie and I are housebound after the big snowstorm that blanketed most of the Midwest yesterday, so it’s a quiet kind of Valentine’s Day. Earlier today, the two of us went out and trudged a heart-shape into the snow, took a picture, and sent it to Z. Technically, the Scottie watched from a place where the snow was not higher than he is, but he did bark encouragement.

There’s something wrong, possibly, with a 40-year-old woman who still watches school closings on the news with the same hopefulness of a second grader. I have colleagues who are annoyed by snow days because they interrupt the learning process and mess up the schedule and are not productive. But I am of the belief that they are good for the soul. There is something delicious about wandering around, well past the hour of decency, in your pajamas because you know no one, not even the mail carrier, is going to stop by.

That said, after two days of being housebound, either me or the dog is likely to turn into Jack Nicholson in The Shining. My money is on the dog. He wants his walk despite his wooded lot with pond and seemed unnecessarily disappointed in me yesterday when I wouldn’t turn the snow off.

Z and I were sickening this weekend. It was a perfect weekend, the details of which I will keep between me, Z, and the Scottie dog, though there was a moment in McDonald’s when we kissed while waiting to place our orders, and some young guy looked like he had lost his appetite. I may feel like a sixteen year old, but I forget that what the rest of the world is seeing is someone middle aged (and in this instance, decked out in the wintery-est weather gear) who should not be allowed legally to kiss her boyfriend in public. Particularly after a four-day lovefest, which has left both participants looking hollow-eyed and shrunken, like the Mer-people under Ursula the Sea Witch’s evil spell in The Little Mermaid. In fact, I’m amazed legislation hasn’t been passed to public displays of affection in anyone over 35. If I weren’t me, I’d be thinking, “Yeah, yeah—move it on home to your Craft-matic adjustable bed, you old fogeys.” But we were on the way to the airport, and so I felt entitled, bewitched Mer person or not.

One detail I will share is that the Kama Sutra chocolates were well received, though given that neither Z nor I are particularly good at yoga or gymnastics, we opted not to try out the scenes depicted there on. There was some concern that the TSA might flag him if they saw this contraband in his suitcase however.

It’s interesting the new paths I find myself cutting these days. Historically, this has been the one day of the year when I felt entitled to be extra cynical and dismissive of sappy greeting card sentiment and Kaye Jeweler commercials, and now, here I am, out in 15 degree weather, marching around in a foot and a half of snow making heart shapes. Heart shapes.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lowered Expectations

Last week, a precocious kindergartner at the school where my mother works began a conversation with her teacher in that way you do when you assume the person to whom you are speaking has had exactly the same experience as you. The conversation starter was this: “You know when you poop your pants on purpose and your grandma gets mad….”

This delights me (mostly because I am not the grandmother, I suspect). I love the lack of self-awareness, the belief that of course EVERYONE has done just this thing and understands the repercussions.

And so I begin this blog….

You know when you buy a pair of low-rise jeans, even though you know you shouldn’t….”

It is typical of me to finally buy into a fashion trend when it is on its way out, and while I know my body is not suited to it from various aesthetically displeasing experiences in dressing rooms across America, I found a cheap pair of jeans I liked and they just happened to be low-rise, and now I have become one of the those Midwestern-shaped women who spends her day hiking up her pants. . . . while shopping, while teaching, while talking to the Vice Chancellor of Information Technology. I don’t know what I was thinking. I am a child of the 80s and as such jeans belong somewhere right at or slightly above the navel. I am not a mother, but I am most comfortable in Mom Jeans.

And we won’t even speak of the ill-advised underwear I bought to accompany the jeans. No we won’t.

Z is in the air, winging his way toward me for a long Valentine’s weekend, though come Sunday it will seem like the shortest weekend in history. He has already been delayed by a couple of hours, and I’m annoyed that an airline snafu is cutting into my time with him. I’m half-tempted to call Northwest and say, “Work with me people!!!”

As luck would have it, I’m at the Dog House for the rest of the month, babysitting, while my Scottie’s parents are off on a cruise of South America. My fantasies of putting the house to good romantic use have already been dashed. The nice thick white carpet in front of the fireplace that would be good for a picnic--or let’s be honest, making out--has been ripped up and replaced with very trendy hardwood and no area rugs. The hot tub is broken. It’s 3 degrees out, so the sweet walks on our old, friendship-only stomping ground cannot be re-dedicated to this new incarnation of us unless we bundle ourselves up like the little brother in A Christmas Story. I’m beginning to suspect the Scottie Dog is not going to approve of the two of us in a romantic relationship, and I’ve already begun envisioning all the ways he will try to break us up, kind of like Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills did to Brian Keith and their potential new step-mother in The Parent Trap. He’s a good dog, but he is an only child.

Also, you know when you order a box of chocolates from England for your sweetheart that depict various acts from The Kama Sutra and then you start to second guess yourself and wonder if what initially seemed funny and mildly naughty is really just in poor taste, reeks of desperation and might make the object of your affection go off you completely? Yeah, well. . . .

That’s it. I am officially lowering my expectations for the weekend.

But I am NOT wearing the low-rise jeans.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


One advantage to having a boyfriend, it turns out, is that they can see things you cannot. For instance, your back.

One night while I was in Seattle, Z was rubbing my back and discovered this thing that he thought I should have checked by a dermatologist. He didn’t technically discover it as I had already made an appointment to have it removed, and maybe I sounded a little defensive when I told him this because the next thing he discovered on my back he kept to himself for several days. One night he couldn’t stand it any longer and finally said, “What IS that?” He peeled up my shirt and discovered a price tag for $19.99 plastered between my shoulder blades. For days, he’d thought I’d had some deformity about which I might be self-conscious. Despite being mortified that the evidence pointed to bad hygiene on my part, I laughed with him about it and felt a little warm that he cared enough not to verbally note my every flaw.

My dermatologist, on the other hand, has no problem pointing out the flaws. She’s a bit flakey on a good day, but when I had the non-price tag removed she was in rare form. I hadn’t seen her for two years when I’d had a little thing sliced off of the side of my nose, so it struck me as odd that she shuffled in, looked at my face and said, ‘Oh, it looks good!’ Only what she was examining was not the two-year-old healed place but instead a chickenpox scar I’ve had since 1974. She complimented her own handiwork and then suggested that I let their new cosmotologist micro-dermabrase my face to smooth out the remnants of what she thought was her scar. She went on to tell me how this amazing cosmotologist would fix all manner of problems and could even wax eyebrows. When she saw I wasn’t signing up for a makeover, she went on to announce that she was trying to drum up business for the woman because nobody in my town seems interested in spending money to look better. I suspect it’s just that people here are accustomed to having their eyebrows done at a salon and not at a doctor’s office. Isn’t it a bit like going to the dentist and having her try to sell you lipstick? I suppose I’d appreciate it if my hair stylist noticed something on my head (a price tag perhaps) and suggested I go to the doctor to have it removed, but somehow when a doctor does it, it smacks of a snake oil selling. Do I NEED microdermabrasion for some medical reason? Are my eyebrows going to cause me long-term health problems if not cosmotologically altered?

And now, on to a skin of a different color.

I’m a fairly intuitive person, so why does it surprise me that when I do some dumb thing an inner voice tells me not to do, it doesn’t turn out well? More importantly, why don’t I just listen to myself? I’ve come to the conclusion that either I am slightly mentally retarded or I have a dual personality: one of a benevolent, intuitive parent and the other of a petulant, rebellious child.

I’ll spare you the details, but bottom line, despite a niggling voice telling me I was about to make a mistake, I violated the pricey iSkin—a Shrek-green condom that protects my iPod from all manner of bumps and spills—in the interest of its fitting into a stereo dock more efficiently. It didn’t work, and furthermore, within 60 seconds of making the last snip, I discovered another way to attach the iPod to the stereo that won’t affect the skin at all.

Because I do not like to cry over spilled beverages, I opted to fix the situation by gluing the silicon sheath back together with nail glue, which on any other day could be used to reattach previously conjoined twins. I frequently glue my fingers together when using it, so when the little niggling voice told me this experiment would also fail, I told it to hush because I know all about nail glue.

Maybe they taught this kind of helpful stuff in high school science classes on a day I was absent, but it turns out that quick-drying nail glue does not dry so quickly when applied to silicon. Instead, it makes a sticky mess. Despite both my intuition’s best attempt to save me from myself and despite my own resolution to be more frugal in 2007, there is now another Shrek-green iSkin on my Visa. I considered not buying a replacement, but the niggling voice said, “Your iPod needs to be protected from people like you.”

With Z and my intuition watching out for me, all I have to fear is, um, myself.