Monday, December 28, 2009

The Truth About Sex and Food

“The way to want sex more, is to have more sex,” one player said to another during a water break in clinic.

Sex comes up a lot in Friday tennis, but the truth is, we talk about it in a very general way. We’re more detailed in our descriptions of vacuuming or cat feces than we ever are about what goes on behind closed doors.

“I know,” said Player 2, “but I’m always so cold.”

“Sex will make you warmer,” offered Player 3. (We’re very supportive.)

“But I’m just really cold. I’m freezing all the time.”

“If you were doing Weight Watchers, you could use sex as Activity Points,” I said. Activity Points translate into extra Food Points based on a simple slide-rule formula. I know this is a shabby reason to have sex, but true motivation for so many things so often comes from unexpected places. “If you have more sex, you could eat more.”

Someone’s head was shaking. “I don’t know about that,” said Player 3. “It depends who with.”

This got everyone’s attention. Did she have someone specific in mind? Are there particular people named in the Weight Watchers manual that qualify for Activity Points while others do not? Somehow I must have missed that page.

“You need to have sex with a stranger,” she declared. “Sex with your spouse – or a longtime partner – is the same as walking up a flight of stairs. Sex with a stranger is like sprinting up the wall of your garage.”

We all nodded. Not that any of us would know firsthand.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Old Dog/New Tricks


In an effort to help me improve my serve, Laura the Tennis Pro recently offered some suggestions and advice. First, she said, “I have an analogy for you…” and proceeded to spin a tale about an archer and his bow and arrow. She drew the necessary parallels between the two activities – serving a tennis ball and shooting an arrow – and then stood behind me, satisfied that this analogy would transform my wimpy serve into one of power and authority.

Laura knows I love analogies. So, I didn’t tell her at the time that, although she presented the information as an “analogy,” it was still, fundamentally, “physics.” And, as I’ve mentioned, physics is Greek to me.

When my serve didn’t improve immediately upon receipt of the analogy, Laura decided to take a more active role. “You’re bringing your back foot up too early,” she said. “It can’t leave the ground until you’ve hit the ball.”

This was solid, concrete information that I could work with, so I served again – and again and again – trying mightily to keep my foot on the ground longer. It was harder than I expected. Finally, Laura brought over a Teaching Aid. She has these little plastic cones – like miniature traffic cones – and she lay one down at my back foot and instructed me to put my foot inside it. “That will keep you from moving your foot,” she said. And she was right.

The mini cone anchored my foot, it was true, but it also anchored my mind (and not in a good way). All I could think of was the image of a dog recovering from surgery, his head wrapped in on of those white plastic cones. I remember Paula Poundstone doing a joke about them once: “Why do they put cones over the animals’ heads? Is humiliation part of the healing process?”

It is no doubt part of the learning process. Maybe not humiliation per se, but that state of being aware of what you’re doing wrong, what you should be doing instead, and the sheer helplessness of feeling that you can’t make yourself behave in new ways. I am reminded that so much of the way we live is just comfortable habit. We get in the habit of being late, or worried or unhappy and it feels so impossible to change. But we can actually change so much about our lives by just breaking old habits and forging new ones. Which makes it all seem so easy, right?

Except when you realize that sometimes the simplest little changes require suffering the indignation of a cone – that big plastic reminder that things need to be uncomfortable for a little bit while you find your new way.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Golf and Drugs and Rock & Roll?

As a tennis addict, I feel that I more than anyone should understand the insane passion that surrounds the game of golf. But alas, I don’t. Once, a few years ago, while watching The Greatest Game Ever Played, I had an Aha! Moment and believed (erroneously) that I could finally talk to golf enthusiasts with some sort of vague comprehension about their obsession. But, that moment passed.

So the other day, when I was talking to my friend Jeff about sex and about golf (two activities which, for him, had been in lamentably short supply) he made a flip comment about at least wishing it were warm enough to golf so it would take the edge off wanting sex.

“Golf is as good as sex?” I asked. I’d never really considered this before.

“Good golf can sometimes be almost as good as bad sex,” he explained.

Wow.

While I found this proclamation both fascinating and enlightening, I couldn't really tell if it was an actual endorsement of golf. I will say this: It didn't make me want to pick up a nine iron.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Haiku

One of the highlights of my year was when my friend Gina posted a Passover Haiku on her Facebook page. An entire Passover Haiku conversation ensued. It is my good fortune that she and her friends recently posted some Holiday Haiku for Christmas:

Gina T:

The holiday cheer
Can't hide the fact I'm freezing
My SoCal butt off

Gina T:
Giant, inflated
Homers, Scoobys and Big Birds
Unacceptable

Erika M:
Take it back, Jersey
Inflatable anything
Is filled with joy

Jim C:
Hail pre-paid gift cards!
All the spirit of Christmas
Without the effort

Gina T:
No more maudlin tune
This season than "Christmas Shoes"
Ouch! My ears! They bleed!

Kevin M:
Please stop Haiku
Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!
Bake cookies instead

Erika M:
Why hate on haiku?
One bright spot in a sad world
No cookies for you

Emma T (Gina’s daughter):
My mom writes haikus
About winter holidays
She's totally weird

Emma T:
Kevin you should know.
Mother never bakes for me
Cookies are a dream

Erika M.
A little child speaks
Mother's haiku reddens cheeks
Woman, go bake now!

Dena H.
Wishing I could write
Witty seasonal haiku
Baking, I can do!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Just Make Things Harder Than They Need To Be

It’s been over a week since my 10-year-old’s coat went missing. This is not an atypical situation for the teenager, but the 10-year-old is very conscientious with his possessions and he always seems to know where everything is. I’ve looked everywhere for this coat. Meaning, I’ve looked in all the places a coat should be and after that, all the places that a coat could be. I’ve called around to friends. The only place left to look was the school Lost and Found.

I remember touring this town’s various elementary schools years ago when we first moved here. There was one school that had what looked like a tidy little milk box set discretely at the end of a hallway. “What’s that?” I asked the tour guide. “Oh, that’s our Lost and Found.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the school we ended up sending our children to. We chose the school whose Lost and Found more closely resembled the size and carelessness of its population. Which is to say, the school that devotes an entire room to Lost and Found.

Someone once tried to organize this scary place, and they made a valiant effort. They brought in big moving boxes and labeled each one with a color: BLACK. BROWN. GREEN. And so on. When I walked in, there were 10 boxes lined up in a row with garments of every imaginable color strewn willy-nilly in and around the boxes, and then there was an altogether separate heap on the floor.

This is the point where I would normally just say it’s not worth it – I’ll just buy a new coat. That’s apparently what every other parent said. But for some reason, I just decided to have a quick look. So I emptied the BLACK box (because, after all, that’s what color the missing coat was) and started inspecting the contents.

Try as I might to just simply go through my dumped pile and be done with it, I could not. Instead, I’d pick up a coat and lay it down neatly on the floor, thus beginning what would become a 45-minute sorting process of every single clothing item in that big chaotic heap. There were easily two hundred coats in there – two hundred! I ended up emptying all the labeled boxes sorting all the coats back into their proper color boxes. After the first 10 coats, I had abandoned most all hope of finding my son’s. But I couldn’t leave the place in such disarray.

I was nearly done when, there, at the bottom of the floor heap (the heap I was loathe to even touch when I walked in there) was a gray fleece lining that looked vaguely familiar. I snatched it up, turned it inside out, and sure enough, it was the black nylon jacket I’d been looking for. I practically danced out of that building, assured once again that the process of “letting go” is the magical ingredient for being able to draw whatever it is you’re looking for into your life.

I got in the car and placed the coat strategically in the middle of the back seat, so my son would see it right away when he next got in. And he did. He lifted it up and turned it this way and that. I was eager with anticipation at how he would choose to thank me.

“Mom,” he finally said, his voice sweet and earnest. “This isn’t my coat.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Amperes and Isotopes and Vectors, Oh My!

Laura the Tennis Pro and I have a lot in common. We both like words. We’re both hypochondriacs. And we both prefer our hair when it’s straight. I feel like we “get” each other’s obscure jokes and almost always understand the other person’s descriptive analogies. But when she starts talking Physics, I’m done for.

“You should be hitting that shot in this direction instead,” she’ll say. “You know…think of Physics.”

She’s been playing the Physics Card for years now and I think my big mistake was to smile and nod whenever she did so. But yesterday, she said to me, “Just think of a vector…” and I finally had to admit the truth.

There’s only one image that comes to mind when someone says the word “vector” and that is the cockpit scene from Airplane! where the pilots are getting clearance to take off. “What’s our vector, Victor?” says one of them. The end. That’s my sum total of vector knowledge right there.

People used to bandy about those same Physics terms while attempting to teach me to play pool. There too, I never wanted to appear uneducated, so I always nodded and smiled and then sailed the cue ball right into the pocket.

So, here’s my confession: I never took Physics. I’m not sure where I stopped in the Math/Science continuum, but it was long before vectors.

I get it. I know that when you’re teaching something that comes second nature to you, you have a whole vocabulary and knowledge base that you draw on, usually without even thinking about it. It happens to me all the time when I’m working with kids on their writing. I’ll say stuff. They’ll smile and nod. I’ll say more stuff. More smiles. More nodding. And then I’ll say, “Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?” And they will of course say, “No.”

Laura took my news well and, as is typical, others began to confess their ignorance as well. Sometimes I remind her: we may not be smart, but we’re cute!

So, my tennis instructor will be putting together a Physics lesson for me – for us, really – in yet another of her valiant attempts to teach a group of good-natured yet addled women the finer points of Doubles. She’s quick, that Laura, and I think she’s finally come around to sobering truth: Tennis Floozies we may be, but Rocket Scientists, we’re not.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Oh Wait...I'M the Grown-Up

It was me and the Lacrosse Dads. Yes, there are some moms who chauffer to the Sunday morning games, but mostly that’s Dad’s job. And even the moms who do chauffer are different than me in at least one noticeable respect: they all seem to be able to talk about lacrosse in an intelligent, knowledgeable way. I’m so out of my league there. What’s “double balling”? What’s “slashing”? I feel like I sound like a four-year-old.

But once we all got into our cars and started down the long, winding road to the bottom of the mountain, we were all pretty much in the same boat.

Black ice: The great equalizer. Cars spinning out and ramming into other cars everywhere you looked. I threw my SUV into a low gear and started crawling down the mountain. The car in front of me got hit. Then the car behind me. It was like God was playing marbles with these cars– that’s how simple it was for one driver to completely lose control and careen into another.

I pulled over to gather my wits and immediately realized we were sitting ducks for another swerving car. So I yelled to my teenage son and his two friends to get out of the car and we stood for a moment on someone’s front lawn, collecting ourselves. The next car that got hit flew right up onto the lawn next to us. No place was safe.

The boys didn’t think it was a good idea, but I convinced them to get back in the car so we could make our way down the mountain. My husband accuses me of driving like a grandmother, and for once I wore that distinction with pride. Five miles an hour, blinkers flashing, not even taking a breath until we were on flat terrain. Then a big exhale once we got into Friendly’s parking lot.

These boys don’t know me well enough to know shaken I was. They all ordered big plates of breakfast food from Veronica The Waitress Who Knows Everyone’s Name and within two bites they had forgotten about what had just transpired. “Jessica, Jessica! This waitress knows the names of ALL the lacrosse players!” they told me.

It was true. She had met some of them once, two weeks ago, and she started rattling off the names of their entire team. It was a feat that, even I had to admit, was worth my stopping the countless phone calls to my Lifelines, trying to get a beat on the weather and the highway conditions.

By all accounts, we had another 90 minutes until the earth would warm enough to melt the street ice. It was a 40-minute drive home – all highway. All highway that traverses mountains. I looked around the Friendly’s and imagined hunkering down there until Spring.

Once breakfast was finished, the boys were antsy to get on our way.

“I want to stay here for a while,” I told them.

“How long?”

“Like an hour,” I said.

They all started moaning, but then the tallest one said, “Well, I am still kinda hungry.” He’s 15 years old, six-foot-three, and by his own description, an eating machine.

“So let’s get lunch!” I said. As Veronica cleared our breakfast dishes, she brought lunch menus, and the three of them ordered another full meal apiece.

Not to toot my own horn but these boys like me -- mostly because every time we’re together, I ply them with food. (They love Veronica The Waitress, too; they’re not all that difficult to charm.) I sometimes wonder, when I’m carting them all here or there, whether I should act a little more grown up around them. Stop cranking the car radio when Bowie comes on, stop cracking up at their not-always-appropriate teenage-boy jokes. Maybe a few more lectures here and there about what’s important in life. They are all so lovable and full of life, it’s easy to forget that they're not just my companions, they’re my responsibility. That sometimes I’m literally holding their lives in my hands.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Middle-Aged Badass

We all fancy ourselves badasses in Friday Tennis Clinic. We all dress in black. We curse a lot. (Well, I do.) Our conversations start out bawdy and just get bawdier. How hard is it to view yourselves as the NWA of the tennis club when the women playing on the adjacent courts have a median age of 70?

But we come to our senses when, like today, one of us turns to the group and asks, “Who has a tattoo?”

“Not me,” says Shelley.

Kelly shakes her head.

Not even Laura The Tennis Pro, which surprises at least me, as she does have some of the trappings of a tattooed woman. (Namely, that she participates in that Polar Bear Club insanity where you strip down to your bathing suit on New Year’s Day and run into the ocean.)

Eileen finally saunters in and, as far as I’m concerned, no one even has to ask. Of course she’ll have a tattoo. Probably something witty and irreverent in a place where few will ever see it. But I’m wrong.

“Nope,” she says. “No tattoo.”

She’s late, however, because she had to drive to tennis straight from our local precinct, where she had to post her own bail this morning and submit to fingerprinting before she was released on her own recognizance. She had explained the whole ordeal to me the night before, so her tardiness didn’t come as a surprise. “What do you mean you’re in Contempt of Court?” I’d said. Eileen is rarely in contempt of anything!

I don’t know about anyone else, but I was a little envious of her brush with the law. I imagine it feeling dangerously exciting to be fingerprinted, even if it is only for missing a date in traffic court. A completely honorable way to add a little spice into one’s middle aged day, the rest of which is likely to be spent baking cookies, or getting the cat de-wormed, or, like me, working far too long trying to figure out how to download a mug shot from my cell phone onto this [exceedingly foul expletive] computer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Yes, Raisins.

I start most therapy sessions off the same way. I say a few positive things about the time that’s elapsed since we last met. Then I start a little preamble about what I want to talk about, and right away my voice cracks and my eyes sting and I make the split second decision to just go ahead and cry even though I haven’t even said anything yet. My therapist waits, quasi patiently, until I can pull myself together and form sentences. And then we start getting into it.

She often asks me what’s bringing on the tears, and I usually grasp for one of those therapy-session catch-alls: “I’m really angry about such and such”, or “I’m feeling sad about x, y, z.” But today I summed the whole thing up in a more global way and confessed that I’m simply reduced to tears whenever I’m about to talk about any of my shortcomings.

She’s cautioned me against judging my “issues,” reminding me that it adds a whole new layer of doody to work through before we even get to the main event. But it’s so ingrained in me to think this way, I don’t seem to be able to just turn it off.

Today she suggested that, even though I’m careening toward fifty, we find a new name for my “shortcomings.” She proposed “Peanut Butter” as an alternative. As in, “This is a serious Peanut Butter of mine that I’d like to change.”

Peanut Butter didn’t feel right to me for, what I hope are, obvious reasons. Too gooey. Or, alternatively, too chunky. But bottom line, too sticky and insidious and just downright difficult to handle.

So without too much deliberation, I countered with “Raisins.” As in, “I have two Raisins I need to talk about today,” which feels about as burdensome and angst-laden as picking up a toothbrush and brushing one’s teeth. In other words, a big nothing.

Raisins came to me spontaneously – a picture of the purple cylindrical container that sits in the cupboard popping immediately into my mind. I tried to think of a reason not to call my shortcomings “Raisins,” and I couldn’t. Raisins are wrinkly and unattractive, but not really scary or threatening. And although there are plenty of them, they don’t seem like they could take me down in battle. They’re just puny raisins, after all.

The goal, I guess, is to check out the Raisins – examine their furrowed little selves from lots of different perspectives – without bemoaning the fact that I have so freaking many of them to begin with.

It’s taken a big load off for me. I really feel I can lighten up when they're just Raisins. My Raisins. Your Raisins. They're all kind of goofy and sweet, no?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Recovering Eeyore

A few years ago, when I’d just started playing in Laura The Tennis Pro’s Monday Clinic, we all came together after Thanksgiving Weekend and one of the Marys asked me how my Thanksgiving was. I proceeded to tell her how I don’t really like Thanksgiving, that it’s a hard, depressing holiday for me, that I wish my extended family were physically closer so we could spend it together like we did when I was a kid. Marybeth listened graciously as I went on and on and suddenly, as if someone stepped in and slapped some sense into me, I just stopped.

“I’m sorry,” I said to her. “I haven’t yet learned to just answer that question by simply saying, ‘Good, yours?”

We were all just starting to get to know each other back then. The two Marys had been in a semi-private with Laura for a while and they wanted to play in tournaments together in the summer, so Laura asked me to come be a fourth on the court so they could work on doubles strategy.

When you’re invited into an already formed group, you worry about whether the other players are going to like you, whether you’ll be asked back. This has as much to do with your playing ability as your personality. And I feared that with that Thanksgiving response of mine, I was bound to get the heave ho.

Maybe my mea culpa was sufficient, but just to be safe I spent the next several weeks trying to be positive and upbeat. A recovering Eeyore. I really loved being in this group and I was sure that, with a little mindfulness, I’d be able to answer benign, polite questions as people were expected to: benignly and politely.

The following year I spent the whole drive to the tennis club practicing what I would say if someone asked me how my Thanksgiving was. And when Marybeth asked, I delivered my line with (perhaps too big) a smile. “Good,” I said. "Yours?”

Last year, I felt an integral enough part of the group that I’d given myself permission to answer the Thanksgiving question honestly. But we had made a few changes to our yearly tradition in our house and in fact it wasn’t the grueling experience I usually dreaded. “Not bad,” I said. “Yours?”

Today I showed up at tennis eager for play, completely forgetting that Thanksgiving was only a few short days ago. We played for an hour before I even realized that no one had asked about Thanksgiving at all. Which is curious in that mysterious way the universe works. Because this year, I could have said with enthusiasm and candor, “Thanks for asking…my Thanksgiving was actually great.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hot 100


Just about two years ago, I answered an ad looking for a “funny mom” to write a monthly column for a magazine. In a moment of bravery, I sent the publisher an email that said something like: I don’t know if I’m “funny” exactly, but I can be amusing. And I attached an old Holiday Letter that I’d sent out with my Christmas Cards in 2004.

The publisher called me almost immediately. This was his favorite part of the letter, he said:

Last night Joshua asked for potato chips for dinner. When I explained that potato chips are a snack, not a dinner, he burst into tears, sobbing and glowering in that way that only Joshua knows how. I suggested pasta, chicken nuggets, or peanut butter and jelly (thereby covering the only three foods that he’ll deign to eat) and he reacted as if I’d just slit his throat, howling and seething. (Think Golem in Lord of the Rings.)
“What’s wrong with chicken?” I said to him. “You like chicken.”
“I don’t want chicken!” he bellowed.
“Ever?” I asked.
“No, not ever. Don’t ever give me chicken,” he wailed. Then, just in case I thought I was having a conversation with a sane person, he added, “Even if I ask you for chicken, don’t give it to me!”


The publisher offered me the job.

When I got off the phone, I panicked. How would I ever be able to write up a column for a magazine every month? That would mean I’d need to be amusing on 12 separate writing occasions, and then if that all went well, there might be another year after that.

That magazine folded last January (I guess I wasn’t so amusing after all) and February 1st I started this blog to take up the writing slack that I had become used to. And this here that you’re reading right now is my 100th post.

I didn’t think I’d be able to write 12 pieces in a year, and I’ve just completed 100 in 10 months.

Listen, I know it’s not rocket science, but I figured out how to post pictures and change backgrounds and make those nifty little lists on the left. I even figured out how to re-do my posts when they started randomly (and out of nowhere) coming through with weird spacing and errant HTML code.

Maybe I just need a little something to celebrate right now, so Yay, me!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks Giving

Hey, I just wanted to take a quick second to thank you all for visiting, reading, commenting (sometimes) and for all the encouragement you have sent my way in emails or phone calls or stopping me in the supermarket. Every time I was ready to walk away from this blog, one of you said something to me that changed my mind. So thanks for that.

Really: Thank you.

The Green Eyed Monster Strikes Again

I just received this email from one of my Friday tennis mates:

Hey!

I just read the "Dream" Blog...what the hell is up with being giddy with Monday tennis?

What the hell is wrong with Friday tennis?

Is it Gina? So, she's gone...we all had to deal with it. OK, i will give her the great forehand-crosscourt shot. But other than that, what could it be? I could go blonde. I could wear glasses.

I am searching my soul...shaking my head...furrowing my brow (which is not helping my youthful appearance).

My mind is clouded with uncertainty.

(is crosscourt one word or two?)

Eileen


It’s true. Sometimes the Friday players feel threatened by the Monday group. In fact, everyone seems like they feel a little insecure about pairings and groupings and who’s playing whom. Tennis seems to take us all back to a scary, primal place (think: middle school) where, when we see each other playing on a different day with a different group, we think: Does she like that group more than our group? Is she having more fun with them?

I sometimes wonder whether the older women on the adjacent court feel like that about each other. Whether Mabel is looking wistfully two courts away at the Widow VonHoff because Widow VonHoff seems to be smiling a little more this week than when she and Mabel were partners. And if they do, I wonder whether that’s just because we’re women. And women are petty and insecure.

Or whether it’s because we’re women, and we’re built to fall in love. Over and over and over again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Confessions of A Popcorn Addict - Part V

I don’t know if this time will be for good. I’m taking it day by day. But aside from the toll that popcorn was taking on my teeth (not to mention my constant fear of the hulls becoming esophageal implants) I could delude myself no longer that my daily trough of popcorn was truly a two-point snack.

In the Land-o-Weight Watchers, every food on God’s green earth has a point value and those points are determined thusly. One can look up in the Weight Watcher’s Guide Book (or online) and, based on the portion size listed, acquire a point value. Or, if it’s a packaged foodstuff, one can use the handy Weight Watcher’s calculation tools, which are based on Serving Size, Calories, Fat Grams and Fiber. Either assessment is fair, and ideally, should yield that same point value.

Last week, after fearing again for my molars, I decided to try microwaved popcorn instead of my Orville R stove-top method. I popped up a bag of 94% Fat Free “Butter Flavor” and hoped, as I poured it into my popcorn bowl, that it would be a softer kernel experience overall.

Rude Awakening Number One occurred when the entire bag of micro popcorn barely filled my popcorn bowl. The bowl that is daily overflowing with my stovetop corn. The bowl that I sometimes fill twice.

Rude Awakening Number Two
was a result of my infuriating need to calculate points. I looked up the points value for the micro popcorn. The whole bag would be three points. Three points? I easily eat twice this much popcorn every afternoon, and I consider it two points. I’m really eating 6-points worth of popcorn every day? Say it ain’t so!

It was so. I know this because after cutting out the popcorn and replacing it with an actual two-point snack, I instantly dropped three pounds.

So, to Claudine’s friend, who, from 3000 miles away raised a skeptical eyebrow about my “2-point Vat of Popcorn” – I hear ya, sister. You don’t even know this, but because you were Claudine’s inspiration and she was mine, I regard you as my Weight Watcher Inspiration Once Removed.

Consider me intervened.

Confessions of A Popcorn Addict - Part IV


Last night I woke up at 2:18 AM and the whole house smelled like corn to me. Not popcorn; Green Giant tender niblet corn. But still.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Walk In The Woods

It’s days later, and I’m still thinking about the raccoon. We didn’t even know it was a raccoon at first. It was Laurie who figured it all out: the raccoon saw her dog and scared-to-deathedly dove into a hole in the tree. High, high up in the tree. At least twenty feet. So all Laurie and I could see when we looked up was its furry, rotund buttocks and its back legs sticking straight out, like Superman. I kept thinking of Winnie the Pooh, how he jammed himself into that hole and was so chubby he had to diet for days to get himself out of there.

I don’t think this raccoon is going to meet a similar fate.

First of all, there was nary a Kanga nor a Roo in sight to help heave or ho. Secondly, even if there were, they would need a fire truck ladder to get anywhere near him. I was hoping Laurie would write about the raccoon so I wouldn’t have to, but so far, she has not.

Laurie writes an excellent blog called My Big Walk. One Woman, One Year, One Thousand Miles. Basically, it’s a chronicle of her daily walking adventures and somehow I was invited to join her on one of them.

She took me to a county park, accompanied only by her dog and a granola bar. She has a three-mile-a-day walking goal, which basically means we walk for an hour. I don’t often walk in the woods and I now realize why. There is too damn much to pay attention to. Sticks, rocks, uneven terrain. The rampant thorn bushes shredded my knit gloves. The creek I stepped into muddied my new sneakers and left them smelling like poo. I prefer concrete and asphalt. They’re so much more civilized.

Both of us were happy to ignore the fact that the trails didn’t take us very far. They’d end abruptly and we’d backtrack to a new path. “Two markings on a tree mean TURN,” Laurie explained, as she’d hang a random left. She was completely confident navigating the woods. “I was a Brownie,” she said, as if this explained anything. I was a Brownie, too, but all I remember from that experience was learning the Mexican Hat Dance.

This was my first time meeting Laurie, so I wanted to be a good sport about the whole thing. She’s got a great sense of humor, is easy to talk to, and generous with advice and ideas about writing and walking and life, all of which helped to mitigate how envious I am about her blog. She loves to walk, loves to play tennis, loves to write. It was almost like being with a more disciplined, more accomplished, more woods-savvy version of me.

Neither of us found it easy to leave the raccoon. “Do you think we’re watching him expire?” she said at one point, and then, “I’m a little afraid he’s going to fall on me.” Those were the exact two thoughts that I was thinking at the time. Along with “God, I hope I don’t feel compelled to write about this.”

UPDATE:
She has written about it. And has pictures, as well. Here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

But Who's Counting?

Last night a friend of mine went to see his 100th Bob Dylan show. This is impressive on a few different levels – the main one, for me, being that he even knew it had been one hundred. When did he start keeping track? (How did he even remember?)

I guess I’m not a counter. I like playing tennis (which I’ve mentioned once or twice) and I love playing in my two weekly clinics, but I’m not even sure how many years we’ve been playing together. Although I’m pretty sure it’s not a hundred.

Laura the Tennis Pro once told us that in order for a shot to be consistent – that is, for you to rely on being able to hit a forehand groundstroke and get it to where you want it to go – you need to execute the shot correctly ten thousand times. How did that research come to be? Is someone actually counting?

Many of the things I like, I find it easier to have just one of. A few weeks ago my Neti Pot broke and I couldn’t bear the thought of a single day without a sinus rinse. So I went to Whole Foods and bought a replacement. I considered buying a second – a backup – but that seemed a bad idea. I thought I would take better care of the new Neti Pot if I didn’t have another waiting in the wings.

I only have one Barbie Doll. She sits on top of my pencil sharpener in her lavender crinoline and tights. I always know where she is.

Conversely, we had three copies (maybe four) of The Catcher in the Rye, and I can’t find any of them.

I was wracking my brain trying to think of something I could celebrate 100 of. And then it occurred to me: I’m just a few short Takes away from a hundred blog posts.

Hot damn!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Confessions of A Popcorn Addict - Part III

I was embarrassed to tell my husband that my Period Key was sticking. I’ve had the same problem with my 8 Key in the past, but I can go for days without typing an 8 so it’s something I was easily able to ignore. I knew once I told my husband about the Period Key, we were going to have to have The Popcorn Discussion.

I know popcorn is ultimately not my friend. I can feel enamel cracking under my crowns and am often vexed by hulls wedged into molar gums. And last week was not the first time I’ve had popcorn detritus caught in my throat. I know some people think I was overreacting to that, but I do personally know someone who had to go to a doctor to get a popcorn hull removed. Not only that, but if you Google “popcorn hull stuck in throat” there is some scary information available about not only infections, but asphyxiation.

I confessed to the popcorn in the same sentence as I lamented about my Period Key. I hung my head and giggled, a sure sign that I am wracked with shame.

My husband left the room and reappeared almost instantly with the Electrolux. He ran the wand over the keyboard once or twice, turned it upside down and shook it a bit (the keyboard, not the vacuum) and, like magic, my Period Key was back to its old supple self. My 8 Key also worked like new.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I swear I won’t eat popcorn in here anymore.”

“You said you weren’t going to eat popcorn anymore at all.”

“I know, I know,” I whined. “I’ve been trying.”

Even I could hear how pathetic I sounded.

I know that the first step in overcoming an addiction is to admit you have a problem. I feel like I have done that. I guess, deep down, I wish that were the only step necessary. That the rest of it would take care of itself.

I don’t know any other way to get through my 3 PM to 5 PM slump without an enormous bowl of popcorn. I need it. Even though it turns me into something primal and ugly.

My name is Jessica. I am a popcorn addict.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What A Nightmare!

Last night I had a dream that I missed tennis. I play on Mondays at noon – I’ve played this slot for four years – but for some reason, in my dream, I thought I was supposed to play at four. I spent the whole dream biding my time, taking on a little chore here and a little errand there, but mostly just waiting for four o’clock to roll around so I could go and fill my heart’s desire.

At about quarter to four (Dream Time) I was donning my tennis togs when I got a call from my mother. She needed a ride somewhere at 4:30 and I told her I couldn’t do it, but I didn’t tell her why.

I was too ashamed to tell my mother that I wouldn’t drive her to a doctor’s appointment because it conflicted with my tennis clinic. The tennis clinic that I anticipate all weekend long and that often singlehandedly gets me through the rough or tedious parts of the weekend. Even after all these years, Monday Tennis makes me giddy. I might be folding my eighth load of laundry, or watching my son try to perfect his Disappearing Coin trick for the four millionth time, and just when I think, I can’t do this for one more second, I remember that it’s only some two-digit amount of hours until tennis and I become so happy I could do a little jig.

I feel more entitled to my Monday Tennis than I do practically anything else in my life. I won’t schedule meetings at that time – even if it’s the only time that the other ten people can meet. I’ll put off doctor’s appointments. If finances are an issue I’ll happily forego all restaurant eating and movie going.

When (in the dream) I realized that my tennis clinic was actually at noon, not at four, and that I’d missed it, I was distraught. I went into a kind of dreamworld panic and irrationally began grasping at ways I could repair the mistake I’d made. There must be a way to turn back time, I dream-thought. And then, This must be some sort of bad dream!

I woke up sweaty and agitated, the way people sometimes do when they emerge from general anesthesia.

The whole thing would be funny except for this: I continue to believe that tennis – playing it and thinking about it and even writing about it – is actually the thing that’s keeping me sane.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Knock Knock

I was in the shower this morning, listening to GlassWorks and trying to remember an old Knock Knock Joke I’d heard about Philip Glass. I knew it played off his repetitive musical structure, but I couldn’t remember exactly which part of the joke repeated – and I kept getting it confused with the “orange-cha glad I didn’t say ‘banana’” punchline. It occurred to me that I could probably finish my shower, hop down to my office, type in Philip Glass Knock Knock Joke and get exactly the information I was looking for.

And for some reason, this realization made me a little depressed.

Not remembering the Philip Glass Knock Knock Joke is frustrating, yes, but it gives me the opportunity to suss out which of my friends know such silly nonsense. There’s a whole world of arcana that bonds me to people, it’s like Cultural Literacy Glue. Someone who knows and gets that Philip Glass Knock Knock Joke is a kindred spirit in some small way. It may be someone I play tennis with, or someone at my kid’s bus stop, but now I won’t ever find out because my question will already be answered before I even leave the house.

We all have our little repertoire of phrases that somehow communicate about a hundred times more than the words that they’re comprised of. They reference a time and an experience – presumably a shared experience – and bond us together, like secret passwords. But having that information so accessible on our phones and through our keyboards, it’s almost like it’s not our little secret anymore.

Does anyone understand what I’m talking about?

Anyone? Anyone?

Bueller?

Confessions of A Popcorn Addict - Part II

When we last left our hero, she was worried she might have a popcorn hull stuck in her throat.

I left my son’s Saturday soccer game to take a quick trip to the doctor – just to see if she could see any popcorn action down my throat. (She couldn’t.) She had complete faith that whatever I was feeling would eventually wend it’s way down and out of me. But because Dr. K had obviously warned her that I was wound a little tight, she gave me a scrip for an x-ray that I could have done on Monday in case my symptoms hadn’t subsided.

I went home and started boiling water. I drank hot water with lime all afternoon and I ate more bagels and more honey. One of the suggestions I’d come across over and over again online was to eat more popcorn. Popcorn, it seems, is the most effective remediation for “popcorn stuck in throat.” Part of me suspected this was someone’s idea of a joke, so I didn’t try it. Also, by then I had lost my taste for popcorn entirely. And I found the bagels and honey maddeningly delicious.

If you are wondering whether the honey I was eating came from the half-full jar that mysteriously appeared in my living room, the answer is yes. I’d found the honey on a Tuesday – the day that our cleaning woman comes – and since she is usually the source of many things lost and most things broken, I convinced myself that she was also the source of the mystery honey. I convinced myself that it was not Enemy Honey or even Abandoned Honey. Simply Forgotten Honey.

It was two weeks before my cleaning woman returned and when she did, I showed her the honey jar and asked if it was hers. It wasn’t.

So the source of the Mystery Honey remains a mystery. I can attest only to the fact that it’s not Poisoned Honey.

As for the popcorn hull, no x-ray necessary. By Monday, I no longer felt anything in my throat and in order to remain that way, I swore off popcorn altogether, a boycott that lasted from Friday until yesterday (Wednesday) at 4 pm, when I sat down with a huge bowl of perfectly popped, delectably salted Paul Newman’s Organic stovetop popped corn and took a conscientious moment halfway through the heap of it to ask the Popcorn Hull Gods to please spare my throat this go round, because, boy, did I need a fix.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Catcher in the Rye: The Mystery

Yesterday at 5:30 pm, my 15-year-old asked me for my copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He said he needed to bring it in for a school assignment. I looked on my bookshelf, which is only somewhat organized, and couldn’t locate it among the S authors on the fiction shelves. Then I looked on the other shelves. Then in the other half dozen places in the house that books reside. Then back on the fiction shelves in my office. It wasn’t anywhere.

This troubled me because not only is it my favorite book, but I’ve bought at least three copies of it over the years. Also, my husband had a copy. I could see its cover in my mind’s eye.

Last year, my book group read A Separate Peace, and again I knew that both my husband and I brought a copy of that book into our marriage. Yet I couldn’t find it at the time and ended up buying another one. As soon as I finished it, I found a place for it on the fiction shelf, and guess which other two copies of it were sitting there, right where they were supposed to be?

Had I simply overlooked them? Both of them? I like buying books, but I hate buying books that I already own. And I feel like we do that here, over and over again.

At 6 o’clock, my son asked more urgently for the book, leading me to believe that he not only had to bring it to school the next day, he also had to read some of it. The local bookstores close at 6, and I was holding fast in my principled decision not to buy this book a fourth time. So I started making calls.

I know Nancy has the book because she’s told me that her husband read it aloud to her son a year or so ago. She called me back at 6:30. She can’t find it. The family across the street – son at Stanford – can’t find it. The couple around the corner – ”yes we definitely have a copy of it somewhere” – can’t find it.

I posted my plight on Facebook and got similar results. “I was going to offer you my copy – my son just read it – but I can’t find it.”

I started calling up and down the street, and then to my most literate friends. No, no, no, no, yes. Okay, a friend has a copy but it’s from her high school days. “I’m taping up the cover now, but it’s like an antique,” she said. “I’m a bit afraid the pages will turn to dust when you open it. I definitely want it back.”

This is too much pressure and responsibility for me, especially given the fact that once my son is finished drinking a Poland Spring water, the bottle is barely recognizable as such.

Finally, another call – probably my 20h – yields a relatively intact copy.

Mr. Salinger, we all know you to be an elusive guy, if you know what I mean. But whatever is happening to your books is just crazy, goddamn it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Confessions of A Popcorn Addict

I saw Claudine at the soccer game and cornered her. “You have to talk me down,” I said. “I need to get some perspective. I’m a wreck.”

I went on to tell about the popcorn hull that might be stuck in my throat. I told the story chronologically and in real time, beginning with the bowl of popcorn I’d eaten Friday at 2 pm.

I told her about how my little tricks didn’t work: eating a bagel, slurping down honey, hot tea, cold soda. Nothing was dislodging it.

Claudine was more interested in the popcorn itself. “So, when you say you’re a popcorn addict, what exactly do you mean?”

“I eat it every day,” I said.

“For how long?”

“At least a year.”

“Every single day?”

“Pretty much.”She’s taking all this in as I continue my hypochondriacal tale of woe, which includes the doctor’s appointment I just made with Dr. K’s associate (my beloved Dr. K being on vacation) and my fear of needing emergency throat surgery to extract the clingy little hull. But also included the pesky fact that I’m not even sure if I still feel the thing anymore. My throat feels still feels odd, but the popcorn may have passed.

“How much do you eat?” she asked.

“I eat it every day,” I repeated.

“No, I mean, how much do you eat when you eat it.”

“A lot.”

“What, two cups? Five cups?”

She was asking this less to determine the extent of my addiction, than to assess how many Weight Watcher Points I squander on popcorn each day.

“I eat a vat of popcorn daily. I take a big bowl – big enough to contain all the other food I eat in the entire day – and I fill it with popcorn.” This confession got the attention of the man sitting on the other side of her. Claudine just nodded. She began doing some mental math.

“How much do you take for that?” she asked.

That’s Weight Watcher Talk. I’m not even offended that she’s less interested in my impending tracheotomy than my Points Balance. We’re always trying to find new ways to stave off hunger, we Weight Watchers.

“Two points,” I said, and continued my story, fashioning my hand into the shape of a clinging popcorn hull and mimicking how it probably latched onto the interior of my throat, never to be pried off.

From throats we started talking about lungs and she mentioned how her 9-year-old seems like he’s having a relapse from his bout of pneumonia in August. The doctor checked him and his x-rays are clear, but there’s still that unexplained crackling on his right side.

And just like that, I shut up about my popcorn.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lost and Found


Last Tuesday I found a jar of honey in the living room. It was just sitting there on the stereo cabinet beside a framed photograph of my kids. I snatched it up and marched straight into the TV room.

“Whose is this?” I demanded, holding it straight out in front of me. I tilted my wrist side to side for emphasis. “Whose honey is this?”

My kids just looked confused. Why is their mother yelling about a honey jar? Why is she treating it as if it were contraband?

I’ve been losing a lot of things lately, and that troubles me. But finding things almost feels worse.

I recently lost my favorite RayBan sunglasses, while talking to a crazy woman outside the pet store. Poof. Gone.

I lost my copy of The Kite Runner, my black Halloween cape, a white tennis skirt, a digital camera, and the combination lock I bought my son for his locker. Long ago we lost a pair of kitchen shears – we called them “the snippers” – and ever since then we pronounce every missing thing as “being with the snippers.” The Snippers have become our symbol for mentally letting go of things that are physically gone.

I ended up finding the white tennis skirt. I also found a Sports Authority Gift Card that we’d been looking for for at least three years, as well as a #2 Tupperware lid that had been confounding me for months.

I lost 20 pounds last year, and hope never to find that again. I lose and find both my sex drive and my sense of humor on a regular basis.

But the honey is an altogether different experience. First off, it’s not my brand. Secondly, it was half-eaten. And finally, aside from Winnie the Pooh, who keeps honey in the living room? This is not family honey that had once been lost; this is alien honey that has somehow made its way into my home.

My teenage son cannot even fathom what kind of crazy scenario I could be spinning out in my mind about how his friends are somehow responsible for this errant jar of honey. In fact, I can’t even fathom such a scenario. All I know is I’m on red alert. I feel like I can’t miss a trick. My kid hit high school and now every jar of honey is suspect.

It’s hard to know how to feel about lost things. Eyesight, cell phones, flexibility, innocence. When to keep insisting they’re around here somewhere; when to declare them having joined The Snippers. And harder still to embrace those new, unfamiliar things as gifts. A honey jar, half full, shows up in my living room.

I should be saying: “Sweet!”

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Social Tennis" by Guest Blogger Robin Seibert

Some of my friends are as crazy about tennis as I am. To wit:

I'm the kind of woman who could make Emily Post turn in her grave. Two decades working in the macho-minded record business followed by the birth of two boys kept me too busy to ever learn polite etiquette and dainty social skills. Hence, when the day came that my kids were finally old enough to spend the day at camp I panicked.

Alone, in my newly acquired Long Island summer home, I realized in my 40-plus years I had never learned how to chitchat with other women. So, in the summer of 2003 I began my foray into the social and political world of tennis.

After substantial encouragement from the local tennis pro, Bob, I quickly learned some basics and found myself able to get through a game of doubles and meet some of the other tennis ladies. This was perfect. I was socializing in a way that required no real conversation. I smiled a lot, shook hands and then went to retrieve the boys. I could meet people without engaging in chitchat, something I will never master.

The next summer I returned to the house and to tennis. I made some more progress and Bob introduced me to a woman of similar abilities. She and I started playing singles together. This was quite different from doubles. The only thing the two games have in common is that they use the same equipment. The thinking, the stance, the attitude is as different as walking is to marathon running.

We were very civilized, both of us hitting nice, slow, high-arcing ground strokes, back and forth until one of us finally made an error. So encouraged, I decided to try and continue playing back in New York City during the rest of the year.

By this time, I want to master this thing. I start playing three times a week, dragging myself uptown, the house is a mess, there's no food at home, but damn it, I'm going to learn this game. And learn I do. I'm thinking about it when I'm off the court and visualizing myself on the court, and practicing "air strokes" at home. I get into a rhythm, I have a clinic, I join the round robins and start setting up doubles games with people I'm meeting there. Keeping up a tennis game in Manhattan is no easy feat—limited space means expensive court time, so I'm pretty much sticking to doubles in the city.

Two summers after I started out, I find myself on the court in a doubles game with the woman I started out with on singles. She doesn't keep up the game over the winter, so it's like learning to walk all over again for her. Oh my god, I'm thinking, what's wrong with her? All she can do is lob that ball; why doesn't she get to the net? I'm getting more and more frustrated, but I know this is a polite sport and I would never, ever let her know how angry I am. I'm realizing she has no idea that she has to get to the net to win and now I’m thinking maybe she's scared. Yes that's it; she's scared to come to the net. She feels safe back there doing her same old boring lobs. She and I lose every game that summer in the little inter-club competitions we play in. She doesn't seem to care. I care. I don't want to lose.

And I'm losing because of her.

I begin to yearn for tough-minded singles games. I opt only to play singles with people a step up from me. I've become obsessed with finding 3.5 players to my 3.0. I've become obsessed with my tennis skirts. My husband is horrified: Who have I become? I don't know myself, but I can tell him this: it's not some wimpo doubles loser.

With singles, I am master of my own domain. My wins are truly my wins, my losses, mine. Why? I own my game. Yes, I'm exhausted from two hours of non-stop running, and I can't just scream “yours” when I'm too pooped to go for the ball. I fight through summer humidity; I fight through aching muscles, to keep on playing. Win or lose, I'm out there, dependent on no one else. I’m still socializing, but I’m never having to say, “I’m sorry.”

Now, back in the NYC doubles circuit, I have a revelation. It hit me the other day, when I was up at the net poaching into my partner's territory to get the short ball, that I have to take into account what HER feelings will be if I screw it up. I resent that. I want to go for what I want with no thought as to anyone else out there. But as I hit a disappointing volley, my brain now flashes to what is going on behind me with my partner. Did she switch? Should I have shouted switch? Was she going to go for that short one? Is she angry? Is she making faces at me behind my back? My attention is now completely off the game but centers on my relationship with my partner. Wait, isn't this tennis supposed to be my escape from the messiness of interpersonal relationships?

I finally understand why I’m so drawn to singles. It's not just that I can own my game in singles, it's that I don't have to be nice. I don't even have to pretend to be nice. I can be as blatantly competitive, ball-hogging and relentless as I want to be with no apologies.

I run to poach that short ball. But I dream of those summer days of singles, glorious singles.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Goodbye, Head. Hello, Wilson!

I just got a new racquet. It’s a Wilson K-Factor Zen Team. But more importantly, it’s orange.

I am not a woman of color. Meaning, it’s taken me decades to even try on clothes that weren’t black, white or gray. My mother used to offer to pay me if I’d buy a non-black something-to-wear. But recently, I’ve been stepping out of my own accord.

Moving to the suburbs helped. Once out of New York, I felt the freedom to experiment with a baby blue here, a raspberry there.

One season I became totally smitten with a color the J. Crew catalog called “Lettuce.” They were talking Boston or Bib, not Romaine – a light green that practically screams springtime. I bought a sweater-set (of all things) and then stopped wearing it almost immediately. Every time I put in on, someone would ask me if I was coming down with something. Eventually I just passed it on to a friend and went back to buying nice, safe black.

I’ve been trying out new racquets for three months. My tennis instructors choose demos for me based on my playing. I, on the other hand, tend to make choices based on the racquets’ names.

I didn’t want a Wilson. Bo-ring. I wanted a Babolat. I’d played with a few red ones over the summer and then the Aero Strike since September. I would take the orange Wilson and a yellow Babolat onto the court and switch them out every few games. I didn’t really feel more simpatico with one over the other, but everyone I played with urged me toward the Wilson.

“It’s your color,” they’d say.

“Really? Orange?“

“Oh, yes!”

So, I bought it.

I showed up on the court this week with my new orange Wilson K-Factor Team Zen racquet and matching orange shirt. In fact I matched the racquet almost precisely with my white skirt and black wristwatch. Gina said I looked like Pumpkin Bisque, which I’m 99% sure she meant as a compliment.

In fact, if I had bought myself those badass black tennis shoes that Shelley got last week, you’d barely be able to tell me apart from my racquet at all. But I could never wear black tennis shoes. Here’s the sad truth: I’m just not a good enough player to wear black.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Am I Crazy About Tennis?

I couldn’t wait to get to tennis today.

The game started at 11 and over the next hour and a half we managed to discuss inaccurate body images, various methods of organizing our to-do lists and had a quick recap of our undergarments.

We wondered whether we could manage if we had to play tennis in the well-mannered south.

We childishly distracted Laura the Tennis Pro from her serious team-tennis coaching responsibilities three courts down. Admired the cute tennis ladies on the next court, each of us surreptitiously picking which one we hoped to grow into 25 years from now. And of course I silently chastised myself for being a hothead when players show up late for a game.

We also managed to discuss the gluten intolerance of two of the players, the ADD of those players’ kids as well as one player’s need for caffeine for her own ADD. The curiously – no make that eerily -- high incidence of breast cancer on one of our town’s streets. The mom in town who just passed away this week at age 39. (They said she’d died of cancer. I had thought it was something else.) The beloved elementary school teacher who’s on hiatus this year for cancer treatment.

Then we hauled out all the friend-and-family cancers. My dad’s. Ann’s dad’s. Lynn’s first friend who died of breast cancer in her thirties.

We even played a few good points amidst some outright buffoonery.

I don’t really expect anyone to understand this, but to me, those 90 minutes were like heaven on earth.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Banana Man

I’m feeling really badly for the banana man.

I saw him on the corner as I turned into the supermarket parking lot. He was dressed like a banana, but the costume was cheap. It was not a big, firm Chiquita banana suit. It was more like a flimsy yellow tunic cinched together around the knees and atop his head so he gave the impression of a banana. A Picasso banana, not a Chuck Close.

But it wasn’t the costume that saddened me, it was the way he wore it. He was a big guy, shaped more like an eggplant than a banana. He wore glasses and hadn’t shaved for a few days and he clearly looked unhappy in his fruity role. He held a sign for the local party goods store, but he hung his stem in shame.

You could tell by looking at him that he was not a popular fellow. Perhaps he still lived with his mother. I almost wished he lived alone, so when he returned home at night, he wouldn’t have to recount his day as a banana to anyone. That seemed like it would just kill him.

I wondered whether it was the nature of the job. Whether anyone who had to work as a banana would feel the same way. I don’t think so. I think my husband would be a happy banana. I can think of at least a dozen other men who would as well. I tried to imagine George Bush as a banana. And, of course, Obama. What I’m saying is, if you stick a man in a banana suit, you are not hiding his true identity. You’re illuminating it.

I often get impatient with people like this guy. Sulky and self-pitying. I would normally think, Come on! Be a good banana!

But it was just wrong to put this guy in a banana suit. He’s not cut out for it. Somebody upstairs should have been paying closer attention, given the job to the pink-haired girl with the nose rings. This guy should be filling the helium balloons, maybe erecting the window display.

I mean, really. What does it take to pick the right banana?

Friday, October 9, 2009

You Say Tomato...

Today’s tennis lesson was ostensibly about moving in and taking control of the net. But I think we all took away a little something more.

Laura the Tennis Pro has asked, time and again, that we all wear black on Fridays. No reason, really, except that we all seem to show up in black most of the time and I think she just wants to institutionalize it. Ann and I, good Do-Bees that we are, wore black tops and skirts.

Kelly is new to the group and still needs to extend her black tenniswear. Weeks ago she had no black. Now at least she has a black skirt. But her top was grape colored today. And Lorna – subbing for Eileen – had a top that was raspberry.

Ann immediately pointed out the discrepancy. “They’re dressed like sherbet,” she said, in part because they did look like refreshingly flavored ices, but also, I believe, because Ann’s new diet has not permitted her to eat anything besides fruits and vegetables since Sunday and I think, deep down, she delighted at the idea of turning her competitors into frosty foodstuffs.

I could just imagine her saying, “Take that you freaky ice pop!” before slamming one down the line.

How it was that we began to debate the spelling of “sherbet” is a little less clear.

It is definitely one of those words that I see in my mind’s eye whenever I say it aloud. I pronounce it “sher-bert,” but I envision it with only one “r."

“You’re thinking of ‘sorbet,’” Ann said as the group vacillated about the existence of the second “r.”

“No, no. Sorbet is a whole different thing,” I said. I was certain that sherbet was spelled with one “r” but pronounced with two.

Lorna has an English accent and that made things more complicated. "In England it is very definitely spelled with one 'r.' We pronounce it “shuh-buht.” I don’t know, that still sounds like two “r’s” to me.

I agreed to take on the daunting task of research and dissemination – committed as we are to being a well-spoken tennis group. But my findings are not very enlightening.

"Sherbet" is the preferred spelling. And “sher-bet” is the preferred pronunciation. If you insist on saying “sher-bert,” then you must spell it “sherbert,” which is considered an American variation of “sherbet” and, just for the record, red-lined by my spell-check program every time I write it.

That's all there is to it. I admit, I’m left feeling a little confused and unsatisfied – a place I often find myself when my old, tired brain is trying to grok something new. I don’t think I will ever bring myself to say “sher-bet.” Luckily, I prefer sorbet.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What Not To Wear


I have to confess, whenever I go to the pet store to get crickets for that infernal gecko of mine, I linger just a little longer than I need to at the doggie apparel rack. I actually consider it ridiculous when people dress their dogs in anything (and those rain slickers for dogs are beyond reproach) but I have to admit, the buyer for Petco has good taste and I’ve come this close to buying peace-sign laden cardigans for my friend’s Shiba Inus.

But that’s fashion. Whether it has any place on dogs is not for me to say.

The specimen you see here was walking alongside Laura the Tennis Pro and me as we were leaving the US Open. She snapped a quick picture and we went on our way. I’d completely forgotten about this bedecked pooch, taken as I was with Melanie Oudin that day and then for the next few. In fact, I think Laura the Tennis Pro even forgot about him until she read my post about the dog riding the motorcycle.

But here he is, looking more like he’s leaving a Grateful Dead show than the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. My main issue with doggie clothing is that it’s all just a little too precious. And it seems undignified for a dog to require layering. This dude, however, is neither fending off the cold nor hoping to end up as a Glamour “Do.” He’s making a statement, although I’d be hard pressed to say what it is.

I’m thinking a total makeover is in order. And if nothing else, lose the pipe. It’s just downright pretentious.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Close, But No Cigar

Forty-nine suits me. I haven’t been this age for long, but I am already more comfortable here than I thought I’d be. I received a birthday card that said: OMG are you 49? Wow! That’s so close to 50 without actually being 50.

Somehow when a sentiment like that is offered up by a younger brother it’s not as offensive as it otherwise might seem.

One of the reasons I like 49 is that it has a square root. I know that’s not earth shattering, but neither is it something you can lay claim to every year. The last time I was a square-rootable age was 36. That seems like a lifetime ago. And the next time will be 64, and I’ll have passed through at least two prime numbers to get there.

Perhaps more appealing though, is that my body and my age finally seem like they’re in sync. I think the contribution gravity has made actually makes my face look a little better. And now my soft belly and flabby arms (which are identical, I’m sorry to say, to those I was sporting in my twenties) are finally age appropriate.

I don’t think I laugh any harder or cry any less, but I do move through things more quickly. I’ve taken some advice that I read once in a Pema Chodren book: I try to see my thoughts and emotions more like clouds than like prison cells. They’re not places to dwell, but rather something to observe as they pass across the sky. It’s their nature to come and go.

People are sometimes surprised that I’m on the verge of 50 and I think that’s because, in general, I am very immature. Mentally, I've always been a bit stuck at age 13 and this becomes very evident when you see what strikes me as funny. I have a fifteen-year-old son and, for the most part, I think he and his friends are hilarious. For some reason, that kind of silly sense of humor still seems ok at 49. I may have to rethink it at 50.

Turning 40 practically left me in traction. Quite literally, I turned 40 and the next day I threw out my back and had to crawl into the doctor’s office. So I’m not inclined to look forward to anything that resembles a milestone.

I love that about 49. Its no-big-dealness. You’re in an unmarked car. No one even expects much wisdom from you yet. You’re only close. But no cigar.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Help!

“Hello….?”

I was way in the back of the house in my office reading about a legally insane killer on the loose in Washington State. I was feeling kind of proud of myself for being able to read a story like this and not get too rattled. This was partly because the killer was last seen in Spokane, Washington, which is pretty far away, and partly because nature always seems so much more unpredictable and dangerous than mere mortals. I don’t typically squander my worry on serial killers.

HELLO…?”

I’d heard the call the first time, but ignored it. Our squeaky front door had opened and a deep voice said hello, but I was busy reading my article and I assumed it was one of my son’s friends announcing the group’s arrival. I could hear people shuffling in, the door closing behind them. There are probably twelve teenaged boys who regularly come and go in my house and their voices are always in flux. None of them sound like they did three weeks ago. So even though I wasn’t sure who specifically had come in, I was reasonably certain who it was in general.

Imagine my surprise when, at the third hello, I finally make my way out to the front door only to find three strangers standing in my foyer. The man is in his early forties and the two women with him look a little younger. They’re all dressed to go out on a Saturday night, but my first thought is, “Is this guy planning to kill me? And if he is, why did he bring his lady friends along?”

We stood regarding each other for what seemed like an awfully long time. I don’t have the ability to raise one eyebrow (as my son can) but I do have a whole squinty-eyed/brow-furrowing look that even a stranger can tell means, “I think you have some ‘splainin’ to do.” But that look seemed to mean nothing to him, and that really scared me. The insane killer I’d been reading about was a paranoid schizophrenic, slave to the voices in his head, so certainly this man in my foyer must be riddled with the same affliction.

Ultimately, I broke the ice. “Um, who are you?”

The man finally looked appropriately mortified. “Isn’t this Rich G’s house?”

“No. They live next door.”

What followed were lots of “Oh my Gods” and “I’m so sorrys,” as the three of them backed sheepishly out of the house.

Minutes later the phone rang. It was Laurie from next door. My interlopers were old friends of theirs but had never been to their house. I told her how odd it seemed, my standing right in front of them and their still not getting that they’re in the wrong house. “Once they saw me, you’d think they’d realize that it wasn’t your house?” I said to her, feeling rattled by serial killer thoughts after all. “I mean, I’m obviously not you.”

“They thought you were the help,” she said.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kitchen: Before and After the Teenagers


If I had known that all it took was an after-school avalanche of tortilla chips and salsa to get teenage boys to profess their undying love, I'd have had a very different adolescence. Just sayin'.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Overheard

Overheard at Chinese food take out shop:

Customer: What is this meat on a stick thing?

Counterwoman: It’s meat on a stick.

Customer
: But what kind of meat is it?

Counterwoman: It’s meat. On a stick.

Customer: Is it big? How big is it?

Counterwoman: It’s meat on a stick.

Custome
r: Ok. I’ll take four.

Friday, September 18, 2009

At What Price Love?

We all thought Sloane left us. It wouldn’t have been a shock. She was moved to a higher level in her Spring tennis league and we just assumed that those would be the women she would play with come autumn. We all know she’s better than us. How could we not? She tells us all the time.

Ok, that’s not really true. Better, yes. But she doesn’t actually “tell us” – she simply “lets us know.”

One of the reasons I love playing with Sloane is that she’s tough as nails. She’s a powerful hitter and an unapologetic player. And she’s as unforgiving with her partners as she is with her opponents. “Did you just decide not to go for that shot?” she’ll say if you’re playing beside her. None of us would ever take that from any other partner, but from Sloane, it’s just part of her charm.

So Surprise #1 today was that Sloane was on the court. Surprise #2 was that she could barely play.

“Sloane met a guy,” they announced as I walked on the court. “It’s good,” she said and grinned. “But I haven’t played tennis in six weeks and I think I’ve lost my game.”

Her assessment wasn’t far off. She didn’t have her serve, she didn’t have her power, but most troubling, she didn’t have her attitude.

Playing tennis with Sloane is a little like playing with Fonzie. She’s got the severe look and the puffed up strut and today all of that was gone. She tried once, early on, to say something menacing to her opponents and she couldn’t keep the grin off her face.

Can you really not play tennis if you’re in love?

Sloane missed shot after shot and cursed her lover under her breath. And then, after about four games, things slowly started coming back.

First she got her wide forehand back and almost instantly she was walking a little taller. Then her serve started coming back. Her backspin was not yet consistent, but still you could see it in her step, she knew it was just a matter of time.

She and I won the first set and that helped a lot. Eleanor likes the new Sloane, but I find it unnerving. I enjoyed forcing myself to concentrate in spite of her mental shenanigans and this new Sloane didn’t have a shenanigan to her name.

We switched partners after the first set and Sloane was again not doing so well. She started berating her partner for missing things, for not running fast enough. At one point I hit a shot that she couldn’t get to and she gave me a lot of props. Then she blew the next point altogether and said, “You know why I missed that? Because I was too busy thinking about how I complimented Jessica’s last shot too much.” It seemed like the old Sloane was inching back, although perhaps becoming a victim of her own hubris.

Anyone who’s ever played with Sloane knows that she just hates to lose. And maybe being down a few games was just what she needed to get her groove back. Ultimately Sloane and Tracey pulled it out, coming up out of nowhere and winning the set.

I’m not sure about this guy – what havoc he’s going to wreak on our Thursday games. Yes, Sloane seems smitten with him, but is that really enough? It’s a lot more complicated than just meeting someone you want to spend all your time with. We’re talking about ladies tennis, after all.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guess What I Saw Today?

I was driving down the West Side Highway, minding my own business, and glanced in my rear-view mirror (as I am wont to do every 15 seconds or so) only to find myself being quickly overtaken by a motorcycle. Not just any motorcycle. This was a two-passenger motorcycle -- and one of the passengers was a dog.

How does a dog ride on a motorcycle, you may be asking yourself. Well, first of all, he rides in front of the driver, not behind. The gas tank had a cozy lamb fleece on top of it and then another cushy pillow and on top of that, the dog, whose paws were placed securely on the handlebars and of course he was wearing sunglasses so no bugs would get in his eyes. It was a midsized dog, a Boxer or something. He looked good in shades. Not like Peter Fonda, but appealing enough.

I’m not sure how the driver kept the dog from falling off. Even my own limited knowledge of biology and physics tells me that to steady oneself on a moving motorcycle, one really needs opposable thumbs.

I was on the phone with a friend when the bike passed me and I had to stop my conversation and describe the spectacle in vivid detail. My friend was as astonished as I was -- maybe more so. He actually considered it “animal abuse.”

“The dog was smiling,” I assured him. But he wasn’t convinced.

“It’s hard to tell with a Boxer,” he said.

And I guess that’s kind of true.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I’m Not So Odd…


My husband recently characterized our relationship as a Felix and Oscar, which is just blatantly untrue. Yes, I leave drawers and cabinets ajar, but I don’t set half-eaten sandwiches on the couch and then go off to bed.

What I do do is float in and out of tidiness. Some days I’ll bend down and pick up the dirty socks that “Felix” left on the kitchen floor. Some days I just walk past them.

What I am not is fastidious. I don’t know how you get like that, but it seems way more complicated than just a decision that’s made over morning coffee. I have a friend who launders his shoelaces and has black rubber galoshes for his windshield wipers. (Wiper booties, they’re called.) Some of my tennis pals have relationships with their irons and steamers and vacuum cleaners that I cannot even begin to understand.

My big problem is that I have no secret intermediary area – a household purgatory, if you will -- where things can reside for a while between the time that I’ve decided they’ve outlived their usefulness and the reaching of their ultimate resting place. I pull things out that need to be recycled, or donated, or trashed, or sold and they just sit out in the open because I’m afraid that if they go in the basement or the attic, I’ll forget about them.

But really, does any of that make me an Oscar?

I’d love to think of my husband and me as more like Ricky and Lucy or even George and Gracie. But if not Felix and Oscar then I think I might have to cop to his other favorite characterization of me:

This one is almost too easy to picture. Me with my nose pressed against the window, wiping my hands on a dishtowel and, in my squeaky, nasal voice, shouting, “Ab-ner!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Karma All Around


I was driving down the street yesterday when I saw this sign.

It says “If your dog is thirsty he or she may have a drink.” The sign was taped to the base of a fence at the edge of a sidewalk and next to it was a paper-plate bowl filled with water. I can’t think of a simpler or more direct example of Karma at work: offering it up; providing for whoever may need.

I tried to hold that image in my heart all day, opening doors for people and keeping my temper in check with the Verizon Wireless woman when I called about my bill. I even held my tongue when the teenager called to tell me he’d lost his backpack on the first – actually not even the first, the before-first, orientation – day of school. What I’m saying is, I saw this sign and made a big, fat effort to spew forth goodness all day long.

Nevertheless, the baby bird that landed on our driveway, the one that my son and his friend spent the whole afternoon photographing, videotaping, feeding worms and looking for its mother, died last night in a little shoebox in the garage. We had a small service and buried him by the fence. Then I spent a wrenching hour trying to convince my son that the death was not his fault.

In between rolling my eyes about karma, I spent a lot of last night in that agitated place I dwell the night before school starts. I really hate change of any kind and I’m equally unfond of letting go – two life positions that seem about as un-Buddhist as one can get.

I held doors open for people all day long! Why did the bird die?

My son was distraught and, at the ripe old age of ten, deigned to let me hold him for a long time before bed. The circumstances sucked, but the end result was the same. I got a moment – a long, juicy, delectable moment – to really hold onto him again before having to release him back into the world.

And I wonder now whether that wasn’t my provision after all.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Oudin Rocks

The other day, Laura the Tennis Pro brought me to the US Open. Obsessed as I am about tennis, I rarely watch it played on TV and I’ve never been to a professional tennis match before. She asked me who I wanted to watch and I told her I didn’t even know.

We ended up going to Arthur Ashe Stadium first and watching a match between Elena Dementieva and Melanie Oudin. It was clear right away that the crowd was rooting for Oudin, the bright-eyed 17-year-old and I assumed it was because she was American. So I started rooting for her too.

I liked her subdued little outfit and her funky sneakers. And I especially liked her understated fist pump and the “Come on!” that popped out of her, in a voice both very big and very little, every time she won a point.

When she won that match, she was nearly speechless during the courtside interview. She thanked the crowd for cheering her on. She said it helped.

That was the first time I got really choked up over Oudin. There was this moment when she was down a few points and the whole stadium just swelled up in applause in an attempt to bolster her through the next point. It was everyone’s way of saying, “It’s ok. You can do this. We’re right here with you.”

It reminded me of this time when my son was about five years old. He was in a play and a girl came out to sing her solo and she was so scared she could barely stand up straight. She croaked out the song with tears streaming down her face, her body rigid in the determination it took to just get through this moment. The audience held it’s collective breath for her and when she was through erupted into a most amazing ovation.

People pulling for people. That always makes me cry.

Yesterday I watched Oudin in a match against Maria Sharapova. I turned on the TV somewhere in the middle of the second set and found myself surprised at how much enthusiasm I was able to muster for TV sports. When Oudin won this match the interviewer spent a little more time with her. Not just “how does it feel?” but also asked her to talk specifically about her drive and ambition.

We all sit and wait for those morsels, don’t we? What’s going on in there that’s driving someone to be the best? That enables a 5-year-old to root herself stoically to a stage and get through a solo if it’s the last thing she’ll do?

But like the little soloist, Oudin is a kid. She hasn’t lived long enough to dish out a satisfying amount of self-reflection. She starts talking about her childhood, when she would barrel around the house knocking things over, and you’re not really sure if she’s offering up the irony of early clumsiness or spinning some metaphor about never letting anything stand in her way.

In the end she just beamed up at the crowd with gratitude. “Thank you so much for cheering for me,” she said. Seventeen years old, moment of glory, spending it giving thanks. There’s something about her that takes my breath away.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rules, Rules, Rules.

Have I had just had my first taste of what it will be like getting my son through high school?

He joined the Cross Country Team and they’ve been in pre-season for the past two weeks. Up every morning at 6:30, at the track by 7:30, running sprints and laps and miles around the park, rain or shine. It’s hard, it’s hot, it ‘s early and it’s daily. On the way, he turns the car stereo up loud and finds music to inspire him. It’s his only chance to lodge a song in his head to run to. The boys are not allowed to wear headphones while they run. The coaches call it the Billy D. Rule.

Billy D. was a Cross Country Runner at the high school a few years back. He always ran with his iPod and was reportedly hit six times by cars as a result of his not being attentive enough.

Six times?

Wouldn’t you think just once would do the trick?

Not long ago I entertained fantasies of my son getting through high school and being able to send him off to some great Engineering School. Now all I care about is that he gets through four years without having any Rules named after him.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lazy. Late. Lucky. Ugly.

“You’re late, Jess, you’re late!”

This is one of the six sentences that my tennis instructor yells at me over and over again. He’s not talking about what time I show up for my lesson. He’s talking about my not taking my racquet back early enough. Which apparently I never do, time and time again.

Here’s another sentence:

“C’mon, get there, Get There, GET THERE!”

I never seem to be in the right place at the right time. I like to think this is only true for tennis, but I’m not so sure.

My tennis instructor thinks I’m lazy. I know this to be true because here’s another sentence: “Stop being lazy, Jess! Get to the ball!”

I have tried so mightily to explain to him that what I actually have is a perception problem. I would happily be where I’m supposed to be if I had any clear idea of where exactly that was. I argue this point with him vehemently. “I’m not lazy! I just can’t judge where the ball is going to be.”

I hate when people think I’m lazy. Probably because I really kinda am.

Sometimes I feel like I’m mentally defective. He feeds me a ball, calls out that it’s short, tells me to come to it and still I’m standing at the baseline not moving, or not moving fast enough, because, hello, that’s quite a lot of information for me to process all at once.

Once in a while he’ll feed me a shot that’s really hard to get. And I’ll get it! At those times I like to mention to him that I just hit a good shot. That’s when I get this sentence:

“You were lucky, Jess. I don’t want you to be lucky. I want you to be consistent.”

Lucky isn’t ok? I love being lucky.

Other times I’ll hit a ball that makes us both cringe. “That worked. But it was ugly.”

More often than not, there will be a moment during my lesson where I’ll think, “Why am I doing this? Why am I trying to learn a game that I cannot possibly think fast enough to play? And why am I paying someone to talk to me this way?”

It’s like therapy. Humbling, relentless, arduous work with a few peak moments thrown in for good measure. Like therapy, I can’t stop.