Friday, February 28, 2014

"Open Wide!"

In most aspects of my day-to-day life, I am a fully functional adult.  I pay my bills, I corral my short people, and I am always up-to-date on all medical screenings, tests, and lab work.  Well. . .all save for one.  The dentist.  I don't know why, but for some arcane reason I am filled with soul-crushing dread at the thought of foreign objects and ((shudder)) hands being jammed into my mouth.*

*That's what she said.

Bear in mind, my fears are completely irrational as I have never had a Marathon Man-like experience at the dentist; all of my appointments have been completely unremarkable, but for whatever reason, the dentist's office has become Ground Xanax for my anxiety and I check in there about as willingly as a blonde checks into the Bates Motel.  You see, my problem is that I am an overthinker.  My brain is like the Hotel California: you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.  So, basically, if I allow one smidgen of anxiety or trepidation into my head there will be an instant Butterfly Effect.*

*And, no.  I'm not talking about that shitty Ashton Kutcher movie.  Actually. . .I'm relatively certain that using the words "shitty" and "Ashton Kutcher movie" in the same sentence could be considered redundant. . .but I digress.

In my case, an idle concern flutters into my brain and begins to flap its little butterfly wings, which causes a wind storm of anxiety, which dislodges a pebble of neurosis, which rolls down a mountain of angst before plummeting into a giant lake of crazy.  So, as you can guess, the longer I put off going to the dentist the more time I have to convince myself that it's the most terrifying thing since...EVER, thus escalating both my cortisol levels and my gingivitis.

Fortunately, I've been pretty lucky for most of my life when it comes to my teeth.  Despite years of swilling Diet Pepsi and throwing Skittles into my mouth like a drunken Bacchus hurling beads from a Mardi Gras float, my teeth have retained their youthful resilience. . .until now. Last month's exam revealed a couple of cavities that were deeper and darker than a David Lynch film so 'twas 'hi-ho-hi-ho, back to the dentist I go'.

Now, please understand that my fear of seeing the dentist has NOTHING to do with my dentist himself.  For I adore my dentist.  ADORE him.  He looks a little like a Season 2 Chandler Bing, always wears the most twee little dress shirts and has freakishly small hands that I find oddly charming.  I would totally think he was gay but he's Mormon and I'm pretty sure the Church of Latter Day Saints isn't down with O.P.P.*

*Yeah, you know me.

But while Doctor Tiny Hands is a thin little slice of heaven, his hygienist disturbs me.  She is frighteningly skinny and has had so much plastic surgery I'm pretty sure you could bounce a quarter off of her forehead.  She's had a few eye jobs since I've been coming here and her last one looks like it was done by Oedipus Rex.  You know the look I'm talking about?  Those women who constantly look like Mr. Furley overhearing an innuendo-laden conversation at the Regal Beagle?

Bam.  You're welcome.

I'm aware that it's irrational, but when I see someone with a permanently startled expression and the blood sugar level of an Olsen twin coming at my mouth with sharp objects I get touchier than Bill Clinton at a Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest.  So I must say I was somewhat elated to see that Skeletor apparently had the day off and Dr. Tiny Hands was assisted by a charming and non-threatening temp who looked like Meredith Viera and smelled like oranges.

The first part of the appointment was relatively uneventful.  I reclined happily, donned my circa-1976 porn star sunglasses, and opened wide enough to allow my dentist's wee digits into my mouth.  "That's one gosh-darned heck of a cavity."*  he averred sternly.

*Actually, I don't remember if he said it that way exactly.  This is pretty much just how I picture Mormons swearing.

And one gosh-darned motherfucker of a cavity it must have been, indeed, because it took the man 15 MINUTES of drilling my tooth like it was an Alaskan oil field and he was George Bush.  When he finally got all of that "gosh-darned" decay, he called over his assistant to give me the old rinse and suction.  As she leaned over with her pleasantly smiling face I felt at peace...I felt I was in good hands...and then she asked "How are you feeling?"

Sweet 6 pound 8 ounce Baby Jesus.  Her breath.  Seriously, people:  HER.  BREATH.  Here I thought she was all classy and citrusy and shit but when she opened her mouth the stench that emanated can only be described as a wet dog eating fish sticks inside a Burning Man port-a-potty.  I held my breath as best as one can with their mouth agape and gave her a cheery thumbs-up hoping it would urge her to move her pungent stink hole from my olfactory range.

Once my dentist had completed filling the Black Hole of Calcutta on my top tooth he started on the "smaller" one on the bottom.  "This one should be a piece of cake." he assured me.  Fine.  Good.  Cake is good.  Do you know what's NOT good?  When the drill slips.  Out of his microscopic fingers.  Into the nerve ending of my tooth.  Wait...did you get that.  He.  Drilled.  A.  NERVE ENDING.  So, of course I dealt with the pain as any dignified and stoic young lady would do: I completely lost my shit and shrieked like Justin Timberlake taking a croquet mallet to the sack.  Suffice to say, the rest of the appointment was a montage of me crying, Dr. Tiny Hands pumping me full of enough Novacaine to anesthetize a wildebeest, and the dental assistant wringing her hands and assessing the level of psychosis in the room.

When we were finally done, I staggered limply to the receptionist to discuss my insurance.  As I stood there, Dr. Tiny Hands poked his head out of the inner office.  "Oh, Jen!  I did want to discuss that gum surgery and tooth whitening I mentioned earlier if you were interested?"

I blinked at him in confusion.  "You mean, the optional one?  The one that's just for cosmetic purposes?"*

*Actually, as 85% of my face was completely numb what I THINK I said was "Bhstfgnkdfndcvndi?"

"Yup, that's the one."  he grinned.  "Are you interested?"

"Interested?"  I replied.  "In coming BACK to the dentist to pay you to hurt me by choice?"  I shook my head solemnly.  "No offense, Doc, but there's a better chance of seeing Paula Deen and Al Sharpton singing 'Ebony and Ivory' at the Apollo than of you seeing my face grace your office for a while."

Because, really?  I may have many glaring a few minor flaws but I am not a masochist
.  So if you ever suggest to me that it might be "fun" to get a tattoo, Botox, or have any part of my body electively bleached then you should just pack up your copies of Watchtower and start knocking on the next goddamned door.

I'm all stocked up on crazy here.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Enough Is Enough

I was honored.  Truly, truly freaking HONORED to have recently been asked by the fearless and fabulous Noa Gavin to be part of her consortium and, along with the amazingly gifted and witty Abby Huegel be part of the "League Of F-ing Bitches" counsel.  We hope, each week, to inspire every female writer out there to find her inner "F", be it frank, fierce, funny, or frugal and to embrace that side of herself with everything she has.  Each week we'll feature a different theme.  This week, our theme is "Enough".  This is mine.  Short and sweet, but unflinchingly honest.

One was never enough.

No. . .that’s not true.  One drink was far too many, and every drink after the first was never enough.

There weren’t enough drinks to make be escape my crushing depression.  There weren’t enough drinks to help me survive an abusive and destructive marriage.  There weren’t enough drinks to make me look at my body with anything but loathing.  There weren’t enough drinks to make me numb to the self-harming and self-defeating thoughts that dominated my life.  There were never enough.

I remember the first time I saw “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof” and the alcoholic character, Brick, told Maggie that he couldn’t stop drinking until he felt the “click”; the switch in his brain that shut out all of the feelings and made things okay again.  I heard that line and I thought “Yes!  That’s exactly what it is!  The click!”  But over time, it became harder and harder to get that “click”.  The usual amount of alcohol no longer worked.  It was no longer enough.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I began my ascent from the haze of alcohol.  What many would see as “rock bottom” we, again, not enough to pull my head out of my ass and the bottle from my hand.  It wasn’t enough the night I dropped my phone and car keys down a sewer drain outside of a bar.  It wasn’t enough when I found myself on a TriMet bus headed downtown with no idea how I got there or where I was going.  It wasn’t enough the morning I woke up on my living room floor with my son’s baby blanket draped over me; looking up to see my two year old patting my head.  And it wasn’t even enough when I spent the night in a jail cell after being arrested for a DUI. . .after driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.2.

What finally pulled me back from the brink wasn’t a singular event or a seminal moment, but rather a slow unfurling of my spirit.  It was days, and then weeks, and eventually months of counselling, swilling shitty coffee in church basement A.A. meetings, and slowly amassing a circle of loving, supportive, and like-minded friends that held my hand as I walked through the fire.  At first, it was excruciating.  For so many years I drank to block out emotions like anger and sadness and fear.  Without the anesthesia of alcohol, these emotions besieged me from all sides and I was overwhelmed and terrified.  But eventually. . .slowly. . .I learned to accept and even embrace these emotions.  I learned that it is OK to be angry, and sad, and scared, and frustrated, and yes. . .it was even OK for me to be truly happy for the first time in a long time.  I extricated myself from my unhealthy marriage, I went to graduate school, and I created a new life for myself and my children.

So, when people ask why I don’t drink, I don't give them some long, drawn-out reason.  I don't regale them with the Serenity Prayer or start 12-stepping them, I don't make excuses or apologies. I simply tell them “Because I am a better person without it.”

I am enough.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Be My. . .I Mean, Your Own Valentine

People are generally baffled by my mad love for all things holiday.  St. Patrick's Day?  I will dress in green from head to toe and make corned beef and cabbage.  Thanksgiving?  I will take 11 hours to create the perfect dinner from scratch.  April Fools Day?  Words cannot describe the shenanigans that shall ensue.  But for all of that, Valentine's Day has always been one of my favorites.*

*Shocking, considering that my relationship history is horrifying enough to make Quentin Tarantino cringe.

While I have not been living like a Carmelite nun for the bulk of my adulthood, I have never had a Valentine.  Never.  For whatever reason, my relationships either started after or ended before February 14th, and when I was married, my husband Gil referred to it as "a stupid Hallmark holiday" and staunchly refused to acknowledge it in any way.*

*Reason #583 why he is my EX husband.  

This year, I fully expected Valentine's Day to be as it usually was: heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast, love notes in the short people's lunchboxes, and half-priced chocolates on February 15th.  That was my thought. So, I did what any self-respecting woman would do, threw on a fabulous red dress, gathered my craziest friends, and partied over amazing food and a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity.  The next morning I was tidying up the detritus from last night's debacle party when my friend Rachael stopped by.

"Where were you last night?"  I asked, handing her a cup of coffee as she slumped against the kitchen counter.  "I thought you were coming to the party after work?"

Rachael sighed deeply, blowing on her coffee.  "Yeah. . .I was.  I just. . .couldn't."

"What's wrong?"  I queried, sliding a plate of muffins toward her.  She took one and began picking at it absently.

"I just. . .I just couldn't be around a bunch of people celebrating love when I think it's a steaming pile of crap."*

*Rachael's boyfriend of one year recently broke up with her.  For one of Rachael's co-workers.  On Rachael's birthday.  I'll give you a minute for the full trifecta of douche to set in.

I patted her hand reassuringly.  "Rach, you need to let this go.  You're smart and funny and beautiful. . .you know this was all his deal; this had nothing to do with you."

She sighed deeply.  "I know.  It's like. . .one minute I'm cool with it and all zen and shit, and then five minutes later I want to smash the front of his truck with a baseball bat."

"Whoa, ease up there, Carrie Underwood,"  I said gravely. "let Jesus take the wheel."

Rachael gave a shaky laugh, then buried her face in her hands and sobbed.  I stood behind her, stroking her hair as the short people came in from the yard.

"What's wrong with Rachael?"  M. cried in fear.

J. poked his face next to Rachael's bowed head.  "Are you crying?"  he whispered dramatically.  "Why are you crying?  What's wrong?"  

"OK, OK, " I stated firmly, ushering the short people from the kitchen.  "Keep walking.  Nothing to see here.  These are not the droids you're looking for."

"Hey!"  J. grinned broadly.  "I know what will cheer you up!  Do you want to hold my hamster?"

Rachael's head reared up in horror.  "Oh. . .oh dear God, no!"

"Rachael's terrified of rodents."  I explained to J. "Mice, squirrels, hamsters. . .they're her personal Vietnam."

J.  shrugged affably and started down the hall.  "Hey!"  I called after him.  "Take the hood of your jacket down when you're inside, please."

"Why?"  he asked, furrowing his brow.

"Because you look like a school shooter."  I answered.

J.  gazed at me in bemusement.  "Huh?"

I waved a hand at the hood of his coat.  Just lose the hood, Columbine."

Grinning broadly, J. pulled down his hood and bounded up the stairs after his brother.*

*My short people rock the hardest.

Rachael wiped her eyes and began chuckling.  "Did you just call your son a spree killer?"  she smiled "I can't believe you just said that."

"And I can't believe you're still afraid of hamsters."  I laughed, sitting beside her at the counter. "Haven't you grown out of that?"

"Ha!  Says the woman who is so terrified of clowns she can't watch a McDonald's commercial."  Rachael jeered in retaliation.

I held my hands up in surrender.  "Hey, Ronald McDonald is seriously jacked up, Dude."

"Yeah, well, hamsters BITE." she countered.

"Yeah, well, I'll bet a clown would too. . .if provoked."  I muttered lamely.

Rachael laughed softly.  "Thanks, Jen.  I knew you'd cheer me up."

I tossed an arm around Rachael's slender shoulders and gave her a soft hug.  "Of course.  That's my job."

Rachael smiled weakly.  "So, how do you deal with Valentine's Day every year.  I mean, you never have a Valentine."*


I shrugged absently.  "For me Valentine's Day is about love. And I am surrounded by people that I love that love me in return.  I have my family, I have my friends, I have my coworkers, and I have me."

"What do you mean you have you?"  Rachael asked in confusion.

I smiled.  "Well, I love myself."  I explained.  "It took me a while to get to that place but when you really love yourself then you're never lonely, even when you're alone.  And the best part is, when you are comfortable in your own skin you no longer have people in your life because you NEED them. . .they're there because you WANT them."

Rachael gave a shuddering sigh, tears filling her green eyes.  "I don't think I'll ever get there.  I'm just so scared of being alone that I feel like I'll latch onto the next guy who even looks at me and before you know it I'll be lured into some cult like Patty Hearst or Katie Holmes."

"OK,"  I said soothingly, "let's follow the Crazy Brick Road back to reality and reassess.  Were you REALLY in love with Brian or were you just in love with the idea of having someone?'

She pondered my question in silence and tilted her head.  "I. . .you know, I honestly don't know.  I liked him, and I liked having a partner.  You know, never worrying about what I was doing on the weekend and having a date for weddings and stuff."

"So, you NEEDED him to fulfill those needs of companionship and to occupy your spare time on weekends."  I averred bluntly.

Rachael scowled at me.  "Must you cheapen the sentiment?"

"Always."  I smirked.  "Look, I'm not trying to be a dick, but why can't you occupy weekends on your own?  Take a dance class, join a gym, learn a foreign language at the community college, call up your friends.  Once you start living your life and loving yourself, the right man will be drawn to that.  Or, maybe he won't.  But the point is, even if Mr. Right never shows up you won't care because you'll be too busy living your life to notice."

Rachael shook her head slowly.  "I feel like everyone is in my life because I need them.  Even my friends.  Even you.  I knew when I was falling apart that I needed to see you.  I needed you to pick up the pieces."

I crossed the kitchen to refill Rachael's coffee.  "Maybe you do need me on some level, but we wouldn't be friends if I didn't WANT you in my life.  For the first time in a long time I can honestly say that everyone in my life is there because I want them there and that's an awesome feeling.  I don't need someone to complete me; I'm already complete."

Rachael took a slow swig of her coffee.  "I have much to learn from you, Obi Wan."

"Fear not."  I intoned gravely, placing a hand upon her bowed head.  "The Force is strong in you."

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day.  And, if not, why not celebrate today?  Buy yourself some new shoes.  Get a massage.  Fill your house with beautiful flowers.  Have chocolate cake for dinner.  Show your one true love how much you love and appreciate them. . .and make that one true love be you.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Conversations With Jess: The Snowpocalypse Is Upon Us

JESS:  So how is life in Snowlandia?

ME:  More like freezing rain-landia. I'm dangerously close to losing my shit, Jess.  The short people are being awesome but if I don't see the outside of my house soon I'm gonna go all Jack Nicholson on this joint.

JESS:  All work and no play makes Jen a dull girl?

ME:  All work and being housebound makes Jen crazier than a shithouse rat.

JESS:  How are you coping?

ME:  Copious amounts of coffee and YouTube.  Oh!  And mentally hazing my cat.

JESS:  How is the new kitty?

ME:  She's fabulous.  Other than her propensity for defecating in the shower, I'd say she's the perfect roommate.  But, hey...haven't we ALL gotten confused and taken a shit in the shower?

JESS:  . . .

ME:  No?. . .well, that just got acca-awkward.

JESS:  You and I obviously did not have the same college experience.  When do they anticipate you guys will be able to get out and about again?

ME:  HOPEFULLY tomorrow!  If I don't get in for an eyebrow waxing soon I'm going to start braiding them.

JESS:  That bad, huh?

ME:  I look like the love child of Frieda Kahlo and Leonid Brezhnev.

JESS:  That's hot.  So, did you watch the Olympic Opening Ceremonies the other night?

ME:  Yup.  Seriously though, someone needs to talk to Ralph Lauren about the clothes he designs for the U.S. team.  They looked like they were on their way to an ugly Christmas sweater party.

JESS:  No kidding.  But I though the performers were cool.

ME:  You thought watching a bunch of Russian men singing "Get Lucky" with jazz hands was cool?

JESS:  You didn't?

ME:  I just found it all rather ironic.  For a country that is so open about how much they hate gays, they had an inordinate amount of all-male show choirs.  I'm just sayin'. . .

JESS:  Valid point.  At least it was more interesting than the Grammies this year.

ME:  Kristen Stewart reading aloud from the phone book would have been more interesting than the Grammies this year.

JESS:  Seriously.  And please explain why Jamie Foxx was presenting in an English accent?

ME:  Because he was giving an award to Ringo Starr?

JESS:  So, by that logic, if he were giving an award to Miley Cyrus he'd be twerking?

ME:  The day Miley Cyrus wins a Grammy is they day I drink a cocktail of NyQuil and bleach and end it all.

JESS:  And how about Ozzy Osbourne's tribute to Ringo?

ME:  I have no idea what he was saying but I'm relatively certain he was ordering take-out.  Either that or reciting Mel Gibson's "they will never take our freedom" speech from "Braveheart".

JESS:  And what about the categories?  Best Spoken Word?  Best Album Notes?  What's next. . .Best Silence?

ME:  Best Sound Of One Hand Clapping?

JESS:  Best Sound Of A Tree Falling In The Forest. . .or IS there?

ME:  Personally I think the star of the night was Pharell's hat.

JESS:  Why, pray tell, WAS he wearing the Arby's hat while singing "Get Lucky"?

ME:  'Cause he's "up all night 'til the sun, he's up all night for good fun, he's up all night to get some, he's up all night to get roast beef..."

JESS:  I still can't believe I missed "Downton Abbey" for that crap.

ME:  And I can't believe you watch "Downton Abbey".  What are you?  A 65 year old woman with six cats and the complete Jane Austen film series on DVD?

JESS:  . . .

ME:  You DO, don't you!?!?

JESS:  Bite me.

ME:  Ha!  I knew it!  You have them ALL on DVD, don't you?  So, tell me, which was better: Kiera Knightley's yammering horse face in "Pride And Prejudice", or Gwyneth Paltrow's glaring lack of talent in "Emma"?

JESS:  Pretty smug for someone who owns the entire box set of the "Bring It On" movies.

ME:  Those movies are destined to be classics.  Time will ultimately prove their brilliance.

JESS:  Whatever.  All movies these days are stupid.  All music these days is stupid.  In fact, the music industry has nothing to do with music. It has to do with promoting the singer most likely to sell out to the industrial complex and be the next voice of the McRib jingle.

ME:  Jesus, lighten up there, Abbie Hoffman.  Just because Bob Seeger's 'Like A Rock' became synonymous with Chevy and KT Tunstall sold her soul to the ghost of Sam Walton doesn't mean that every celebrity who does commercials is a sell out.

JESS:  Name one that isn't.

ME: Samuel L. Jackson for Capitol One.  Because if you attempt to tell me that the man who brought us Nick Fury and Jules Winfield is a sell out then I will be forced to smite down upon thee with great anger and furious vengeance.

JESS:  OK, I'll give you Sam because that guy's a legitimate badass; but even you have to admit that the music industry is made up of sell-outs and rip-offs.

ME:  I'd love to see where this is going...

JESS:  Think about it. . .pop music has historically been a rip-off.  INSYNC ripped off New Kids on the Block, Macklemore ripped off Eminem, Lorde ripped off Adele, and Starbucks ripped us all off by selling their CD's at a 20% markup.  It's capitalism at it's finest.  U-S-A!  U-S-A!

ME:  Oh, I KNOW you didn't just talk smack about my homeboys Macklemore and Eminem!

JESS:  Your fondness for white rappers has always baffled and amused me.

ME:  Note to self:  never discuss anything with a Democrat that involves trophies, an outfit-of-choice category, or a rose ceremony.  You're sucking my pleasure harder than a whore when the rent is due.

JESS:  The truth hurts, Ann Coulter.

((sound of children shouting))

JESS:  What was that?

ME:  The short people fighting over the TV.  It's been going on for over an hour.

JESS:  I didn't think you let them watch that much TV?

ME:  Jess, we've been stuck inside for THREE DAYS.  At this point, I'll let them watch porn if it means I won't hear the word "Mommy" for an hour.

JESS:  And the 'Mother of the Year' award goes to. . .

ME:  Hey, I've made it through 72 hours of solitary confinement without raising my voice or crying so I'd say I'm golden.

JESS:  Did you ever know that you're my hero?  You're everything I wish I could be.

ME:  But Jess, I can fly higher than an eagle, because YOU are the wind beneath my wings.

JESS:  Why do we always wind up quoting shitty 80's songs to each other?

ME:  Because we win at life, my friend. . .we win at life.

To my fellow Portlandian's: PLEASE stay home today.  Stay warm.  Stay safe.  And to anyone NOT experiencing Snowmaggedon, please know that a tiny part of me hates you a little. . .but just a little.