Monday, July 30, 2012

Baby, You Light Up My World Like Nobody Else


 My friend Kelly and I hit it off the first time we met.  I mean, it was inevitable seeing as how we led such parallel lives.  We both grew up in Eugene, Oregon, we both graduated from Oregon State University ("Go, Beavs!"),  we both attended law school for a year before realizing what a horrible mistake that was, we both love eating Wheat Thins while watching colossally shitty reality TV, and we are both raging alcoholics ("Huzzah!").  The latter is how we met, actually.  After my A.A. sponsor Nancy passed away, Kelly was delusional brave enough to step up to take her place and the friendship Kelly have formed since then is the stuff of legends.  Suffice to say, if one of us were male we would be committing A.A.'s verboten "13 Step": falling in love with a fellow alkie; but, as we are both dyed-in-the-wool heterosexuals, we are content to be partners in crime.
          As Kelly is obviously so jealous of my glamorous single-mom existence, it was only a matter of time before she too got divorced and joined the loving sisterhood of child support and celibacy.*

*Of course, the fact that her husband was a lying, cheating douchecanoe certainly facilitated the decision as well.

          And because my coterie of homies is nothing if not supportive. . .*

*And because those asshats will look for any excuse to have a cocktail

We took Kelly out to celebrate mourn the end of her twelve year marriage.

         "I don't know",  Kelly said, shaking her head morosely.  "it just seems so weird. . .being single again.  Shit,  we've been together since college.  I just can't wrap my head around the whole 'DIVORCED' label."

        Gina snorted disdainfully.  "How about if you just focus on the whole 'adulterous twatwagon' label; that should soften the blow.  Seriously, Kell, you married beneath you."

        Alex nodded in agreement.  "That is so true.  I mean, remember when we were  playing Trivial Pursuit and he was all 'I've never seen the Godfather'.   Dude, what the fuck?  Who hasn't seen 'The Godfather'.

       "Umm,"  I raised my hand wanly "I've never seen it."

       "Well, yeah,"  Alex continued "but you're a chick.  If a guy says he hasn't seen 'The Godfather' he may as well put on a dress and start singing showtunes."  He raised his beer glass to Kelly in tribute.  "You had a real closet case on your hands there, my friend."

        "I know, right!"  I yelled, smacking Alex's arm in agreement and sending his pale ale flying.  "Shit, sorry, Alex.  But c'mon, Kelly, haven't I been telling you for a year now that your husband was just a little too in touch with his feminine side?  I mean, the guy TiVo-ed 'American Idol' for Chrissake.  If he were any further in the closet he'd be in Narnia."

       Kelly laughed halfheartedly.  "Yeah?  If he was such a Friend of Dorothy, then how do you explain the myriad of skanky ho's he's entertained over the years."

       I waved my hand dismissively.  "Classic overcompensation.  Believe me, I went through the same thing with Gil.  Let me guess, Tom always says he loves your hair short? Tells you you look SO much better without makeup?  Likes to do it from behind?"

       Kelly choked on her Diet Coke.  "Umm, at the risk of oversharing: yes, yes, and yes.  Holy shit!  Gil too?"

       I nodded and signaled the waiter for another iced tea.  "Yup.  Total flamer.  Hey!  Maybe we could fix Tom up with Gil!  They'd be pretty cute together.  Except, Tom's a lot smaller than Gil.  Do you think he'd be cool with being the Receiver?'

       Max stood up abruptly.  "Aaaaaaaaannd, this is the part of the conversation where I walk away awkwardly."  Gina grabbed his sleeve and pulled him back to the table as he grumbled softly.

       "Man up, Dances With Whores."  she said before turning to Kelly excitedly.  "So, enough about that asshat.  When are you going to start dating again?  I know some super-cute guys at work I can introduce you to!"

       I abruptly spit out an ice cube and sputtered, "Hey!  I've been asking you to set me up with a hot lawyer for months now!  Why don't you fix ME up with your coworkers?"

       Gina shrugged.  "Because I like my coworkers."

       "Whatever,"  I rolled my eyes.  "Anyway, don't you think Kelly should wait until the ink is dry on the divorce decree before she reenters the dating pool?  Or, you know, wait until she's actually LEGALLY divorced?"

       "I don't know"  Kelly said stoically, "I mean, I'm not getting any younger.  I don't want to be in my forties, coming home to an empty apartment every night and falling asleep on the couch eating Wheat Thins."

       I bolted up out of my chair.  "Aaaaaaaaaaannd, this is the part of the conversation where I walk away pathetically."

       Kelly yanked my arm, pulling me back to my chair with a satisfying thud.  "Jen!  I didn't mean YOU!  I mean, that's kind of you. . .but not in a BAD way!"*

*Oddly, this was less comforting than one might think.  

"Besides,"  she continued "it's kind of a moot point anyway because it's not like I'm going to  find another guy anyway."

      "Are you kidding!"  I yelled  "You are funny and smart and successful and you look like frickin' Courteney Cox!  Every guy in the Portland metro area is going to be all over you like a fat kid on cake."

      Kelly snorted bitterly.  "Yeah, right.  Scrawny, wrinkled, and flat-chested.  Think I can fit all of that in my eHarmony profile?"

      "Kell, you're totally hot."  Max offered, cramming a handful of nachos into his mouth.  "I'd do you."

      I barked out a laugh.  "A few more Jack and Coke's and you do him."  I said, pointing to Alex.

      Max shrugged.  "Well, he's not bad looking."  He turned to Alex.  "So, what are you doing later?"

      "Not you."  Alex replied before reaching for Kelly's hand.  "Seriously.  You really don't have any idea how gorgeous you are?"  Kelly laughed wryly.  "C'mon, Kell.  Don't you know you're beautiful?"

      "Yeah,"  Max chimed in.  "I mean, you light up my world like nobody else."

      Gina nodded enthusiastically.  "And the way you flip your hair?  It totally leaves me overwhelmed."

      Kelly burst out with her first real laughter of the evening, then whirled on me with a steak knife.  "I swear to God, if you start singing I will stab you in the face."

      Well, shit.

      Let the healing begin, my friends.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sit and Spin

I have always played a tug-of-war with my weight, and try as I may, there always seems to be that 10 pounds that yo-yo’s up and down like Nicholas Cage’s career. I suppose I could always just eat less but I swear to God it’s like I’m on the Truman Show.  Every time I attempt to diet and actually drop a pound or two, some higher form of intelligence takes note and BAM! Taco Bell comes out with a new menu item (te amo para siempre, Cantina Bowl), or Ben & Jerry crawl out of their commune in Vermont and fire up a new flavor sensation that leads to my ultimate demise.  Between that and the summer BBQ menu at Burger King I’m surrounded by more temptation than a priest at a Vatican summer camp.  So, as dieting is out, exercise is my only logical recourse against a lifetime of washing my back fat with a rag on a stick.

Ordinarily, I am not a gym person.  Part of it may be because I worked at one for four years and know waaaaaay too much about what goes on behind the scenes, but most of my loathing stems from the fact that gym people are just far too comfortable with the whole public nudity thing.

*Seriously?  Women get in the locker room and it’s like ‘Girls Gone Wild’.  I’d like to shower and change without watching you sling your leg on the counter and start blow-drying your hurt locker, thank you very much.

Also, gym classes annoy the ever-loving shit out of me because I do NOT like being told what to do.  “You will come here at exactly 5:30pm, you will listen to MY music, and you will move and contort your body as I command you to do.”  Fuck that noise. If I want someone to scream at me and make me listen to shitty music I’ll call my ex husband.  But while I may hate gyms, that seething hatred is greatly tempered by how much I love my friends.  So, on my sojourn to the Central California coast last week, I allowed my friend Curtis to drag my sorry ass to Spin class.

For those of you unfamiliar with Spinning, you basically pedal your legs frantically like a gerbil with ADHD while some steroid enhanced sociopath yells at you to “climb the hill!” like a sherpa on crystal meth.  Good times.

When we first entered the Spinning studio, I was mildly distressed to see that there were large windows surrounding three walls. Why are there windows all around us?  Is it necessary that my lycra-covered ass be bobbing and weaving in a giant terrarium for all to see?  Why not just hire the girl’s soccer team from my high school to stand there and tell me I look fat in my cheerleading skirt while we’re at it because reliving that fond memory sounds only slightly less humiliating.  I climbed up onto the bike and began pedaling briskly.  Huh. . .maybe this won’t be so bad. . .relatively painless and now the music’s starting.  Ooh!  It’s Britney, bitch!  OK, I could actually get into this whole Spinning thing and. .  .wait.  Turn?  Did he say ‘turn’?  How do I turn on a stationary. . .Oh!  He meant turn up the resistance.  Got it.  OK, turning up and. . .all righty, suddenly not so much with the ‘painless’.  Within seconds my leg muscles were howling like a beagle with his nuts caught in a vise.  I gasped for air and looked around the room to find that I was indeed the only one doubled-over and wheezing like an asthmatic orangutan.  Not my finest moment.

The instructor continued to belt out commands like a coked-up brownshirt while everyone around me had their bikes cranked higher than Charlie Sheen on a three-day weekend.  I silently cursed Curtis and his damned commitment to personal health while I mimed adjusting my bike’s resistance in an effort to save face.   Fine.  So, I can’t pedal any harder but I can channel this bitter loathing and pedal faster.  I’ll show you healthy bastards; I’ll pedal so fast my legs will be a blur.  A veritable BLUR, I tell you!  Of course, this would have been a far better plan if I didn’t have the motor skills of a one-legged man with Parkinson’s disease.*

*And if I wasn’t wearing two right shoes.  Minor packing snafu.

I pedaled furiously.  So furiously that one of my feet shot out of the little pedal-clampy thing and I flew headlong across the handlebars.  I managed to catch myself just in time and shot a look around the room to see if anyone had noticed.  Everyone appeared to be hyper-focused on the instructor so I thought I’d successfully evaded public humiliation.  That’s when I remembered the windows.  Looking out into the main gym I saw two girls looking in at me, stifling their laughter behind their perfectly delicate, manicured hands.  I hate you both.  I hate this gym.  I hate Spinning.  I hate those hot firefighters. . .wait, what?

Ho.  Ly.  Shit.  Right there before me, artfully displayed through the windows like a living museum of testosterone were five of the finest specimens of manhood it has ever been my delight to ogle.  For the better part of an hour I gazed on lovingly while they crunched, flexed, and did things to that weight bench seen only in a Ron Jeremy film.  It was beautiful.  Almost like watching “Magic Mike” with the sound turned off.*

*Because, seriously?  There was waaaaaay to much dialogue in that damned movie.  Less talky, more strippy, Channing.

I was so enamored of my current eye candy that it barely even registered when Curtis climbed off of his bike and handed me a towel.

“Class is over, Jen.  What did you think?”

I looked down at my shaking legs and sweat soaked shirt and pondered just how brutally I would ache the following day.  I glanced back at the snickering she-devils on the Stairmasters and watched the 85 year old woman who had just spanked my ass like a red-headed stepchild descend from her bike with nary a gasp nor moan.  I remembered in that moment absolutely every goddamned thing I have ever hated about gyms in my 40 years on the planet. . .then I looked back at the firefighters.

“I love Spin.  I love you.  And I love this gym.”  I passionately gushed.  “Can we come back tomorrow? Twice?”

Curtis grinned happily.  “Oh, no.  I thought tomorrow we’d try Zumba!”

Public humiliation: 2, Jen: 0.  Check and mate, bitches.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ghosts In The Machine

Foodie Friday will be in full effect next week, yo.  But, as I am on vacation right now and unwilling to do anything that may qualify as actual "work" then you shall have to wait to hear of the glorious bounty I have ingested down here in California.  I would feel guilty about my gluttonous ways were it not for the fact that my friend Curtis has had me at the gym every day exercising like Jillian Michaels on Thorazine.  I'd kick his punk ass if I could move my legs.  Meh.  So, in the interim, this is what you get. . .

I am among the last people on the planet to get a Smart Phone, in large part because I myself am not a smart person.  Things like apps and iTunes baffle me and it took the combined efforts of my ten-year-old children to teach me how to use the OnDemand feature on my TV.  I had been content to use my ghetto Tracfone for years until my foray into the worlds of blogging and Twitter forced me to make the Great Leap Forward and get what my friend Jess referred to as a "Big Girl Phone".  At first I was tentative, but gradually I grew to love my new iPhone.  And by love, I mean adore.  And by adore, I mean deify.  And by deify I mean I would catch a grenade for it. . .throw my hand on a blade for it. . .I'd jump in front of a train for it. . .yeah, I would do anything for it.  That is, however, until a few weeks ago when it suddenly turned against me.  It started quietly enough, as most rebellions do; with a whisper, not a bang.  It started with a cryptic text from Misty.

Wait. . .what?  I scrolled through my message queue and reread our conversation from the night before.  We  discussed the hellacious heat back East, talked smack about our kids, she said good night, I said goodnight, aaaaaaaaannnnnnd scene!  Nothing about cycles pointing in any direction.

I pondered this shit for over an hour.  How can someone be sending texts from me that AREN'T me?  Had there been some sort of iPhone identity theft, and if so, that begs the larger question of why in hell would anyone want to steal MY identity?  Trust me, if you're looking to go all "Single White Female" on someone then here's a tip:  don't choose the 41 year old dipshit with the crappy driving record and a student loan.  I watched my iPhone with a wary eye; my trust slipping faster than Paula Deen on a greased Slip-n-Slide.  The next 24 hours passed without incident, and then as I was tithing my offerings at the holy temple of Target I received a text from Misty that took me aback.   I stared at it in confusion for about five minutes before tapping out a befuddled reply.

So, was it not just someone in MY phone?  Was it a bizarre Misty/Jen hybrid stalker?  I'd barely had time to formulate an adequate conspiracy theory when Misty posted the following query regarding the photo she'd posted of her husband singing karaoke.

The next few days were a similar series of unfortunate events.  I received texts extolling the virtues of "stay-hard" cream from my friend Gina, a random series of letters and numbers from my friend Dana, and apparently my evil twin began speaking Klingon to Misty in the midst of our conversations.  After three days of this skullfuckery I was ready to go all Naomi Campbell on a bitch and throw my phone at someone's head.  The final straw came when I was sitting on the couch watching "Ghost Protocol" and received a text from my friend Max that was so confusing I was almost unable to focus on Jeremy Renner's forearms.*

*"Almost" being the operative word.  I'm not made of stone, y'all.

The next morning I fired off a reply to Max.

Max's willful indiscretions notwithstanding, I was frustrated enough to actually break my vow of lethargy and drag my sorry ass to the AT&T store.  After not one, not two, but three employees attempted to crack the daVinci Code that had infiltrated my phone, my Apl.d.Ap homeboy Gabriel uncovered the problem.*

*My AT&T store is the schizznit.  Mad fist bumps, my people.

Gabriel handed my Barbie pink iPhone to me with great solemnity.  "Your phone,"  he said gravely "has been compromised."

I was initially distressed by this news but the more I thought about the word "compromised" the cooler it sounded, like my iPhone was a member of the Avengers Initiative.  Suddenly my suburban existence seemed all covert and James Bond-y.

"So," I said excitedly, "is it like a government conspiracy?  Ooh!  Was someone using my phone to tap into a Mafia syndicate or transfer messages to a drug cartel?"

Gabriel stared at me for a moment, then spoke to me as one does to a mentally-challenged toddler.  "No.  It means that sometimes 971 numbers experience interference from similar numbers.  Very rarely does the CIA  utilize civilian iPhones. . .especially pink ones with Nicki Minaj as their ringtone."

Touche, my good man.  Anyhoo, whatever the problem may have been, Gabriel and the fine men and women of the Bridgeport AT&T store fixed my phone and it has been without incident ever since.  But truthfully, the experience has left me a little paranoid and jaded.  How much of what we email and text winds up out in the digital universe for all to see?  I contacted Misty and told her that the problem should be rectified and asked if she'd received any other cryptic messages from my phone.

"No."  she replied a little sadly "actually, I kind of miss them."

"Well,"  I replied consolingly, "maybe we should keep talking in spy code anyway. . .you know, just to be safe."

Misty grew stoic.  "The eagle flies at midnight"  she said with great solemnity.  "I repeat: the eagle.  Flies.  At midnight."

"The owls have eyes"  I replied.  "the owls have eyes that only the snowman can see."

Childish?  Perhaps.  But I think that all of us need a little Mission Impossible in our lives.

This blog will self-destruct in three seconds. . . 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

I knew it was coming.  It was only a matter of time.

We've all been there; for most of us it only happens every two to three years.  For others, it is a biannual event.  But sooner or later we all crumble beneath that Sword of Damocles that hangs o'er our heads. 

It happened to me last month in the form of a simple envelope.  Just another piece of mail, hidden between the Trader Joe's flyer and the cable bill informing me that my car registration tags were expiring.  I gasped in horror as I knew that meant just one thing:  I had to go to the DMV.

Now, although I am a card-carrying Republican, I am not a fan of bureaucracy in any way, shape, or form, and in my opinion the DMV has mastered bureaucracy with a capital-B-that-rhymes-with-P, and that stands for Purgatory.  People walk in there with hope and idealism and come out more pissed off than Bobby Knight at an NBA playoff game.  First you must navigate the lines.  One to check in, one to show your ID, one for any testing, one to fill out forms in triplicate, one to recite "The Jabberwocky" while performing an interpretive dance to "Who Let the Dogs Out?", and one to wait in only to be told that clerk is taking her smoke break so you'll have to come back in ten minutes.  After spending enough time wading through a fetid stream of DMV bullshit over the past two years, it was understandable that the thought of returning to that Hunger Games arena filled me with a Tyler Durdin-like sense of rage and loathing.*

*I am Jen's seething hatred.

Fortunately, I have a DMV in my neighborhood that it. . .well, actually rather pleasant.  Located in my lily white enclave of Southwest Portland, it is always impeccably clean, has shorter waiting times, and most of its denizens appear to have all of their teeth.  If the DMV was high school, my DMV would be the prom queen: bright, sparkling, and open for business.  Unfortunately, the one day I had free to bring in my paperwork and rectify this registration dickery, my Pleasantville DMV was closed.  But that’s fine.  No problem.  I can handle this like a mature adult.  So, I stamped my feet, cursed like a trucker with Tourette’s Syndrome and proceeded to yell at the locked doors of the DMV.

“You think you’re so special, with your swivel chairs and copies of Vanity Fair?  Ha!  You aren't the only DMV in town!  There are plenty of other places I can go to renew my tags.  Puh-LENTY! You can just SUCK it, Mountain Park DMV!”*

*OK, maybe “mature adult” was a bit of a stretch for me.  Baby steps. . .

Of course, while I knew there were in fact other DMV's in the Portland Metro area I was not, in fact, aware of where any of them were. I located one not far from home and was immediately distressed by what I saw.  You see, I was somewhat jaded, as my neighborhood DMV is not your typical DMV.*

*Typical DMV = Ensconced in a strip mall of shame and degradation between a pawn shop ("Su Habla Espanol!") and a methadone clinic.

My neighborhood DMV is bright and cheery.  The employees look like school nurses and are always calling you "Sweetie" and "Honey" and commenting on the weather, and as it is conveniently located between an upscale organic grocery store and a Starbucks, it always smells like coffee and freshly baked bread.  This DMV, however, was conveniently located between a liquor store and a check cashing place which basically made it a Mecca for tweakers and drunks.*

*And no, the irony of them selling alcohol directly adjacent to the place that issues freaking DRIVER'S licenses was not entirely lost on me either.

The moment we pulled into the lot and parked between bumper stickers reading "Your Boyfriend Thinks I'm Hot" and "Cash, Ass, or Grass: Nobody Rides for Free" I knew that the odds of making it out of there without losing my shit were about as slim as an Olsen twin on crystal meth (which is to say, an Olsen twin), but with steely resolve and grim determination, we forged ahead.  Upon entering, I found myself surrounded by a group of individuals who had obviously been unemployed for so long that they had lost all concept of the words "schedule" and "time" and were therefore content to mold their sweaty, nicotine-stained bodies into the mustard yellow plastic chairs for perpetuity. I'm not sure how many people have committed grievous acts of violence in this joint, but I'm sure the body count is not insignificant. I did a quick roll call.  Overweight woman with neck tattoo?  Check.  Overweight woman with neck tattoo and baby?  Check.  Overweight man with neck tattoo and more b-bling-bling than a Snoop Dogg video?  Check.  Overweight man with neck tattoo at the door staggering around like Lurch and telling everybody "bye, bye, bye, bye..." like a stockbroker on Adderall?  Check.

As we waited for our number to be called, I passed the time by eavesdropping on my fellow patrons as they approached the desk; in small part because my reading materials were limited to the Oregon State Driver's Manual and a Spanish version of "Watchtower", and in larger part because I am a nosy bastard.

The first woman to wend her way to the Counter of Doom was pushing an oxygen tank and sweating harder than Humbert Humbert at a Girl Scout jamboree.  As I listened to her tales of woe I was astounded by how frequently her speech was peppered with derivations of the verb "to fuck".  Now I consider myself something of a connoisseur of profanity, but even I recognize that it should be used sparingly, like nutmeg in a creamy Alfredo sauce.  It should not, however, be used no less than 37 times in a single conversation with (a) an individual you do not know, (b) an individual who mandates your mode of transportation, or in this woman's case (c) all of the above.

Next up was a young man with a. . .wait for it. . .neck tattoo attempting to apply for a hardship license after his third DUI.  Now, color me reactionary, but isn't a third DUI Darwin's way of telling you that you are not evolved enough to be put behind the wheel of a 3,000 pound flammable box of death?  I'm not throwing stones (yes I am) because I have had a DUI as well.  But guess what?  After a night in the pokey, three months of public transportation, and spending upwards of $10,000 on court-mandated diversion classes that consisted of watching shitty movies like "Clean and Sober" and "When a Man Loves a Woman" I made the educated decision that perhaps drinking and driving was no longer prudent.  It was with no small amount of glee that I heard the woman behind the counter inform Ted Kennedy that the only ID he'd be flashing these days would be his Red Robin Rewards card.  Huzzah!

Contestant #3 was a woman in an Ed Hardy T-shirt who spent a greater portion of the morning making the ground-breaking decision between the Oregon Trail themed license plate and the Save the Salmon themed license plate.  Now, I understand that the decision whether to adorn your hoopty ride with either a Conestoga wagon or a speckled fish is fraught with anxieties, but make the fucking call, Sophie’s Choice!  I swear to God, less thought went into the Treaty of Versailles and I can guarantee that their conversation didn’t wrap up with the phrase: "Can I make my check out for ten bucks more and get the cash back?  The liquor store next door don't take checks."

As I made my way to the counter with the short people, I made a point of craning my neck in an effort to display its lack of ink.  The clerk shoved forms at me and muttered in a monotone only acquired from years of civil servitude. As she did, I noticed her ring.

“That’s beautiful” I said. “is the opal your birthstone?”

She glanced at me warily.  “Yes.”

I smiled in return.  “Mine too.  I’ve always loved them.  Thank you so much for your help and I hope you get out to enjoy the sunshine.”

She paused for a moment, and then her mouth twitched up at the corners.  “Thank you” she said “it sure is nice to hear a kind word.”

It was at that moment that I swore to never again speak ill of our fine civil servants again.  Let’s face it, while we may rant and rave about the bureaucratic bullshit that surrounds us in our day to day lives, there is actually something oddly comforting about surrendering that onus of control to a higher power.  Sometimes it’s easier to just close your eyes and dive headlong into the Heironymus Bosch-esque world of lines and paperwork and forms in triplicate and trust that these fine men and women will hold your hand and guide you through the maze.  These civil servants are to be treated with kindness and respect as you can be assured that if I had to deal with mouth-breathing yokels like the douchenozzles I saw patronizing the DMV that day, I would be crushing their skulls with a ball peen hammer like some Tarantino version of Whack-a-Mole.

As we walked through the smudged glass doors with my freshly minted stickers in hand my son M beamed at me with joy.  "Mommy, someday can I get a salmon license plate with my name on it?”

I gazed down at his cherubic face with love.  "Oh, Sweetie, absolutely.  But if you ever come home with an Ed Hardy shirt or a neck tattoo I’ll beat you up myself.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Go, Shawties, It's Yer Birthday!"

This week marked a milestone in American history.  A birthday celebration of such magnitude that the nation sat up a little straighter in their Laz-E-Boys and took notice.  I speak not of the Fourth of July, but of the First of July, also known as the short people’s 10th birthday.

As most of you know, I am a cynical and distrustful person.  By and large I do not care for the general public and feel that 90% of our society is more fucked up than a fraternity pledge during Hell Week.  So when I come across certain individuals that make me catch my breath and gaze heaven-upward in wonder it is a thing of supreme beauty.  Fortunately for me, I live with two such individuals, and every time I ponder the fact that some divinity made the colossal fucking mistake of choosing me to be responsible for their lives I drop to my knees in thanks.  They are not just exemplary children; they make everyone who comes in contact with them a better person by osmosis, myself included.  Therefore, I knew that we couldn’t possibly let their first double-digit birthday go by without some form of revelry.  The boys spent the morning with Gil, and I promised them a surprise when I picked them up.  Then I texted my sister, Holly.

When I picked up the boys, neither one was wearing a shirt.

“Umm,” I asked Gil, “could you grab some shirts for them before we go?”

He shrugged absently.  “Oh.  It’s kinda hot today.  You didn’t say they’d need shirts.”

I stared at him blankly for a moment.  “Seriously?  What possible scenario did you envision for today that DIDN’T involve shirts?  NASCAR?  A tractor pull?  An episode of ‘Cops’?”

He muttered something that sounded vaguely like “smart ass bitch” and returned with some additional clothing for the short people.  Of course, the boys had each shot up a good three inches this last month and as Gil is too cheap to actually spend money on new shirts they each looked like Winnie the Pooh.  However, this was not the hill I wanted to die on, so, thus armed, we headed off to Incredible John’s.

When we arrived, Holly was waiting by the door, armed with gifts and a wary expression.  “Holy crap,” she whispered to me as we entered “you weren’t kidding about this place.  It’s freaking HUGE!”

I rolled my eyes.  “And insane.  Between the music and the lights and the chaos you’ll feel like you’re at a rave, only with less ecstasy and more shitty pizza.”

Armed with our game cards the short people began clamoring for pizza so we made our way to the buffet.  Granted, the counters were well-wiped and each buffet line was armed with the health code mandated “sneeze bar” but watching the myriad children weaseling their greasy paws over each slice of pizza and fruit before making their selection made my stomach churn.  For someone so paranoid about germs that every time I use a public restroom I hang from the bars in the handicapped stall, dangling over the seat like Mary Lou Retton, this was a horror of near-epic proportions.  But I sucked it up and just reached into my purse and started whipping out antibacterial wipes like a coked-up blackjack dealer while chirping “Isn’t this GREAT!” in my best impersonation of a good mother.

As we ate, the boys opened their gifts; a Play-Doh bakery set for M and a Pokemon DS game for J.  This of course led to a 30 minute discussion of all things Pokemon until both Holly and I were ready to lose our shit.

“Hey!” I cried to J “Let’s play a fun game!  It’s called ‘Mommy Gives You a Quarter For Every Minute You Don’t Talk About Pokemon!’”

J looked at me with quiet contempt.  “You know, it wouldn’t kill you to be a little supportive, Mommy.”

“I’m supportive!” I cried.  “Didn’t I take you to see ‘The Avengers’? . . .Twice?”

“Hah!” Holly snorted “And I’m sure Jeremy Renner and Chris Hemsworth had NOTHING to do with that bit of quality parenting!”

I rolled my eyes and took a sip of my coffee while J shook his head disapprovingly.  “You know, Mommy” he stated soberly “this is how those TV movies start.  You aren’t supportive, I run away from home, then I get sold on the black market and you wind up working as a coed call girl.”

Holly and I gaped at him in astonishment.  “OK, that’s it” I said “tomorrow morning I’m cancelling the cable TV.”

Once sufficiently nourished by pizza and soft serve ice cream, the short people darted off to the gaming area while Holly fortified herself at the wine bar and I settled in for some quality people watching.  Now, “family fun centers” attract a certain breed of people anyway, but in Portland?  Oh, honey. . .suffice to say, if there were a Freakshow Hunger Games then Portland would have the Career Tributes.  Every.  Damned.  Year.  That day I was surrounded by a coterie of individuals who looked like they rode in on the short prison bus, with more neck tattoos and gold chains than a Flo Rida video.  One family in particular was of fascination to me as the mother had more facial piercings that that dude in “Hellraiser” and the dad had a set of Pamela Anderson-like man boobs that bobbed and wobbled like a couple of drunken sorority girls every time he swung the Whack-a-Mole mallet.  We had sat across from them in the dining area and both Holly and I were enraptured by the family’s ability to decimate a good 12 pounds of chicken wings in under a minute.  But just as I was on the cusp of getting arrested for stalking the Clan of the Cave Bear, my son M ran up asking to use the restroom.

Generally these places are pretty safe, but as M has autism I am loathe to let him into a men’s room alone as I have a paranoia that every stall is inhabited by some itchy-fingered tweaker, lurking there like ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Molester’ ready to go all Catholic priest on my son.  I wrangled my son J and after listening to him gripe for five minutes about “not being M’s babysitter” I convinced him to lean into the strike zone and take one for the team.*

*There may also have been some bribery involved.  Don’t judge.

After they emerged, both boys were begging to go on some of the watered-down carnival rides featured at Incredible John’s.  J both showed mad skills at the bumper cars; crashing and weaving like Lindsay Lohan leaving the Viper Room. . .

. . .and M tore it up on the motorcycles, yo.*

*Although he got totally confused when I asked if he was Ponch or John.  Pfft!  These kids today have no appreciation of the classics.

Then M spotted the ultimate; the Octopus ride in the center of the play area that spun and raised off of the ground.  He grabbed his brother’s hand and pulled him toward the entrance but J balked.  J, for all of his bravado is a fearful child and I could see him torn between his anxiety and his unwillingness to wuss out in front of his brother.

“Dude!” Holly cried.  “You’re ten years old now!  If you lived in the Ozarks you’d be a Baby Daddy already.  Man up!”

Despite Holly’s attempt to boot J’s ass like a Puerto Rican place-kicker, J stayed grounded and instead pulled my sister’s hand toward the prize area, where he could trade in his game tickets for worthless pieces of crap.  When M and I met them there minutes later, Holly grabbed my arm.

“Hey look!” she chortled gleefully “for only 1215 credits you could get me that plush dildo.”

“Wait. . .what?  No. . .it. . .that has to be a Schmoo, right?” I stammered.

Holly snorted derisively, “I don’t know what cartoons you were watching in the 70’s but I don’t recall the Schmoo being flesh-toned and having a ballsack.”

I glanced to the left of the offending toy. “Hey!  Speaking of ballsacks is Patrick popping a chubby?  That ‘nautical nonsense be nothing I wish’, yo.”

Holly squinted judiciously, “Maybe he just pissed his pants.  Apparently ‘absorbent and yellow and porous ain’t he’”.  We dissolved into paroxysm of laughter as M approached, his hands filled with glorious plastic bounty.

“What’s so funny?”  he asked with a furrowed brow.  Wise child that he is, M is aware that when I am hysterically laughing it is generally always preceded or followed by some form of inane dickery that is apt to end in disaster.

“Nothing, Pumpkin Pie”, my sister cooed sweetly.  “Mommy just told Auntie Holly a silly knock-knock joke.”  M stared her down like a Gitmo detainee and sidled away suspiciously.

As we were driving home, M sang softly along to Jay-Z and J moaned quietly.

“Everything OK back there, J-Man?” I asked, peering at him in the rearview mirror.

“I don’t feel good, Mommy,” he whimpered, “I think I have stomach flu or mono or something.”

Now most parents would be alarmed by this statement but in addition to J being something of a wuss, he is also a raging hypochondriac.*

*Yeah, I know.  He’s gotta get over that shit or he’s gonna get his ass kicked in middle school.

As I am used to J’s “Boy Who Cried Lupus” routine, I inquired as to the symptoms de jour:  Stomach ache.  Nausea.  Bloating.

I paused for a moment. “Out of curiosity, in addition to the pizza and ice cream we just had, what did you eat at Daddy’s today?”

J thought for a moment.  “Umm. . .doughnuts for breakfast.  Oh yeah!  And we went to McDonald’s for lunch.  Oh, and Daddy let us have Doritoes in the truck on the way to the store.”  He looked up in horror.  “Why?  Do you think it was poisoned?”

I smiled reassuringly.  “Oh, Sweetie.  When we get home Mommy’s going to read to you from a silly little  book called ‘Fast Food Nation’.  It’ll all make sense then.  . .OK?  OK?. . .Sweetie?”

I glanced in the rearview mirror to see J slumped over on his brother’s shoulder, both boys fast asleep and quietly snoring, their plastic Slinky’s and rubber snakes clenched in their sticky hands.  Looking at them cuddled up together, I couldn’t help but flash back to ten years prior when they entered the world prematurely.  M, weighing just under three pounds, and J weighing a terrifying pound and a half.  

Ten years ago I thought I’d seen a miracle, but now I know that the miracle was not in their birth but in their survival.  These boys who were never meant to survive have beaten all of the odds and lived and loved and laughed harder and stronger in the last ten years than most of us do in a lifetime.  So, when people ask me how, in a world as crazy and tragic as this, I can still believe in God, I can honestly tell them:  because I see Him each and every day.
Happy birthday, boys.  Mommy loves you to the moon and stars and back again.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Panic! At the CostCo

If there is one thing I have learned in my 41 years stumbling blindly over the third rock from the sun it is that everything is interconnected.  Just like that shitty Ashton Kutcher movie led us to believe, all it takes is one infinitesimal occurrence to directly affect our very existence.  A butterfly madly flaps its wings, which dislodges a particle of dust, which makes a raccoon sneeze, which startles a herd of antelope, which causes a rockslide, which causes a stream to back up, which creates a marsh which evaporates up into the sky, which creates humidity, which makes my hair a hot mess.  Fuck you, butterflies.

But just like physical events have a direct correlation on our everyday lives, so do psychological events.  Few of us escape from the demons in our past without a few battle scars, and try as we might, those evils can only stay buried for so long.

I began having panic attacks shortly after my divorce; I was told that they were common for survivors of domestic abuse and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Apparently my ex-husband was my own personal Vietnam.  The panic attacks would come without warning, like a Jehovah’s Witness banging on the door of my subconscious, and I would inexplicably find myself shaking and sobbing in the middle of Target like a manic-depressive Chihuahua.  For a while I sought out therapy for my PTSD and during that time I saw some amazing therapists who could read me like the top line of an eye chart and saw some that were so fucking clueless they thought “fetish” was a Greek cheese.

In truth I find the whole concept of psychotherapy to be a little surreal.  I mean, if it works for you, that’s great!  I personally never found any great absolution in sitting around spanking my inner child, but different strokes for different folks, y’all.  Interestingly enough, the U.S. of A. is one of the few cultures that embraces the concept of psychotherapy because we're one of the few cultures crazy enough to actually WANT to go spelunking into our subconscious.  Trust me, it's a dark and twisted realm up there, folks, and no one gets out alive.*

*I also find it ironic that we deify Freud as the Father of Modern Psychoanalysis when in truth he was an impotent coke addict with a raging Oedipal Complex. . .but I digress.

So, I abandoned psychotherapy and attempted to stabilize the anxiety by adjusting my chemical imbalance (also known as: years of binge drinking).  When that inevitably led to a desiccated liver and a DUI, I sobered up and tried prescription meds but that was just Ground Xanax for disaster.  None of them did a damned thing for the panic attacks, but the side effects made me loopier than a Six Flags ride.  So, eventually, I just learned coping mechanisms. . .*

*Yoga, running, and a shit ton of chocolate

. . .and the panic attacks abated.  Until last week.

While on the road for work I bolted out of bed one night like a whore on Thorazine and bolted for the bathroom.  I spent the next two hours hunched over the Best Western toilet dry-heaving and shivering while my heart pounded like the bass in a ’76 Chevy Nova.  I tried to figure out the reason, but came up snake eyes. The event repeated itself the following two nights and I have had a lingering sense of “WTF!?!?” ever since.

For the last week I have been wandering blindly through my days like some bizarre Bataan death march, waiting for the attacks that I know will come.  One while on the phone with the Associate Dean.  One in the middle of the movie theater.  One at the CostCo checkout line.  And perhaps my greatest thusfar, the one last night at the grocery store.  The short people and I were blithely perusing magazines when I suddenly felt that slow clench in my chest.  Within seconds I started sweating so profusely that my armpits were darker than a David Lynch filmfest and I couldn’t decide whether to throw up or pass out.*

*In the end I decided throwing up first, THEN passing out was the best bet so as to avoid a possible Jimi-Hendrix-choking-on-your-own-vomit type of death.  I am nothing if not practical.

I stumbled to the restroom and spent the next five minutes shaking and sobbing while the short people waited nervously outside the door.  I told them that Mommy just ate something that made her sick so as not to scare the ever-loving shit out of them, and managed to plaster on a smile and make our way back home; outwardly seeming chipper and care-free, an inwardly feeling about as stable as an IKEA bookshelf.

I haven’t had an attack so far today (knock wood), but I know that one could occur at any time.  I still don’t know what may have triggered them again this week; it could be seasonal, it could be the transition from grad student to full-time employee, it could be my short people turning 10 last weekend, Jesus, it could be because Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting divorced, who the hell knows?*

*Although we totally saw that one coming.  I mean, seriously?  How could Joey Potter pick that Scientology Hobbit over Pacey?

The one thing I have come to understand about my PTSD is that I will probably NEVER understand my PTSD.  A part of me would love to find that magical panacea that will obliterate it and have me running around like Billy the Big Mouth Bass singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, but another part of me thinks the anxiety makes perfect sense.  To me, it is a perfectly rational response to the nightmarish clusterfuck that was my ten-year marriage.  In truth, I’m a more leery of those people that DON’T seem to be affected by their past.*

*Yeah, I’m talking about you, Oprah.

Our society is obsessed with the concept of putting things in our past and working through them so we can move on.  But I don’t necessarily believe you should “heal” yourself entirely and release all of that bullshit out into the universe.  A part of me thinks that you need to keep the horrors from your past simmering on your cerebral back burner as a constant warning of how easily you could return there, and as a blazing reminder of how far you’ve come.  For now, however, I just want the fear to stop.

Take care of yourselves.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Instant Karma's Gonna Getcha

      "What the HELL?" Gina shrieked as I sat down across from her at Starbucks.  She sputtered on her tea and gestured dramatically at my leg.  "Oh my God, what did you do THIS time?"

Choosing to ignore Gina's judgy "this time" comment I glanced down at the rather impressive bruise on my left shin, now in the stages of turning a charming shade of ochre which (thank God) is in my color palette.  I shrugged dismissively.  "Nothing major.  Just trying to give an etiquette lesson to some hipsters."

Gina shook her head somberly.  "It figures.  Any story involving you and the words 'etiquette' and 'hipsters' can only end in bloodshed.. You're just lucky they didn't throw soy chai in your face and run you over with their Schwinn fixies.  So. . .let's hear it."

OK, so, let me start with some brief backstory.  For those of you not familiar with Portland, Oregon, we are a veritable hipster mecca.  To stand amidst our city limits and voice your displeasure of vegan cuisine, indy bands, and ironic 80's-themed T-shirts is tantamount to standing in the middle of a N.O.W. rally and screaming "Bitch, get me a beer!"  It won't end well.  So, a wise person would know that it is easier to put on slippers rather than carpet the world.  That is to say: if you're smart, you'll shut up and simply learn to adapt to your environment.  Apparently I'm not that smart.

So, the other day I ventured over to Whole Foods. . .

"Whoa, whoa, WHOA!   Back.  The hell.  Up."  interjected Gina, raising a hand in protest.  "The day you decide to go all Arab Spring on the hipsters you do it in their Holy Land?  Why not just hand out 'Romney for President' bumper stickers at Urban Outfitters while you're at it?"

I levelled Gina with my iciest glare. "May I continue?"   She shrugged and pushed her half-eaten scone to me in apology (Ooh!  Chocolate chip!).   "So, as I was saying. . ."

. . .I ventured over to Whole Foods.  After making my way past a phalanx of twenty-somethings who had obviously decided that they could make a much better living selling woven bracelets in the parking lot than investing in a few semesters of community college I made my way inside.  I immediately knew I was out of my element when some asshat with muttonchops, a "Diff'rent Strokes" T-shirt, and a nametag that read 'Sage' came at me with one of those moppy-broomy things, jabbing at my ankles like Wayne Gretzke.  

"And he cracked you in the shin with the moppy-broomy thing because you called him, Willis, right?  Right?"  Gina squealed, bouncing in her seat.

"Excuse me"  I cried indignantly "I'm in the middle of a story here!  Can you keep the hasty intejerctions to a minimum.  God!  It's like having coffee with Hoda and Kathie Lee only less drunk and Botox-y."

Gina rolled her eyes and gestured for me to continue. . .with her middle finger.  OK.  So.  Getting my ankles jabbed by the hyper-caffeinated mop boy.  Annoying, yes, but being all benevolent and shit,  I can turn the other cheek.  However, turning that cheek just put me face-to-face with two dreadlocked girls debating the merits of a vegan versus a paleo diet.  Now, I don't really have a problem with vegans in theory. . .*

*Partly because I know I could beat their protein and calcium deprived bodies in a cage fight

. . .but when these chicks saw the ground beef in my cart and looked at me like I was Josef Mengele I kinda lost my shit.  If you choose not to eat meat, fine.  But riddle me this, Alicia Silverstone: if your lifestyle is so fabulous, why do most vegans look like anemic cancer patients?  So I stared them down making soft mooing noises as I made my way to the produce aisle.

"So, they kicked you in the shin?"  Gina asked incredulously.  "I wouldn't think their hemp sandals could do that much damage.  Nor would you think someone hopped up on edamame and tofu could pack such a wallop."

I shook my head, pausing to take a sip of my latte.*

*Nonfat, no-foam, three pumps of sugar-free vanilla.  Starbucks, you complete me.

"No"   I replied, "they were just the warm-up act.  The headliner was yet to take the stage."

Gina nodded sagely.  "All right, carry on, Girl on Fire."

So, I navigated past the rice milk and the gluten-free pastries to the produce section.  Now, while I am not an avid fan of Whole Foods by any stretch of the imagination, I do love their sample policy, which is, you can always try before you buy.  That day there was a table manned by a girl who looked like the love child of Paul Simon and Aimee Mann handing out slices of nectarine.  Now, this may seem like pretty basic sampling etiquette, but for those not in the know, one generally takes ONE sample and then steps aside to let others partake of the gratuitous bounty.  Apparently this nicety is not common knowledge, however, as evidenced by the skinny jeans-wearing, clove cigarette-scented twatbadger who parked himself in front of the samples and started cramming sample after sample into his cavernous maw like he was downing shots at T.G.I.Fridays.

I waited patiently at first as this dipshit sucked chunks of fruit off of six more toothpicks before I finally lost it.  As his bony, flaccid paw reached out for yet another nectarine kebab, I darted to his side and snatched it from his grasp.

"This is a sample, got it?"  I growled, brandishing the toothpick in his soul-patched face "A sample.  Do you know what 'sample' means?  It means you take one.  One!  To s-a-m-p-l-e.  You don't start hoovering up the whole fruit case like Kobiyashi!"   At this point his eyes began darting about frantically, looking for escape.  "I mean, I get it.  You have a sense of entitlement.  I'm sure you feel the world owes you a bountious harvest of fruit because you didn't get into that Womyn's Studies class or your parents wouldn't buy you those kickass tickets to the Phish concert, but I have news for you: the sun does not rise and set in your skinny ass.  So go buy your kombucha and your organic kale chips and get the HELL out of the way!"

Gina stared at me, astounded.  "Holy batshit, Jen.  No wonder he kicked you in the shins.  Forget your tinfoil helmet that day, Sweetie?"

I shot her a puzzled look.  "He didn't kick me in the shins.  He was too busy waving down the security guard."

Gina shook her head rapidly in confusion.  "Wait. . .I. . .I thought you said you got that bruise teaching a hipster about etiquette."

"I did."  I said with a nod.

"Ok,"  she sighed, throwing her hands up in exasperation, "as usual, I have no freaking clue where you're going with this."

"It's simple."  I replied, popping a final bite of scone in my mouth "after I scared the guy off I made a dramatic gesture of shoving the nectarine sample in my mouth.  I forgot about the toothpick though and I jabbed it down into my gum, which made me scream like Celine Dion passing a kidney stone, which startled the sample girl, which made her drop the tray of nectarines all over the floor.  I leaned over to help her clean up, slipped in the juice, landed on my ass, and the sample table fell on my shin."

Gina stared in astonishment before rising from her seat and delivering a s-l-o-w c-l-a-p.

"Why thank you, milady"  I acknowledged with a queenlike nod and hand flourish, "but that's not even the best part."

"Of course it isn't"   Gina sighed  "OK, don't leave me hangin'."

"The sample girl?  The one who dropped the tray that led to the Rube Goldberg-like circumstances surrounding my injury?"

Gina nodded cautiously.  "What about her?"

"As I was helping her wipe the nectarine spooge off of her poncho I saw her nametag."  I paused dramatically.  "Karma.  Her name was Karma".

Gina patted my hand comfortingly.  "Of course it was, Sweetie. . .of course it was."

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