Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Waiting Room

"The doctor is reviewing your images. We'll let you know as soon as he's done."

Word for word, that was the fourth time I'd heard the phrase in the last two hours, each repetition less comforting than the last. A safe, plastic sound bite meant to be consoling that in reality was, in all its emptiness, downright frightening.

I was angry at the nurse for thinking a pre-packaged comment would console me. Of course she couldn't tell me anything. But she knew I wasn’t stupid enough to believe everything was fine. And must she smile when she told me that? I certainly didn't return the grin. I probably looked stunned at her canned callousness, that she wouldn't tell me more. Although I'm sure she didn't mean it that way, I took it personally. I took the stupid lump personally, too. Nice timing, God.

I was being scanned and rescanned, a small lump in my left breast repeatedly scrutinized. Waiting for the results gave me so very much time to dwell on things I'd prefer to avoid. I had just separated from my husband. I was alone with two small boys. Now, in this chilly examination room, I was alone with my thoughts, and they were not behaving.

This worry-wait was too grey, too unboxed, to wrap my brain around. Shockingly, the People magazine they gave me wasn't enough to keep me distracted. Instead, my mind was racing ahead, jumping to conclusions, and flattening any synapses that got in its way.


Although somewhat housebroken, my thoughts behave best when shackled to ideas. Off a leash, they tend to scamper off to scary places, running roughshod over weaker ideas. So after several hours of unfettered playtime, imaginary graffiti covered the walls of the examination room and saccharine-sweet, politically correct captions lay bleeding and broken on the floor, mementos of my thoughts run amok.

Anger blanketed my fear. Fear of leaving. Fear of losing control, losing life, losing all. I had recently bought the cutest shoes and not even worn them yet. Lump or no lump - no way would I go with shoes unworn.

What were the odds? Fifty percent? Ninety-five? How much time was left? I was clueless and truly in the dark. At least in a sport, you had an idea of whether you were winning or losing, and you knew how much time you had left. Each breath was now measured, each click on the game clock so loud. Nice timing, God.

Yesterday my main concern had been whether the Yankees’ pitching would carry them through to the playoffs. Today, I wanted to make the playoffs.


As I lay there, I had time to prioritize, to separate the wait from the weight, hold close to the vital and let the rest go. When you are suddenly reminded out your time here is measured in finite moments, what do you do? You cut to the chase, speak to the heart, say what you mean, and skip the fluff.

I did not have time for lumps, for cancer, for tolerating politically correct terminology. I wasn't about to make time for any of it either, but no one seemed to be consulting me about whether I could fit it all into my schedule.

"Thanks for being so patient. You may go now."

I could go? Not just go, but dance, and blink, and breathe, and live, and shop. From zero to gone, just like that.

The lump ended up being nothing more than a dense spot, of which I have many, mostly in my head. Soon I was back to my daily grind, quickly forgetting my long moment dwelling in a bottomless unknown.

But that wasn’t right, either. Once in a while I think back to that cold room that my thoughts trashed, and am reminded that the game clock is running. Quietly and slowly, but still running. So I run, too. In simply fabulous shoes.

I've gained perspective and lost my ability to sweat the stupid stuff. Since the worry-wait, I’ve worn my new shoes right through and joyfully bought more. Now I try to remember that ‘lump time’ could come anytime. I waste less, live more.


Nice timing, God.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Paperless

The other day I received the following letter in the mail from my credit card company (names have been changed to protect the idiots):

Your Sillybank statement is now available at http://www.sillybank.com/. This notification is part of the All-Electronic Program you enrolled in to receive your statements online only instead of in the mail.

I read it again. Something was wrong here and this time it wasn't my ex-husband. Once the dust in my cranium had settled, I realized what was twisting my linguistic knickers. They had capitalized the word Electronic in All-Electronic.

Ok, so it wasn’t just that. Or even the obscene awkwardness of the phrase only instead of in the mail, which I’m sure, asstute reader that you are, did not go unnoticed by you. Far, far worse, even more despicable- they mailed a letter, a paper letter via the United States Postal Service, to inform me that my online statement was now available. I.e. the online statement I had signed up for so I wouldn't get so much mail, so I could do my part in saving trees and keep the global-warming wonks from hunting me down and making mulch out of my hide. In other words, my darling credit card company had killed a tree in order to notify me that I was saving one. And somewhere deep in the bowels of my monthly fees you can be sure they had charged me for this lesson in irony.

How many people touch a decision like this? First of all, it takes a special someone to proclaim, “Hey, let’s mail a paper letter to people who opt for our All-Electronic Program.” It takes cojones. It takes chutzpah. Yes, it takes.... management.

Then you have the everyday cubicle-dwellers who see the decision and think, wow, that supreme pirouette of idiocy will surely irritate our customers. Do they then do anything about it? Of course not. It’s one thing to understand how stupid a ploy like this is. It’s quite another to explain it to management. Just like when a whale decides to swim away from the ocean and up a river. You can see how stupid that move is, but unfortunately you can’t explain it to the whale.

Obviously some marketing minions are involved, too. Probably the same ad jockeys who tout the ‘green-ness’ of their companies by placing ads in newspapers extolling how many trees they’ve saved. Pssst – don’t take up the ad space, and you can save quite a few more. So what’s the point here - to save trees or sell product? Aha!

We are onto you, you sneaky faux do-gooders. We know you could truly care less about the endangered perma-frost of the Sahara. We realize you’ve sold your botoxed souls to the devil’s cable channel. You want to separate us from our last shiny nickel, mortgage our left kidney to buy your product because it’s ‘bio-friendly.’ Just how stupid do you think we think we are?

Apparently some of us are quite stupid, because these marketeers continue to schlep their schlocky stuff ad infinitum. Somehow this stuff is marketably sound, a business term that means we are, indeed, idiots who don’t deserve to possess currency.

When I get a phone call from someone incredibly nice and chemically perky, that’s an immediate tip that they want to suck the life out of my wallet. Nobody I know would ever dare be friendly to the point of making me nauseous.

-ring, ring-

Me: Hello?

Caller: Hi, how are you today?

Me: Who wants to know?

Caller: Why, thanks for asking. I’m Mindy and I’m thrilled to be calling you today. I just wanted to let you know that you've been pre-approved for a low-interest lo-

Me: -do you know you're contributing to global warming?

Caller: Wh-what?

Me: By calling me and expending your breath, you're heating up the planet. For shame. I won't do any business with you until you replace the entire Brazilian rainforest and air freight 800 tons of ice to save the Saharan perma-frost.

-click-

Until we shut up the nicey-nice callers and smack down the sham green-grubbers, we will continue to be barraged with gooey gibberish threatening to recycle the last penny from our financial souls.


Or we can just ignore them. That works, too.

Maybe I'll frame the letter from my credit card company and put it up on my wall to show my tree-hugging buddies that I'm saving forests. What kind of frame would look better - walnut or pine?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Nana, the Passive-aggressive Baker

My dear, departed, diabetic Nana used to bake for us grandkids. A lot. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? The first dozen times or so it was. After that - no. No. No. Every day. Every damn day. It was like the movie Groundhog Day only with Bundt cakes.

We'd come home from school, the witching hour for kiddie appetites, and she'd appear with a big ring of dry cake. She'd parade right past my mother, who would be preparing dinner, often within reach of sharp kitchen utensils. "Have some cake," Nana would say to us, which is Gaelic for If you love me you will eat this now or I will die and it will be your fault.

She would then sit down and stare at us, waiting for us to eat. Our mom, knife at the ready, would stare daggers at us, then at Nana. Our stomachs would growl at us. There was no way out without some sort of home-baked Irish angst.

Nana: I made you a cake.

Mom (staring icily at us): What a surprise.

Nana: Well, I had nothing better to do.

Mom (eyeing the paring knife):……thanks.

Nana (heavy sigh): Guess I’ll go home and watch The Price is Right. Alone.

I took up sports just so I wouldn’t have to come home right after school and witness this scene.


The flip side to this logic was if you truly valued food, you took only what you needed. A daily dose of Bundt cake was a loony extravagance. Eventually I began to associate cakes and sweets with an uneasy maternal glare. While it later made dieting easy, I absolutely freaked out in bakeries.

Nana lived next door to us on the farm, close enough to tinker with our lives but far enough away to duck the house rules. She had lived through the Great Depression and treasured every bit of food she now had. As a result, she was quite fat and suffered from diabetes. Not to judge her, but no matter how hard she stared at me, she was not going to make me eat Bundt cake until I weighed 200 pounds.

She was born in Brooklyn of Irish immigrants, living there all her life until her husband, my Pop-pop, passed away, at which point she moved in beside us in the country, with the cows, crickets, and velvet-dark, quiet nights. Many things I loved about the country probably terrified her.

City folk don't ever get to know true darkness. Or silence, for that matter. There's always something lit or noisy. Like a street light or a trash truck beeping away, I guess that's comforting if that's what you know.

But in the night of the countryside your eyes don't always help you and your ears pop for lack of better things to do. To me this was magnificent - I felt like my other senses kicked in and I could think without any distractions.

To my Nana this was disturbing. It probably didn't help that I pointed out all the creatures that came out at night - the giant moths, the various snakes, the skittery mice, bats, etc. that owned the darkness. Maybe the Bundt cakes were payback for scaring the daylights out of her.

Once she moved to the country, Nana had to learn how to drive. This was mind-boggling to me - how could anyone make it through life without driving? I had been driving tractors since I was twelve years old. Those odd city people got by without driving at all. No ‘D’ train in the boondocks, though, so Nana had to buckle down and learn.

We owned a bunch of Volkswagen Beetles, most likely because they were expendable and didn’t injure pedestrians too much when they hit them. I don’t recall many details of my grandmother’s driver education, just my dad requiring a few extra beers and colorful curses. I do remember Nana yelling at him in that special voice reserved for special offspring. Her timing was poor because at that particular moment they were heading down our precarious driveway. The one with the sharp turn and the cliff.

Somehow my dad made it through teaching his mother how to drive, but when I turned sixteen and could officially take the wheel, Nana was assigned to be my teacher. Not sure who was being punished for what, but somehow we both managed to survive. Nana was quite patient, at least on the surface, however when I didn't slow down fast enough for her liking, she would stomp on an imaginary and therefore non-functioning brake pedal, very nearly putting her foot through the floor of the passenger side of her car.

Me: Everything ok, Nana?

Nana: Just fine. (stomp!)

Me: Want me to slow down?

Nana: No, I’m fine. (stomp!)

Driving with Nana was an experience. She always made the sign of the cross before putting it in gear. After riding with her a few times, so did the rest of us.

Eventually she bought an AMC Gremlin, a car even uglier than its name insinuates. Nana’s Gremlin was baby blue with white racing stripes, a rolling exhibition of lipstick on a pig. It was unique enough that when townspeople saw it coming, they quickly learned to hide behind sturdy trees and posts.

As she aged and her eyesight faded, I questioned the sanity of her continuing to drive. "I've thought about that," she replied, "From now on, I'm just going to drive the roads I already know." Unfortunately this wasn’t comforting to anyone in her path. As you may have guessed, Driving by Braille was about as successful as Closed Captioning for the Blind. But hey, she knew the road, she drove the road, and everyone else had to get the hell off the road.

Like any grandmother, Nana needed help with some things, for instance, crossing icy pavement. Unlike other grandmothers, she had the vice-like grip of a Teamster. "Help me across the street, Ann Frances," she'd say and daintily take my arm. I'd grit my teeth for the pain that was sure to shoot through my bicep as she grabbed hold, her fingerprints later tattooed on my arm in the form of a florid, multi-colored bruise. More payback, perhaps, for not eating all those Bundt cakes.

We would bring our soda and beer cans to her to flatten for recycling. We had to carry the bags of cans for our poor, frail granny, yet I witnessed her crushing the old-style, thick, steel cans with her bare hands. This show of strength made it even tougher to turn down her Bundt offerings. If we didn't eat her cakes, she might flatten us like so many beer cans.

Nana helped out at our church, assisting the teachers with religious education. In other words, she was the bouncer. If a kid didn't behave, he was handed over to Nana, whereupon he very quickly saw God and understood the pain of penance. As the disruptive student was led away to face Nana the Corrector, other kids stared at me like it was my fault my grandmother was a drill sergeant.

I'm sure she loved us, but she had a unique way of showing it. She babysat for us kids a few times, not that we needed the watching but it made her feel needed. A classic Nana babysitting visit went something like this-

Me (watching television): Hey, Nana, what’s up?

Nana(heavy sigh): Nothing good on tv, so I thought I’d come over and look at you.

She would then plop herself in a chair right next to the television and literally stare at us. I don’t care who you are – you cannot enjoy television with someone sitting next to it staring back at you.

One night when our parents were out, Nana felt the need to use our oven. Our mother had complained that the oven wasn’t working right. Perhaps Nana felt compelled to fix it or prove Mom wrong. Whatever the reason, I was watching television in the living room when Nana called for me casually from the kitchen. Casually, as in whenever you have a moment meander over here because I’d like you to see something a smidge amusing.

Nana: Ann Frances, could you come in here?

Me: Can it wait until a commercial break?

Nana: ……I don’t think so.

Me: Is something wrong?

Nana: ……

I raced to the kitchen to see flames from the oven licking the ceiling. Nana was frozen in shock, staring at the growing fire. I grabbed the extinguisher and put it out. Thank goodness Nana was there to take care of us, and to tinker with the ornery oven while our parents weren’t around. At least now we knew something was definitely wrong with the oven, also known as the large black hole in the kitchen wall. It was burnt to a freaking crisp.

And if there was a Bundt cake in there, it was well-done.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why the Celtics are Evil

Here in Los Angeles, we demand a Hollywood ending to the NBA finals. If the Celtics win, gas prices will top $6 a gallon, the war in Iraq will drag on, and I will flatten several more guys in a bar. We need the cavalry to ride in, lift our spirits and give us hope. Celtics are not the cavalry, but rather the nether end of the horse. Here's why-
  • Their socks. Who in their right mind wears knee-high black socks with shorts? I've only seen this fashion faux-pas on old men in Palm Beach, usually sporting beer guts, man-boobs, and sandals. Add a dollop of evil-witch gangreen and you have all the makings of Ugly Incorporated.

  • They are shame-free. Kevin McHale was the first player I ever saw yank an opposing player to the floor when the referee wasn't looking. And his blatant choking of Kurt Rambis in the 1984 finals cinches it. Hard fouls are one thing. Fractured skulls are another. Dirty, dirty play. Paul Pierce continues the shoddy legend. I guess if I had to dress like that I'd hate the world, too.

  • They are exceptionally unattractive. Larry Bird. Kevin McHale. Paul Pierce. I'd research this some more but I can already feel my body turning to stone.

  • Doc Rivers, Wuss-baby Extraordinaire - I haven't seen a poutier face since Paris Hilton discovered her consomm√© was cold at the Ivy.

  • They mispronounce 'Celtic.' The 'c' should be hard, like McHale's putrid foul on Rambis. Not soft, like Doc Rivers' trembling lower lip.

  • They grind their wins using plodding defense. Zzzzzzz. Did I mention the dirty play and illegal screens? They rely on you falling asleep so you don't see it.

  • Red Auerbach booing Phil Jackson. Red - you're done. He's going to pass you. It's just a matter of time. If you must spit on him, do it quietly in the privacy of your retirement home.

  • They abuse leprechauns. Really. Leprechauns are tiny, respectable and hard-working. They are far from the beer-paunched, lolly-eyed idiot portrayed in the Celtic logo. They also have access to magic spells, which explains a lot about the Celtics' ugly demeanor. Never ever irritate a leprechaun. They will get you.
Boston is also the home of the Big Dig embarrassment, the tea-tainted harbor, the pouty Red Sox, and the choking Patriots. After a little research, I discovered that the word Boston is American Indian for zit that forever festers.

Lakers are Hollywood pretty. From Magic to Riley to Shaq to Jackson to Kobe, their style has always been free-flow, fast-break flash and dazzle. Just like any hero, they have their flaws, but at least they're huggable and have decent fashion sense.

I dare you to hug a Celtic and not turn to stone. Be forewarned, though - ugly is contagious.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

American Idolatry - Barbs and Stingers

"Someday she'll make someone a good husband," my neighbor commented to my dad as I stacked haybales on the back of our pickup. I was within earshot, so I guess he meant it as a compliment. It stung, but I kept stacking.

I used to have a t-shirt that said, A woman's place is in the House....and the Senate. I'd wear it to school and get nasty comments. They stung but I kept wearing it.

Up until recently, well-meaning people sent me Hillary jokes. Daily. They thought I'd enjoy them, laugh along at the silliness. But they stung.

I'm not a fan of being politically correct. I've seen many good jokes die, choked to death by over-the-top niceness. I don't wanna be PC. I don’t want my sense of humor to die.

But this Hillary thing was different. Why?

I play sports. I can handle losing. I can handle having my team dissed for all sorts of nonsensical things. But this is bigger than a game.

This reeks of a smackdown. Of put-her-in-her-place, on-your-knees sexism. A t-shirt depicting Obama as a monkey was vehemently yelled-down as crude and racist, yet the "Iron my shirt" sign held up at Clinton's rally was merely giggled at. So KKK is taboo, but 'get-back-to-the-kitchen' is amusing?


Hillary the dominatrix. Hillary the nutcracker. Behind many of these jokes, there’s a deep-seated fear. Fear of loss of control. Sending Hillary back to the kitchen would mean back to good-ol-boy business as usual. The easiest way to put her there was to sugar-coat anger and pass it off as humor. Hillary in an S&M outfit sent the not-so-subtle message that if we elect her, men will lose control.

Things that sting:

  • being expected to laugh at jokes designed to remind me where I belong

  • getting paid 67% of a man's wage

  • getting labeled a liberal

  • getting labeled a feminist

  • getting labeled as having my period

  • getting labeled, period

No matter what you think of Hillary, she’s a great role model for a group that desperately needs one – young girls. Hannah Montana’s lovely fluff, but Hillary brings home the beacon and lights it up with a plan. She was within a stone’s throw of the Presidency. And she has quite an arm.

Is there a chip on my shoulder? Yes. It’s handy though, because it keeps my purse in place. You know, the pretty bag where I keep all my money.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Misery Date


Remember Mystery Date, the board game where you’d pick an outfit, spin a spinner, and hope you were dressed properly to match your ‘date,’ the cardboard, two-dimensional guy behind the ‘magic door?' Perhaps my imagination was a bit over-active, but that game used to scare the living daylights out of me. After spending years reading Shakespeare, Voltaire, and Oscar Wilde, this game came along and insinuated that my time would have been better spent tweezing my eyebrows, applying nail polish, and perusing Tiger Beat.

Besides, since I secretly liked the way the ‘messy' guy dressed there was obviously something terribly wrong with me so I should just as well stay down on the farm with the livestock who understood where I was coming from and would never ever expect me to yank my eyebrows off one hair at a time and pour acrylic chemicals on my fingernails because that was just so… so… wrong.

Back then the mere thought of dating petrified me. Now it only terrifies me. Now, whenever I’m asked out, my imagination runs a flashback montage of past dates, complete with laugh track. Instead of a lightbulb lighting up over my head, there’s a big question mark – why? Why try? What crackpot idea makes me think this time will be any better than the last 37 times?

I'm sure this question mark shows on my face. It probably looks something like the stunned, cold silence usually reserved for a horribly embarrassing faux pas, like giggling at a funeral. You're asking me out? Are you out of your ever-loving mind? As you can imagine, they rarely hang around waiting for a verbal response.

Created in 1965, Mystery Date is now (gasp!) over 40. When we first played the dating game there was nothing past forty except fiber and reading glasses. Now we're squinting to read the small print on our box of bran flakes, and the thought of touching that stupid, white, plastic door handle still makes my palms sweat.

We've all heard that over half of marriages end in divorce. With so many couples staying together 'for the children,' then splitting, dating at forty and beyond is way more common than you'd expect. An added, bizarre bonus is that now your children can help you set up your profile for an online dating service. They can probably also advise you as to whether you'd be considered a hottie. Oh, joy.

You're nearly halfway to the century mark and you're free for dinner Friday night. Did you see that coming in third grade when you were deciding how many kids you and Robby Bonderman were going to have? Me, either.

We're no longer playing with Monopoly money. We’ve made a few mistakes and hopefully learned a bit. Now we're humbled to the point of just wanting to spend the rest of our lives with someone who won't irritate us to the point of needing expensive, non-generic medication. Choose wisely,baby boomer - your sanity, as well as the quality of your retirement home, depend on it.

I’ve paid my dues. Hell, I’ve probably paid your dues. I've earned the right to say, “Bite me, Milton Bradley, I’m not playing anymore. Let the doorknob hit you where the good Lord split you.”

If you need me, I'll be out back with the horses. And my 'messy' guy.