Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's Not Easy Being Random

A few weeks ago, I agreed to participate in David’s Second Annual Pay It Forward Day. I don’t know David. It was an event sent to me as an electronic message by an old work colleague. The event was to take place December 1st, from 7:00 AM to 8:30 PM. Participants were asked to perform a random act of kindness. Pay for someone’s coffee. Help someone out. Get the next person’s gas. “When you do something for someone,” David wrote, “there’s a good chance they’ll do something nice for someone else.”

This is exactly the type of thing I love getting involved in. Or so I thought.

I made a commitment to myself to participate and immediately had specific Random Acts in mind. I had two doctor appointments that day and I was going to bring a bouquet of flowers to the receptionist at each office.

I don’t know if anyone remembers December 1st, but it was a wet and windy Wednesday. Branches and trees were falling and the rain came down in torrents. I couldn’t bear the thought of parking and walking to a florist before my noon appointment, so I excused myself from Act I and arrived at that doctor’s empty-handed. The rain continued. I did not want to go to the florist any more at 3:00 than I did at noon, but I had to get some milk so I went to the grocery store and picked up a potted plant for receptionist number two.

The gift seemed to please her, and I was happy I had kept my promise, but deep down I knew I had cheated. This was a doctor I visit often, and I have a close, friendly relationship with the receptionist. There didn’t seem anything random about bringing her a plant at holiday time. It was just a nice (albeit an uncharacteristically nice) thing for me to do.

Later that day, I felt the disappointment mounting. Then a friend emailed me and told me she couldn’t get herself out into the horrible weather to perform her random act, so she was going to do it tomorrow. I jumped all over her, saying that there were still plenty more hours of Pay It Forward Day remaining. She was stuck in the house with her young kids, she said. You can figure something out, I said. I simply would not let her off the hook.

She said she was going to make an online donation to an organization that she’s supported in the past. I told her I thought she could do better than that.

It’s not that I’m against organized charities – I’m not. But charitable donations do not smack of Random Acts of Kindness – at least not to me. I feel like the whole point of Random Acts, is to do something that’s really atypical for you. Even better if it’s anonymous. Better still if it’s a little difficult. Nowhere is this written, but I had embraced it as if it were law.

I’m not sure what made me such a complete bitch about this “event,” but it wasn’t lost on me, even at the time, that my crummy attitude was completely counter to the spirit of what David hoped to conceive. I’ve spent most of my adult life across from a therapist, inspecting how I take out on other people my own shortcomings. Here I was, doing it again, and all of a sudden decades of therapy bills seemed like a complete waste of money.

So, partly to honor my commitment and partly to get better value out of my therapy dollar, I forced myself to stop berating my friend and instead myself go execute the Act that I thought she should have done.

I pulled out the phone book, opened it up, pointed to a name and circled it. I got an envelope, addressed it to my randomly-chosen name, stuck a twenty-dollar bill in a card and dropped it in the mail.

I did do all that. But there was a lot of time between each step. Because when something is especially hard for me, I stall. And I find reasons not to go through with it. Like: This is an old phone book, what if this person doesn’t live there anymore? And: I don’t really like that name, maybe I should open to a different page and pick someone new. Or: What if this is a substance abuser and I’m contributing to his ultimate demise. But especially: Money is tight; this is not the time to be sending it to complete strangers.

By the time I actually got the card into the mail, it was December 3rd, and even that took a lot of effort. The whole thing felt like flushing money down the toilet to me – money I really don’t have to flush.

But when I think of that man opening his mail, reading an unsigned card that starts off, “Hi, you don’t know me, but…” and having a twenty dollar bill fall into his lap, it sort of makes me wish I had put in a little more. I imagine him using it to take his son out for an ice cream, or maybe bringing home a pizza for the family. I imagine him going to work the next day and surprising someone with a cup of coffee. Or letting someone go ahead of him at the bank. And then that new person going out of her way to return someone’s dropped glove. A little domino effect that might go on and on forever.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Perhaps the question that needs to be asked is: Why a flash mob? Why not just show up at someone’s wedding or bar mitzvah and join in a line dance?

I really wanted it to be a Flash Mob, because in a Flash Mob there’s surprise.

I understand that now, because I can pinpoint the exact moment when it occurred to me that there might not be any element of surprise in this happening.

We arrived early at the hotel to rehearse – this is because, despite a brushing of snow on the ground and reportedly icy conditions, Claudine got us into Midtown in 30 pre-dawn minutes – and the four of us (Claudine, her two friends Amy and Joanna, and I) sat down on the carpeted ballroom floor to wait for the organizers to show up. A woman in a hot pink hoodie sat down next to us and announced, “I’m so glad to see that there are other people here my own age.” We all smiled politely, even though she looked like she was close to 70 and even if she were only 60, none of us consider that “our own age,” especially not Joanna, who is 27.

Eventually, rehearsal began and it didn’t matter how old anyone was anymore, we all set about the task of perfecting our 5-minute Cha-Cha dance. After an hour there were still splinter groups learning the basic steps while the rest of the room was running the routine. And then we were allowed a break.

At this point it was after 8:00. Nothing was mentioned about a solitary person jumping out of the crowd and starting the dance. No groups were formed that would constitute the spontaneous eruption of satellite dancers. We were all just going to start dancing at the appointed time, which was 10 a.m. It was then that my crest began to droop.

The four of us went out for breakfast and returned a little before 9:30, the time that we were to set out for Times Square. Before we left, everyone received a powder blue skullcap with a Charmin logo on it and the Spanish words “ir es disfrutar” which seem to mean something like “take pleasure in.” “Take pleasure in this toilet paper,” our hats commanded, as we put them on and headed up 43rd Street to Military Island.

There, in the middle of Times Square, were a stage, speakers, Charmin signage, filming crews and three Latina Cha-Cha dancers recruiting people off the street to learn the dance moves that we just woke up at 5 a.m. to perfect. There were tables set up where they were giving away Charmin skullcaps and herding masses of people into the barricaded Cha-Cha area.

“Make sure you wear your wristbands,” they told us at the hotel, “or you won’t be permitted into the secured area.” Huh? The only people who were not in the “secured area,” were those who opted not to stand outside for 25 minutes in 10-degree cold and listen to a Charmin pitch blaring in Spanish throughout Times Square.

At this point, none of us four had a buoyant crest among us.

One of us managed to spit out the words that the rest of us were too appalled to utter. “This is not a Flash Mob. It’s a tacky PR stunt.”

There was really no reason to stay at that point, except for the fact that we’d all gotten up at 5 o’clock and spent the last two hours practicing a dance routine that we’ll otherwise never do again in our lives. So we did stay. Until 10:00. When they announced that the moment we’d all been waiting for had finally arrived.

However, this was not the moment I’d been waiting for. I was waiting for a moment that never came at all. The moment where magic breaks open a crowd of innocent bystanders and they look on with a mix of incredulity and delight. Even the woman who came to her 4th floor Broadway office window and looked down at us standing numbly in the cold just shook her head and walked away.

In the end, we did our Charmin Cha-Cha. You might think the saddest part of it all was being mistaken for a 70-year-old, or having to wear a cheap Charmin skullcap on my perfect Keratin hair. But it wasn’t. The saddest part of it all was that in the end, you couldn’t tell the difference between the Flash Mobbers and the Times Square Recruits – the people who had bee practicing for seven days versus the people who had learned the dance seven minutes ago. In the frigid cold, with outerwear that could double as sleeping bags, everybody’s Cha-Cha looks exactly the same. Which is to say, not caliente, but more like mierda.

And so to make myself whole again -- to pick up my fallen crest and stand up tall – I have chosen to employ the tried and true strategy of denial. As far as I’m concerned, I am still a Flash Mob Virgin. This happening never happened. I will go forth to find myself a good and right Flash Mob, and when I do… Ole.

Monday, December 13, 2010

And You May Say To Yourself: My God, What Have I Done?

The real secret of dance is to make it look easy. Anyone can learn steps and routines if they practice long enough, but a real dancer can pull the whole thing off with a smile on her face, as if what she was doing were no more effort than strolling out to the sidewalk to pick up the morning paper. This is the main arena in which Real Dancers and I diverge.

I guess I wasn’t the only one who asked for a bigger Flash Mob t-shirt, because I got an email the other day that t-shirts were history. Skullcaps instead. This, so everyone can dress as warmly as possible for the “crazy weather.” As soon as I saw that – “crazy weather” – I started checking my little Google Weather icon almost hourly. Since Saturday, it has had a shy little sun peeking out from behind a fluffy cloud for Flash Mob Day. Nothing too crazy about that. One email said that there would probably be a lot of people flaking out because of the weather, but if we could handle the risk and were willing to dance anyway, c’mon down.

I realized then, for the first time ever, that it might actually rain on my flash mob. That certainly made the whole thing seem less fun.

Tonight, the forecast for Flash Mob Day is just cold – bitterly cold, actually; seemingly more than a skullcap might mitigate. It seems so unfair that my one shot at dancing on Broadway is going to include a wind-chill factor in the teens.

I spoke with Claudine for an outerwear consult and she confirmed that she would be dancing in a big, long puffy coat. And that I should, too.

“I don’t know if I can do that dance in a long, down coat,” I said.

This, understandably, was not her concern. “You know what my dad would say whenever I left my house in the cold? Claudine, cover your ass!”

So, I will rise before the sun tomorrow. I will get into a cold car and set off in the dark to dance with who-knows-how-many-other skull-capped people on a frosty, windy, winter morning that may or may not include snow. This is what I wished for, so I will try and enjoy it. But will I make it look easy?

I don’t think so.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Let's Dance More!

I have just reconciled myself to the fact that the cold is going to be the least of my problems with my current Flash Mob endeavor.

Information trickles in every day or two. First came the video, so we can learn the dance. Then information about optional rehearsals. Then an MP3 with the actual music. I’ve never been a part of anything like this, so receiving the emails is its own kind of thrill.

At first we were told we would be wearing matching t-shirts and were asked to give our t-shirt size when we signed up. At the time, I was still deluding myself into thinking this might be an indoor event, so I asked for an Adult Small. When I finally came to accept that we would be mobbing out of doors, I sent back an email begging for a Medium, so I could layer, layer, layer underneath.

A few days ago I started out the arduous process of learning the dance. As you might recall from my previous post, this is the part I’m not good at. If you’ve ever learned a dance routine, you may remember that at first the steps are demonstrated very, very slowly. Like you’re underwater. This instruction seems as if it has nothing to do with anything once you pick up the tempo and dance at the right speed. It’s not like learning the Slow Version and the Fast Version. It’s more like learning two different dances entirely.

My first and second attempts were bombs. I couldn’t get through the whole routine – couldn’t remember it, couldn’t execute it, just plain couldn’t. I stopped dancing and started studying the video. I took notes, writing everything down. This is how I have to learn things – by writing it and rewriting it. This afternoon I decided I was going to learn the routine start to finish no matter what.

I set up the MP-3 and had my 11-year-old assist me both as step caller and musical director. The kid happens to be an incredible dancer, so he also gave me a few tips. I found a spot to practice and I ran the steps over and over and over again, all the while shedding layers of clothing – first my hoodie, then my long-sleeve, until finally I was down to my t-shirt and ready to put on a pair of shorts.

After 45 minutes, I kind of knew the steps – but I was completely wrung out. We will be rehearsing for two hours before the event and I really don’t know if I can make it. My husband said, “If you can spin for an hour, you can do this.”


The 11-year-old said, “Just find a spot in the middle and toward the back so not too many people will see you.”


When I told the teenager what I was going to be doing he said, “What are you doing that for?”

I refrained from sharing with him my secret wish to be a back-up dancer and just said, “I thought it would be a fun story for you to tell your grandchildren.”

“I’m not even telling my children you did this,” he said.

My aching legs. My snotty kids. It all makes dancing in the cold seem like a walk in the park.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Let's Dance!

The night that Claudine and I went to see David Byrne at the Wellmont, we left our husbands seated in the row and ran off to the aisles to sing and dance. The Wellmont is a theatre, not a dance club, but you’d never know it by our behavior, swept away, as we were, by the infectious beat. At one point, Claudine leaned in to me and shouted, “You know, my secret career fantasy has always been to be a back-up singer.”

“Mine has always been to be one of those dancers,” I shouted back, pointing to the white clad women on stage with Byrne executing perfectly choreographed moves.

I took so many dance classes in college that it could have been my minor (if they had offered such a thing). I wasn’t good at them, though. In fact, it was those dance classes that kept me from graduating with the highest of honors. I usually got Bs, and once maybe a C, because, among other things, I cannot turn, or leap, or master anything beyond the most basic steps. The only thing that kept me from getting Ds was that we had to attend two professional performances a semester and write about them – and apparently I was the only one in the dance department who could string together a sentence. My reviews pulled my dance grades out of the toilet, but the dancer in me has never been entirely extinguished.

So the other day, when I saw this video of a bunch of people breaking out in dance in the middle of Ben Yahuda Street, I posted it on Facebook with the comment: "If anyone is putting together one of these Flash Mob thingies, I’m totally in!”

That line was my way of expressing my love of and enthusiasm for what I witnessed in the video. In no way did I expect Claudine to send me a link to an open call for a Flash Mob a week later. “You wanted a Flash Mob…” she wrote. “you got one.”

These Flash Mobs are top-secret events, so I can’t give out much detail. But I will say this: That Ben Yahuda video was done a year ago November where, in Israel, the average temperature is about 65 degrees. And I, on this very 32-degree day, have just given over to wearing my big, long, black down coat every single outing until May. I can’t imagine that the heft and loft of that wrap is going to add much to my already dubious dancing skills. But I’m hoping that, as usual, an essay at the end might save me.

(As a complete aside -- this post is my 200th on this blog. I think I celebrated my 100th post last year, so I just thought I'd keep the tradition alive.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Keratin

I just sat down to write about my Keratin treatment. About how I got it on a whim yesterday at the salon, and how I left the salon with pin straight hair that completely freaked me out, even though my stylist warned me not to judge it until the next day, once it had been washed and some of the natural wave returned. And about how she also warned me to be extremely careful, in the hours before washing, not to wear hats or use barrettes or even allow the handle of my handbag to touch it on my shoulder because any little impression on it could (and probably would) remain as a permanent dent in the finished product.

I was going to write about how I woke up this morning and washed it, and then spent about seven minutes with the blow-dryer and ended up with a luscious, silky, wavy hairdo that was completely devoid of frizz and made me look like a (middle-aged) Breck Girl. I was going to recount how I showed up at tennis with my new coif and how afterwards I asked Gina to take a picture of it with her iPhone so I could send it to my Curly Girl Friends so they could see the miracle that had taken place.

I would have added the part where, embarrassed to be posing for pictures in the parking lot, I yelled out to Melissa on her way in that I had just gotten Keratin, and how Melissa called me a traitor (because she is a Curly Girl) and how I smiled and agreed. And then how Melissa said she was envious because I would now be taken more seriously, and how Shelley said, “Oh my God, it’s only hair,” and how Melissa and I shook our heads knowingly, indicating that we understood that Shelley was right in principal, but in actual fact, Straight Girls do get taken more seriously than Curly Girls, and wondering whether we should tell Shelley that it’s not because she wears her nightclothes out during the day, or that she didn’t go to Harvard that she doesn’t get taken seriously, it’s because she, too, is a Curly Girl, and that’s just how life is for us.

I would have tried to capture how this hair treatment unlocked something in me that made me feel more confident and outgoing, funnier and more charming, but I would have stopped myself, thinking that’s silly – hair doesn’t really do all that.

I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to get to any of that, or even if I could have thrown in the line about how this feels like the Botox of hair treatments (which may have seemed random and out of context), because I stopped writing after the first sentence to check online and see what exactly Keratin was – scientifically – and after I’d found that out, I just went to one more site to read about it as a hair treatment, and it was there that I found a post from a woman who was crying for help because after her Keratin treatment she started losing her hair. Fast.

Of course, I had to scroll down and read more of the posts and was heartened to learn that many people responded with sensible advice for her. But even more responded that the exact same thing had happened to them, and as I read I could actually feel the sweat develop on my palms and my breath start to shorten in my chest and I thought to myself, “Oh, gee…I’m going down.”

I stopped reading and reverted to skimming, and then once my anxiety registered an 8.0 on the Richter Scale, I found my way to my husband and curled up on his lap and told him I’d made a terrible mistake that there seemed no way to undo and began to moan about how scared I was that I was now going to lose my hair.

“You’ve been doing so well, today,” he said, “what happened?”

I told him about my time on the internet and he attempted to talk me off the ledge. “You have to do this, don’t you?” he said. “You can’t just let a good thing be good for very long.”

And I nodded, yes, but I didn’t have to. Because we both know that’s exactly what I do. I did it today, during tennis, when we were up two games right off the bat. We ended up losing the set 2-6 or something. And I do it in my mind all day long – spinning off different horror scenarios because I’ve just found myself singing joyfully, gleefully, to We Won’t Get Fooled Again at 60 miles an hour after a surprisingly pleasant errand of returns to Marshall’s.

We came back in the second set this morning, and I was able to leave my husband’s arms tonight and come back here and write – things that I don’t think I could have done even just a year ago. But still, it’s vexing. How the mind works. How it knows the job it has to do and it goes at it like a steamroller. How no amount of tennis lessons or expert advice is ever going to touch that steamroller. Only the practice of learning to leave well enough alone.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Oh! Christmas Trees!

In the middle of November, I received this note: “Lots of town and FaceBook chatter about the obnoxiously early lighted Xmas tree on Valley near the A&P. This is begging for a Jessica Wolf post/column!”

Perhaps, dear note writer. But it may not be what you expect.

I saw those trees for the first time a few days before Thanksgiving. (There are two of them, one close to the road and one further back toward the house.) They’re tall and festooned from head to toe with multi-colored lights that appear to stay lit day and night. I had my kids in the car with me when I drove by and I said aloud, “Oh, those must be the trees that everyone’s talking about.”

“In what way?” asked the teenager.

“I think people are mad that they’re lit up so early,” I said.

“People are mad?” asked my son. “Does anyone really have time for that?”

His question stopped me short, and I immediately put an end to my thoughts about Christmas Trees and began instead to think about Being Mad, wherein it dawned on me for the first time ever that I have never really had time to be mad about most of the things I get mad at. I make time.

The incident that first comes to mind is when the guy in Hoboken stole my sofa. It actually wasn’t a sofa, it was a chaise longue or a fainting couch, and it actually wasn’t even mine, it was my husband’s and before that, his mother’s. It was old and ornate and it was covered in a golden fabric that was decorated with little embroidered bees. The fabric was wearing thin, so I found someone – a guy with a storefront shop – who said he would recover it. He came over and measured. I picked out my fabric. I gave him a deposit. He took my sofa. And that was the end.

The end, as in: I never saw my sofa again.

He didn’t return my calls. His shop was always locked up. The storefront eventually closed.

I called the police. I filed a small claims suit against him. I went to court. He never showed up.

I tracked him down at a waitering job. I found out where he lived. I barged into his apartment. I demanded justice. He told me he would make good.

He never did.

I spent close to a year enraged about what he’d done. I was mad about the sofa, my deposit, the court system, his ability to lie to my face, as well as the fact that he had the same name as an upstanding television dad from my youth. I was mad that I had to breathe the same air as he did. In short, I thought he should be annihilated.

My husband said to me, “Let it go.”

What? You don’t let things go if you’re in the right? I’m right about this! This guy is lowly pond scum. Why should I let this go?

“Because that’s the only way you’re ever going to feel good again,” my husband said. “You have to let it go, even if you’re right.”

My teenage boy was just a little baby at the time, and as anyone with a little baby knows, moms don’t have time for much of anything. But I was able to find plenty of time to be mad. Which, in the long run, got me nowhere.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with thinking that it’s unbecoming to light a tree too early in the season. But, I sure hope it was a fleeting thought for most.

I actually like the trees, and I don’t mind at all that they were lit in the middle of November. Someone had the forethought to string their lights up before it got so cold that their fingers become numb with the job. Also, it seems that they went up right around Fall Back Day, just as daylight was beginning to get cut short. That’s the whole point of tree-lighting, isn’t it? To help us endure the short days and long nights with something sparkly and festive to look at?

I love outdoor Christmas decorations, and as far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as too early or too late. Or too garish, for that matter. It’s dark and cold, and it will be for months – I say: bring it!

(This post appears on Montclair Patch, HERE.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Learning To Drive

In a day or two, the teenager will get his Learner’s Permit. I’ve been anticipating and dreading this day for years. Everything about me is ill suited to teaching someone to drive. Besides being averse to wind, rain and darkness, I don’t like traffic, tunnels or any major thoroughfare on Long Island. With me at the helm, my son will only be able to drive locally, and then only on bright, sunny days. I’m not sure, but I think that may end up being limiting for him.

When I got my Learner’s Permit, my dad was still alive. We had a 1975 beige VW Bug. That’s the car I learned to drive in and my dad nearly disowned me in the process. We lived on top of a mountain, in a town with tiny, Hobbit-like streets. The mountain flanked a lakeside community whose winding roads sometimes bisected the lake – narrow passes with steep banks on either side. No guardrails. Guardrails were for wimps.

At night it was even worse. There were barely any streetlights, so if you didn’t drive with your high beams on, you could easily misjudge one of a hundred hairpin turns and end up in someone’s living room.

One day, early in my education, my dad had me drive up and down the mountain. I had to learn to get our four-speed Beetle going from a complete stop on a hill. He would have me drive halfway up the mountain, stop fully, then start going again. We rolled backwards a lot, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. It was summertime and the trees were green and lush, canopying the road. The VW’s windshield was practically flat; in the front seat, you were nearly on top of it. I didn’t even notice the inchworm because I was concentrating so hard on getting the car going from a dead standstill. And I did get it going – at the exact moment that the inchworm splat against the windshield. It landed right in front of my nose. I screamed. And covered my eyes. And must have taken my feet off the pedals, too, because we started rolling backwards down the hill, and my dad – who never yelled at me or even raised his voice for any reason – had an absolute shit fit right there next to me in the car.

In truth, I’m sure it didn’t go on for very long, but it felt like hours of screaming about never letting go of the wheel and never covering your face and a whole lot of other instruction that would have seemed reasonable and sensible if it weren’t being delivered in such a loud, humorless manner.

“Bugs freak me out,” I reminded him, as if that were a valid and excusable reason to abdicate all control of a moving vehicle. And at the time, to me, it was.

Learning to drive was, for me, this defining moment where I was asked to put aside a lot of childish beliefs and behaviors, and quickly take that first big step toward becoming A Responsible Adult. Beliefs and behaviors that, up until then, defined me. Maybe it was a step I wasn’t so ready to take, letting safety supersede my fear of bugs. Often when we take on a new challenge, there’s a part of ourselves that we need to leave behind.

Just today, I read something in a friend’s Yoga blog about teaching her son to ride a bike. She’d quoted the novelist Sloan Wilson as saying: “The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.”

I didn’t teach either of my kids how to ride a bicycle. I always said it was because I couldn’t run fast enough, and that’s actually true. But I also know deep down that I’m the shaky one in the equation. Or at least “the other shaky one.” The one who worries not only about rain and traffic, but also about what exactly will be left behind. And how that’s going to change things. Who’s never quite sure how to execute this Mother Dance I am continually asked to engage in: that of both holding on and letting go.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Putting The Great Back Into Grateful

This post is running on Patch (click here), but I'm posting it here as well.

Several years ago, I remember showing up for my tennis group on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Someone asked me how my holiday was and without missing a beat I said, “It was awful.” The woman was visibly startled by this, so I qualified it by explaining myself. “It wasn’t that the meal was charred or that anyone had expired at the dinner table,” I told her. “Thanksgiving is just hard for me.” During that moment, I realized something that’s taken me practically forever to understand: when people ask me how something was, they’re mostly just making small talk. They don’t want to know that Thanksgiving represents a lot of sadness for me and in general it’s a day I simply try to endure. If nothing cataclysmic occurred, my proper answer should be, “Great. Yours?”

I made a small promise to myself that I would try to remember this in the future. That instead of being the Queen of Too Much Information, I would answer questions like that politely, and then quickly refocus the conversation onto others.

Soon after that Thanksgiving, my life started to crumble in unexpected ways. Every time I turned around it seemed like another rug was being pulled out from under me. Things went on like this for a few months until I found myself praying not that my life would be what it had been, but simply that I would finally hit the bottom. We all go through periods like this, where, although deep and lonely, we just want arrive at a place where there’s nowhere left to go but up.

I got my wish. I did hit bottom. But getting up was harder than I thought. I was out of balance in every imaginable way and just plain tired. I sought the counsel of an old friend and yoga teacher who I knew once had a similar hole to pull herself out of.

One of her suggestions to me was to get myself a pretty little notebook and to number each page, up to 40. Each day, she told me, write down a few things you’re grateful for.

At first blush, this seemed stupid and useless. I didn’t even want to get up in the morning, no less root around for things to be grateful for. It’s hard to even write that sentence, now. It not only seems so foreign, it seems so arrogant. But because my friend had been there -- to that very low place where you have to rebuild the meaning of your life -- she was able to give me some instructions that really helped. “Some days,” she said, “the only thing I honestly felt was: I am grateful for mint toothpaste. And that was all I wrote.”

That was exactly the example I needed. I needed to be shown that I could discover gratitude amywhere. And if it didn’t feel right or true to be talking about all the things I should feel grateful for, there were a million other places I could look for – or notice – my gratitude.

I’m not going to tell you that suddenly I was able to sit down and rattle off pages and pages of reasons to be grateful. It was actually hard to fill those forty sheets. But at the end, I could tell there’d been a slight shift in my perception. I was at least noticing as many good things as bad. So I got myself another notebook and started the exercise again.

By the next Thanksgiving I had a slightly better attitude. I made a big effort to keep my expectations low to try and avert disappointments. But I also made little efforts along the way to remind myself of things I love, and I tried to focus only on those things throughout the day. I started the day with exercise, even though it made food prep a little more harried. I served Brussels sprouts, even though I don’t consider them “special” – they’re one of my favorites and I eat them all the time. I listened to music while I cooked. We played Apples to Apples after our meal. It wasn’t Norman Rockwell, but it ended up being really quite fun.

I know that Thanksgiving isn’t about the meal, but about taking the time to be grateful for all that we have. But for me, that kind of backfires. It has always ended up being a day that I’ve reflected on my losses – things I once had. Things that if I still had, life would be perfect. Much better for me, is to spend a bit of time every day focusing on what I appreciate, even if it’s only how nice and thin the deli guy slices my cold cuts, or that I can finally serve a game of tennis without double-faulting. It takes a lot of pressure off of Thanksgiving for me when I live like that every day. It brings Thanksgiving back to being just a big ole meal, which is a little more manageable for me.

So that next year, when my tennis friends asked how my Thanksgiving was, I blurted out something I’d never expected would feel so true, “It was actually really great!” I said. “How was yours?”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Wet Cow/Dry Cow

Just before tennis yesterday I decided to play some Grateful Dead to settle my mind. I had gotten myself a little worked up about this game for no good reason at all and I don’t know what it is about that music, but it just calms me right down.

This wasn’t a match – it was just my regular Thursday game – although two people were subbing: Debi the Sub, who is from my old, working-person life and whom I’ve recently brought into my tennis web of madness, and Sloane, who used to be in this Thursday group but ditched us this year for better players.

Sloane can be caustic and Debi the Sub can be sensitive and I wanted everyone to be happy, so I was having some pre-game jitters in that way I do when I feel like I need to take care of everyone’s emotional well being. Also, I learned on Wednesday that Laura the Tennis Pro had made the baffling decision to travel home for Thanksgiving next Wednesday, and in so doing cancelled our Wednesday Clinic. So, no clinic next week. No Thursday game because of pesky Thanksgiving. No Friday game because all those women want to spend the day with their families. This was the last time I was going to play for two weeks. As a result, I wanted to play well and leave the game on a high note.

I listened to a few songs from Terrapin Station but still showed up a little frazzled, not even taking the time to tie my shoes before I’d gotten in the car. I laced up, braced up, showed off my new tissues (a gift from Laura the Tennis Pro) which were boldly imprinted – each and every one –with the words You Had Me At Achoo, and stuffed a few tissues into my waistband so when my nose started to run (as it invariably does on Court 5) I would not have to use my shirt sleeve.

I was so pleased with our playing from the very first point. Debi the Sub and I were partners and I felt like we had a good, simpatico thing going on. We were up 5-1 and I was just about to vow to listen to the Grateful Dead every single time I came out to play. But then Sloane and Tracey started getting some games. Several games. And before I knew it we were tied 5-5.

It was warm on Court 5 and we’d already stopped after a few games to take a drink. I would replenish my Achoo tissues. We’d chat a bit. I’m not sure what the score was when we went for that final, fateful water break, but it was after we were all tied up. I had apparently not screwed the top back onto my bottle the time before so when I picked it up the top flew off (which startled me) and I dropped the bottle (which was nearly full) and water (a lot of water) spilled everywhere – all over the little glass table that our waters had been sitting on, all over my warm up shirt and pants that were hanging over the chair back, maybe a bit on my tennis bag, and quite a lot all over the floor. I didn’t act as quickly as I might have – it was, after all, only water. If I’d seen the wet handbag right away I wouldn’t have been so cavalier.

When Tracey reached down to get it, it was the first time I noticed the big water stain on it. Of course, the bag was leather. We all started saying, “Oh no!” and I, of course, was mortified. I think it was Sloane who declared it “ruined,” which was when I chimed in with something completely idiotic.

“It’s going to be okay. Cows get wet all the time and then they dry.” (This is actually the mantra I use when I spill something on our leather sofa.) And it’s true, it does dry. But our leather sofa has kind of a worn-in, distressed look to it. It is not the same effect as this buttery soft leather hobo bag.

Tracey started laughing, but I could tell it was because she really wanted to cry. “You’re not going to believe this, but I just took this bag out of the box for the first time this morning. I’ve never even used it before.”

Ok, now I see what’s happened. It’s not just her handbag I’ve ruined, it’s her brand new handbag. “I’ll buy you a new one,” I blurted out, because I knew that was the right thing to say. I quickly started covering the bag with my Achoo tissues, trying to help the drying process along. Then I got a quick, sick feeling in my gut. “Wait, you probably got this bag from Nordstrom’s,” I said, “not from Payless.”

Tracey was still laughing about cows, but I could tell she was distressed. “I ordered it online,” she said.

“Zappos?” I asked.

“Cole Haan,” she said.

I don’t even know how much a Cole Haan bag is, but I’ll tell you this: once someone told me about what another woman paid for a Fendi bag and I was completely dumbstruck. I don’t even carry a handbag and when I do, it’s from Kohl’s. That’s not because I’m cheap (although I am), it’s because I know that whatever bag I buy is going to fall short in some way. It will be too heavy, or tip over awkwardly in the car. The strap will slide off the shoulder of my favorite coat, or it will be just a little too small to carry a book in. Rather than spend time bemoaning the money I’ve spent on what I thought would be the “perfect” handbag, I get inexpensive bags that I use for special occasions, and the rest of the time I just carry my wallet in my pocket. Before my Fendi education, I thought $200 was a lot for a bag.

Later I found out that Tracey has had the same quest: the hunt for the perfect bag. Although, unlike me, she hadn’t given up. This Cole Haan bag was potentially it. She’d splurged. This was the bag that was going to change her life (as handbags are wont to do).

I spent the day cursing my clumsiness. My forgetfulness around recapping my water. My stupidity around talking about wet cows in the face of tragedy. My ability to wreck damage and destruction every time I leave the house. I cursed the fact that Debi the Sub and I ended up losing 6-8 a set in which we had an early 5-1 lead. And also I cursed the Grateful Dead, who were supposed to bring me good fortune that day, not bad.

In between all that, I went on the Cole Haan website and found the bag (on sale…whew!). I called their customer service department and asked how to antidote a big water mark. The gentleman I spoke to couldn’t have been lovelier, but it was quickly apparent that Cole Haan customers are not typically klutzy, because he had absolutely no experience in dealing with anything like this.

I did a web search, not on Wet Cows/Dry Cows, but on Removing Water Stains From Leather. Fifteen articles came up with the exact same advice (which was, interestingly, sort of based on my “cows dry” theory) and I emailed them all to Tracey.

She wrote me back a note that obviously took her an hour to compose. It was a long, amazing reminiscence of how she had gotten to this bag – the years it had taken her to stop buying cheap bags from which she wasn’t even able to access her ringing cell phone and finally spend some real money on something that would truly make her happy. As I read it, I just felt worse and worse. I knew I was going to be out a couple hundred on the bag – and that it was the right thing to do – but I couldn’t help thinking: Cows Dry.

She ended her note by saying that her family can barely notice the water mark and that if she herself does notice it, it will remind her of how much fun she has playing tennis with me. I don’t even know how someone can get there from where she was. How to go, not from Wet Cow to Dry Cow, but from Wet Cow to I’m Happy To Have The Cow Wet, which is not only the essence of grace, but is surely a Google search that could benefit me a hundred times more than getting in a couple extra games of tennis.

Introducing The Tennis Wench

I'm not sure if this is a good idea or not, but I've started another blog called The Tennis Wench. It's a place where I'm going to keep ALL my tennis posts. I think I'm going to have them here too. I'm trying to figure it all out. But in the meantime, I wanted to tell you about it in case you want to check it. Below is my first post:

I'm Off Today

I play tennis most Fridays. But not today. I'm off the schedule today and already I can feel the crankiness setting in.

I jumped out of bed early hoping to find a message in my inbox that someone is looking for a sub.

I've been known to take a more active role. I've been known to send out an email to every tennis friend I have, telling them which days I'm free to sub that week in case anyone can't make their game. This technique has paid off well. Women will take me up on my offer for (what I consider) outlandish alternatives. They'll skip tennis for a doctor's appointment, or a hair appointment, or for (heaven forbid) work. I almost understand skipping tennis to tend to a sick child, although there are tables and chairs in the lounge...a television...a snack machine...a bathroom. Really, what more are they going to get at home?

This week I didn't send out an availability email. I decided to just let fate take it's course. And I don't mind telling you I don't like where it's gotten me.

There's a certain amount of shame attached to being a tennis wench. And I feel it now, sitting in the middle of my throat. Like a tennis ball.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Pilgrimage to Jericho

No, not that Jericho. The one on Long Island. The teenager had a reunion with his friends from his mountain climbing trip and the event took place in Jericho.

I’ve never been to Jericho, in part because of the Long Island Expressway – a highway whose patrons seems to end up in a complete standstill regularly and for no apparent reason. I pride myself on never driving on Long Island and hoped that this event of the teenager’s would not sully my record. Two days before the gathering, I discovered that the Long Island Railroad was not running any service past Jamaica, Queens all weekend long. My only remaining option was to drive him.

My son had a party back here to attend Saturday evening, so instead of spending my entire Saturday in the car, driving him thither and picking him up six hours hence, I decided to just spend the day in Jericho.

I planned to leave our house at 8 AM Saturday morning, but we didn’t get on the road until close to 8:30. This is because, even though I was up at 6:00, I was wholly incapable of organizing myself for the day. I can’t imagine what I expected from Jericho, but I viewed the day as my being banished to some sort of deserted island, that I suffer greatly if I were left idle and without creature comforts. I had work to do, so I put “library” on my itinerary and packed my laptop. But I also decided I would take a walk, so I wore walking gear and brought my iPod. Then I brought a change of clothes, in case I needed to freshen up.

I brought alternate shoes, in case my feet hurt. A book, in case I finished my work. Several pair of socks in varying thicknesses, in case I wanted to shop for boots. Also, all my notebooks that accumulate all over my desk, so I could organize my to-do lists into one neat place. I brought a bottle of water, a Tupperware container of oatmeal and apples (for breakfast), a granola bar (for lunch) and a separate coat and hat in case the one I was wearing was too warm (or not warm enough) for the library.

I threw an asthma inhaler and a handful of Benadryl in my bag in case my son had a bad reaction to the host’s Collie, but I forgot to give him either. I programmed my Aunt’s number into my cell phone so we could perhaps meet for lunch. I brought another notebook full of column ideas and considered bringing my sewing kit and pile of mending, but was too harried at departure time to collect it.

The back seat of my car was piled high with every imaginable project I could think of to stave off boredom, and once I got there I barely touched any of it. I did go to the library and I did get a lot of work done. But I started my day there with a walk, and simply reveled in how rare it is for me to be someplace unfamiliar. My dad always used to tell us: If you want to learn your way around someplace, walk it. And so I did. First making little concentric circles around blocks so I’d be sure not to lose my way, and eventually branching out to other blocks and relying on my terrible sense of direction and the kindness of strangers to guide me back to my starting point.

I noticed that the sidewalks in Jericho are really well maintained. And nearly everyone has a freestanding basketball hoop at the foot of his or her driveway. Some streets have signage, some don’t. There was not one Halloween decoration up, leading me to believe that either they don’t partake, or they have a communal agreement to pull in all their ghosts and witches immediately after the holiday has passed.

None of these were life-altering revelations, but they were just interesting enough for me to realize that I don’t need to worry so much about how to occupy my waiting time. It’s not like I was spending the day in the Emergency Room or at Jury Duty. There was a whole new town here for me to explore and that brought its own unexpected thrill.

I’m not really adventurous about anything – food, clothing, travel – so it doesn’t take much for me to feel like I’ve conquered something big. I figured out how to access the WiFi in the library – and then taught someone else how. I got myself from the library to a deli and back again on foot. I managed to make it home right on schedule armed only with my wits and my hateful GPS system. Maybe that’s just the nature of Jericho – walls tumbling. My little anti-adventure walls: poof, right down.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Writing Problem

There’s been some weird shit going on here, and I’m not even just talking about perimenopause.

I don’t know whether anyone has noticed, but I hardly post here at all anymore. I’d gotten into a groove of maybe 2-3 posts a week and now I feel like I might do 2-3 per month. I’m not sure exactly why. God knows I still have a lot to say.

Part of it started when I got the Patch column. It’s a little unnerving for me to write for a bigger (read: unknown and potentially scary) audience and I find I need a little time to recuperate. I work on my column on Tuesday. My editor posts it on Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday I attend to all the work I blew off early in the week so I could get my column together. And then I sail into the weekend with the intention of writing next week’s Patch column so I don’t feel so under-the-gun on Tuesday. The weekend comes and goes. Monday needs to be productive in other ways. And then I’m right back where I started on Tuesday. Did you notice? There’s no blog writing in that schedule.

I’ve had other setbacks too. I wrote (what I thought was) a funny, interesting blog post about a month ago, about a woman I know only peripherally. I didn’t use her name, and I didn’t think the piece was at all damning, but I sent it to her before I posted it and she asked me not use it. I found the blogging horse surprisingly difficult to get back onto after that.

Then, a writer-friend asked me to come and speak in her journalism class. She teaches at the local college and often brings in guest speakers so her students can ask questions of and get perspective from people “in the field.” At first I declined. “I don’t really feel qualified to talk to your class. I’m not a journalist,” I wrote to her in an email. She immediately wrote me back that I would be perfect for a lot of reasons and sent me a paragraph of things she hoped I would talk about: “How long does it take you to write a column? Where do you get your ideas? How did your own college experience prepare you for this work?”

Those were all things I could talk about, so I readily accepted and dove into the grueling task of figuring out what I would wear.

A few weeks before I was slated to speak, I was at Back-To-School Night at my younger son’s school. His fifth-grade teacher is passionate about writing and is always the one to volunteer to get additional training and attend educational workshops when the district attempts to better its writing curriculum. She stood in front of a big group of parents (two classes full) and called upon us to volunteer in the classroom. “How many of you in here are writers?” she asked. A ton of hands went up. But mine wasn’t one of them.

I left there a little shaken at my own behavior. I write every single day, I thought. Why can’t I say I’m a writer?

That particular identity-blip (what’s the small, beginning kernel of a crisis called?) catapulted me into the idea of getting an MFA. Maybe if I actually studied writing I would be able to call myself a writer. I started talking to people about it, taking women out to lunch, researching online, getting catalogs. There are a lot of programs to choose from, but they all have one thing in common: They all seem like an enormous amount of work. I would read a description of this or that university’s program and as soon as I came upon the word “rigor” (as in “academic rigor”) my eyes glazed over. I take two spin classes a week. Does that not seem enough rigor for one person’s life?

I haven’t completely abandoned the graduate program idea, but I have cooled on it a bit. I went to my friend’s class and she and her students “interviewed” me. Overall it went ok. (Only one student actually fell asleep.) I heard myself saying things like “I don’t consider myself a good writer as much as a competent writer,” and “I choose subjects I can handle; I’m not really a big thinker.” That’s all true, but it was still troubling to hear it come out of my mouth. I could have just as easily posted a sign on my forehead that said, “I’m a piece of poop.”

One woman asked me how I was able to “write funny,” and I stared at her blankly, wondering if this was the moment that I should recount my countless neuroses and decades of therapy sessions. Do I dare tell her that her chances of “writing funny” are severely limited if she hasn’t grown up fat and insecure? Instead I just said, “Good question. I’m not really sure.” And at that moment, nothing felt more true.

There have been other impediments too, and I think those are perimenopausally induced. Sometimes I just scream at people rather than writing about wishing I could scream at people. Then when I sit down to write, there’s nothing left to say.

Go out more. Stay in more. Read more. Watch more TV. Loosen up. Develop a schedule. I’ve considered all these things. And where I’ve netted out is to just start writing about my writing problem, and see if maybe somehow that might make it go away.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Looking on the Bright Side (of Jury Duty)

I know I’ve spent some time complaining about jury duty, so I feel compelled to present the other side.

There are things I actually love about being there.

I love how organized it is. I love the language that’s particular to courtrooms and the law. And I love the theater of it all.

I love the movie that they show at the beginning of your first day about how it’s a huge inconvenience to serve, but it really is everyone’s responsibility. I know people who have been wrongly accused of crimes and it’s only through this type of system that they might possibly get a fair crack at justice. I’m not saying it’s a slam-dunk, but as the judge in the orientation movie says, at least they’re not being judged by tyrants, or by “professional jurors.” No one wants to be at jury duty. In that way, a jury pen is the great equalizer.

Well, the first day there was one woman who was happy to be there. I saw her as soon as I arrived and immediately pegged her as The Happiest Juror In Essex County. She couldn’t wipe the smile off her face, even on the long lines, in the cold waiting room, on the uncomfy chairs. During lunch, she happened to sit across the table from me and I started up a conversation right away. “You’re the happiest person in this whole building,” I said. It was a risk, I know. She could have been a nut.

But she wasn’t. She was just a Special Ed teacher from a Vocational School and in all her many years of adulthood she’d never been asked to serve. This was a novelty to her. And an honor. She came to it with Beginner’s Mind (which is a Buddhist term that basically refers to how when you don’t judge things and imbue them with all your residual ca-ca, everything – EVERYTHING – is pretty remarkable and amazing). She was fascinated by the proceedings and her excitement was infectious. It prompted me to start noticing what was lovely about being there as well.

I love how beautiful that courthouse is. From the outside, the old structure is an amazing piece of architecture, and I’ve seen parts of the interior renovation that have taken my breath away. The landscape and grounds are beautiful: marble benches, flowering shrubs, quiet fountains.

I love how they seem to redo the jury pen every few years – keep it from getting run down and shoddy. Flat screen TVs in the waiting rooms. A clean, quiet wireless enclave for computer users. Free coffee and tea (and not just any coffee – they have several of those fancy Keurigs that I like to play with whether I want a cup of coffee or not).

More Beginner’s Mind: There was a judge in the cafeteria that was dressed like Mr. Rogers. The sandwich counter serves whole wheat wraps, which you can get with anything you want in them. And one TV in the cafĂ© was playing Judge Mathis (which is not nearly as good as Judge Judy, in my humble opinion, but is it’s own special delight nonetheless). Best for me today was the conversation I overheard between three women at the next table about Autism and Asperger’s. A fourth woman within earshot interjected: “I heard you talking about Asperger’s and it caught my attention…I have Asperger’s…” and then the four of them were off on that for an hour.

That’s what I love most about jury duty: that a disparate group of people can come together – I mean really come together, not like on a subway or a post office line, but like at a cocktail party, which is what jury duty always seems like to me toward the end. As the hours tick by, you can see people striking up conversations with strangers. Someone they just sat next to during voir dire, or the folks at the coffee table. People laughing, telling stories, like a big ole block party. I would pass by different groups and think, “They’re having fun. Maybe I should join them.”

Jury duty makes that very act so easy to do. Unlike a party, where I’m afraid I may be imposing on a longtime circle of friends, here I know that no one knows each other. They’re just friendly and having fun.

Sometimes it takes something cataclysmic for a large group of strangers to pull together and make the best of a trying situation. And sometimes it takes nothing more than just donning Beginners Mind and showing up for your civic duty.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Has Justice Really Been "Served"?

I had lined up a possible sub for myself over the weekend. I couldn’t really bring myself to all out cancel Wednesday tennis, but I did know there was a possibility that I wouldn’t be able to go.

My jury duty was scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, but I’ve been down this road before. You clear your schedule for both days and then, after day one, they tell you that you don’t need to report the next day. So I decided to take a wait and see approach before I locked in and gave up my tennis slot.

Yesterday I showed up with a satchel full of books and projects to amuse myself and really believed that I would not be asked back for my second day of service. I sat in the waiting area all morning, listening as names were called for various courtrooms. Mine never was. Lunch came and went. I used the time to walk around outside. More sitting. Reading made me sleepy and I could feel my mood becoming sour. Three o’clock rolled around and still my name never made a list. Well, I thought, at least this day is almost over. And then I can play tennis tomorrow!

Not so fast.

At 3:15 they rattled off a long list of people and my name was on the list! “Damn it,” I said to the woman next to me. Why are they calling people now? No judge is going to start trial selection at 3:30. This whole place closes down at 4:00.

We all gathered round the front desk and listened to the young man who had been botching names over the loudspeaker all day. “This group has been randomly selected to be dismissed for the day…” he droned. Sad, lifeless faces lit up with beaming smiles. “…but you will all need to report back here tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.”

Are you fucking kidding me? I have tennis!

OK. OK. Regroup.

I emailed my tennis sub and told her she could definitely play. I brought my laptop today so I didn’t have to wade through a single moment of lackluster books. I wore sneakers so I could have a good and proper lunchtime walk. But that’s not all. I also decided not to shower. And to wear my son’s black Volcom hoodie. There is no way anyone is going to pick me for a jury in the state I’ve shown up today.

They can have my body, but…

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


What on earth has happened to me? I used to be able to find my way anywhere. Now I spend most of the time in my car groaning and cursing – as if I’m labor again.

I had to be at the courthouse for jury duty today at 8:15. The trip is less than 10 miles. Still, it’s rush hour and it’s Newark, so I left myself plenty of time: 45 minutes for a 20-minute trip. I walked into the building close to 9 o’clock. Forty-five minutes LATE. I hate being late. Even for jury duty.

I conscientiously followed the directions on the Summons mailer. There was a bit of highway traffic that set me back some, but I was still looking at an 8:30 ETA. Then I got to the parking lots. There was a sign that said Juror Parking with an arrow into a lot and a long, long line of cars waiting to make the turn in. Then there was ANOTHER sign that said Jurors with an arrow pointing straight ahead (and NO line of cars). So I followed THAT sign.

The Summons directions said once I got on a particular road to just follow the Juror Signs. And that’s exactly what I did. The next thing I know I’m passing the courthouse entirely, frantically looking for more Juror Signs. There were none. What there were, though, were signs at every intersection prohibiting me from making a left turn so I could make my way back to the courthouse. Blocks and blocks I went, deeper and deeper into downtown Newark until finally I was able to get myself around a block, facing the other direction, so I could make my way back to the courthouse.

Too late. I was already disoriented. It wasn’t a straight shot, and I soon found myself in new, unfamiliar territory.

This never used to happen to me. I would read directions and get where I needed to go. That now feels like the exception, not the rule.

It probably seems like I’m a good candidate for a GPS system. I have one. I consider it my arch-enemy. It’s a factory-installed system that fails me almost 100% of the time. I’m certain that there’s some default setting deep within the bowels of its programming that first selects The Ghetto Route for every requested destination. I’ve discovered more blighted and decrepit neighborhoods in using my navigator than I’d ever known even existed in North Jersey. And if that’s not bad enough (which, in my opinion, it definitely is) the little bulls-eye on the screen rarely bears any resemblance to the place I’m trying to go. It will get me in the general vicinity, but that’s about it. Once, on a trip to the Boston area, I was trying to get to a hotel and it kept chirping “Destination on left,” when all that was on the left was a trash-strewn lot. We were miles from the hotel. Miles.

So even though I was late and panicked, I resisted the urge to punch in the address of the courthouse. Instead I did what I used to do in the old days: I found a street cop to ask directions. I pulled up just ahead of him and left my car running as I walked back to where he stood. He knew I was lost. He knew I was a loser. I didn’t even get three feet from my car before he yelled to me, “Where are you trying to get to, Ma’am? Jury duty?”

Friday, October 15, 2010

As A Bitch, I’ve Failed.

Guess what? I’m not a bitch. Or, at least I’m not enough of a bitch.

This most recent discovery took place when a writer who found me on asked if I would ever be interested in writing for her blog The Wellness Bitch, which is about living more healthfully but presented in a (shall we say) sometimes brusque manner. I’m not really an ideal candidate for guest blogging there because I don’t live all that healthfully. But I loved the name of the site and I do have at least one “wellness” topic that I’m passionate about, so I agreed to submit a post.

Guess what? It wasn’t bitchy enough.

I had a feeling that would be the case even as I was writing it. I even tried to become a little meaner as the paragraphs unfolded. “You can do this,” I chided myself. “Get your inner bitch on.”

My email to her acknowledged that I’d overpromised. “You don’t need to run this if it’s not bitchy enough,” I’d written. “I guess I thought I was more of a bitch than I actually am.”

The Wellness Bitch did reject my post, on the grounds of insufficient bitchiness. In some ways, I guess that could be considered a compliment. But as The Queen of Seeing the Negative Side of Everything, I immediately felt like a loser because I wasn’t a big enough bitch.

As fate would have it, The Wellness Bitch has another website, far less bitchy, called and it is there that she wanted to run my Neti Pot post. I really like it there, and now I don’t have to feel bad about my underdeveloped levels of bitchosity.

Best of all, I now have something to aspire to.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Have Yourself a Sex-Free Solstice

I’ve just spent far too many hours planning my son’s birthday party. I know. You think that’s because I’m having 50 people and a petting zoo. No. It’s because his birthday is in September.

In fact, my son’s birthday party will (with any luck at all) consist of six 10-year-old boys, including my son, who will all watch a movie and then make heinous concoctions out of ice-cream and then eat those heinous concoctions and then act like aborigines until the sugar rush subsides or their parents come to get them, whichever comes first. What I can't pin down is when such a gathering will occur.

September is an impossible month to plan a birthday party. Practically everyone who has feet plays soccer and soccer season begins in September. Throw in the Jewish holidays, the fact that a certain amount of time must be given for new alliances to form with the new school year, and my own misfortune of having a son who fancies only a small group of boys at any given time and at this time those boys all seem to have their own autumn birthdays, and you have a situation where there’s only one single date over the span of a month and a half that can accommodate most of the kids. And your job is to spend countless hours figuring out which date that is.

Email seems like it would expedite the task, but today it just seemed to make it worse. Each email I received felt like it brought more bad news. “Sorry, soccer tournament.” “Sorry, that’s my other child’s bar mitzvah.” “Sorry, that day is my son’s birthday.”

“Is it possible to change his birthday?” I wrote back. “Just for this one year?”

Here’s my solution: Everyone…stop having sex in December. If you’re trying to have a baby, there are just some months that should be completely off limits for conception. I’d imagine you could throw March in there as well, because I’m sure the moms of December birthday kids have a similarly hellish time with this whole birthday planning thing.

I’m going to go so far as to say that someone should sit down and plot out which months are good to conceive and which months are going to be a nightmare. We then need to review those dates and JUST SAY NO.

As I write this it’s less than four hours until October. I’m no closer to a party date than I was early this morning, and there seems to be no resolution in sight. It’s too late for me, but some of y’all can still save yourselves. Practice abstinence in December. You’ll thank me for it come party time.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Carpe Doubles

Doubles is hard. Yes, the game itself is more complicated than singles – less physically demanding, but often more strategic. But the real difficulty with doubles is that it requires four people. Four people who all can be at the same place for the same time for two hours and who know how to play tennis.

When I started playing tennis, this seemed like an almost impossible set of circumstances. It took me years to amass a contact list of players who were at the same level, had the same general sensibility (not too serious, just serious enough), and were smitten enough with the game that they’re willing to squander two precious kid-free hours hitting a ball back and forth over a net.

During the fall and winter, our games are inside. A schedule is set and people show up when they’re supposed to. But in the summer we play outside, on public courts and the roster changes week to week. “Can anyone play on Wednesday?” will be the subject line of my mass tennis email.

I don’t mind setting up games. It’s a little extra work, but well worth it. However the real treat is when I end up on someone else’s email list. When a “Tennis on Sunday?” email shows up in my Inbox. Unfortunately, those games come with their own complications.

Once you play in someone else’s game, you’re “in”. Meaning, at the end of the game, someone will say, “can everyone play next Sunday?” and if the answer is yes, Sunday tennis is all set. No need for an email, we just all show up again next week. The problem comes if you for some reason say no. If you're going to be out of town or you cancel because you're injured. You miss that Sunday game and then you're out of the loop. The following Sunday will automatically be set up at the end of the game you missed. Then you have to wait for someone to fall ill or expire before you can get your slot back. It’s a little like trying to get a Manhattan apartment in the ‘80s.

It took me a while to understand the ramifications of passing on a game. The whole process is so much more delicate and complex than it appears on the surface. (Once I accepted an invitation to a brand new group and I was having a bad day: I hit the ball out as often as I hit it in. That was that. I was never asked back.)

So now I play almost no matter what. Bronchitis. Hemorrhoids. Muscle pulls. I have every imaginable wrap and analgesic in my tennis bag. I only cancel if my kid has a temperature over 104 or I’m on crutches.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking to me to think that a game could go on without me, that fat, juicy doubles is being played whether I show up or not. So I try and seize every opportunity now. Doubles (like life) waits for no one.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Go Team Egan!

On my way to tennis this morning, I passed Sharon and Kim straddling their bikes, looking like they were about to take off for some multi-mile ride. Tomorrow morning they’ll head north for the ride they’ve been training for for the past five months – H2B: Harbor to the Bay Aids Ride from Boston to Provincetown.

I think their little group began during a spin class. Someone suggested taking their training to the next level. At least one in the group was turning fifty. Preparing for an actual ride (a 125 mile ride) gave them a purpose, gave their workouts more meaning. Early on, they suggested I join them.

“I can’t ride 125 miles,” I said.

“It’ll just be like taking a bunch of spin classes all in one day,” Kim said.

But I can’t take a bunch of spin classes all in one day. Most of the time, I can barely get through one.

It felt good to be asked. And for a fleeting moment I thought, Well…maybe I could try it. But I didn’t have a proper bike. And at the time, my own 50th birthday was far enough away that I wasn’t focusing on how to commemorate it.

I never fully embraced that notion: feeling like turning 50 needed to involve some as yet unmastered physical feat. I remember reading that Oprah decided to run a marathon when she turned 50 (or maybe 40) and I remember thinking, Really? You’re one of the richest women in the United States and one of the most influential celebrities in the world, and that’s not good enough? You have to run on top of that?

And I still don’t think that whole outdoor bike-riding thing is for me. Like my tennis preference, I think I’m partial to biking indoors – no bugs, no glare, no cars. But today, when I saw the two of them in their slick and colorful bike shirts and their wraparound shades, I thought, Wow, look how beautiful and sexy and strong.

They show up in their “team” shirts, they collect donations, they do practice runs – 15 miles, 43 miles, more. But mostly they just keep showing up, week after week, regardless of whatever crap life happens to be flinging their way.

And now, off they go tomorrow. Part of me is a little wistful, but mostly I’m just really proud of those four ladies from Vince’s 8AM spin class – Sharon and Kim and Wendy and Liz – and inspired, because by the end of the weekend they will all have accomplished something that six months ago not one of them was sure she could do. I love witnessing people taking little steps to bring about great things. I’m sure their ride will be amazing. But to me, the steps are the thing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spoiled Little Indoor Girl

Today was the first day of indoor tennis. My Monday group is now meeting on Wednesdays. New day, new time, new court, but the same ladies. And of course, the same club.

I love playing tennis indoors. I know it’s meant to be an outdoor game, and I’ve made my peace with that, but I love all that indoor tennis affords you. You’re not thwarted by rain. There are no other pesky elements to contend with. No wind. No sun in your eyes. No gnats buzzing around your sweaty face. There are no lawnmowers, leaf blowers, train whistles, buzzards (yes, once there were buzzards – or maybe they were hawks – but in either case they were circling a little too low for comfort), chipmunks, mosquitoes or bees. There are no young children on the next court rallying with their moms, so you don’t have to worry about stray balls (incoming) or curse words (outgoing). Indoor tennis is a nice, controlled environment where your attention can be placed solely and completely on your game.

Well, except for the funky club conditions.

The club does have air-conditioning, but they don’t ever turn it on. Ditto, it seems, for heat. Today it was much hotter indoors than out, and the club tries to rectify that with these big-ass fans that are built into the walls. The fans are loud – clankity-clank-clank loud – and burst on intermittently and without notice. It’s a small price to pay for indoor comfort.

In the winter the courts are cold. Sometimes women play in fleece and scarves. You can hear the heater now and then, when it comes on it sounds like gunfire, but somehow it never warms up in there.

Occassionally there are inexplicable puddles on the court. Well, not really on the court, but there have been pools of water right outside the sideline and it’s always little curious where those puddles could have come from.

Sometimes the club smells like gas, sometimes it smells like paint, and sometimes it smells like glue – like an industrial strength adhesive that you’d use when installing new carpeting. All smells that give you headaches and that, if you smelled in your own home, might prompt you to evacuate your children and maybe even call 911. But they usually only last a day or so at the club, so we often play through them.

Last year the toilet stall door was locked, leaving only one stall available for all the aging bladders that populate Ladies Tennis. For some reason it took two or three days for someone to get that stall door open. When access was finally gained, it was discovered that the toilet was full of feces and paper. It wasn’t clogged, it’s just that no one had flushed.

“Even more troubling than how long it took to open that stall,” said Laura the Tennis Pro, “is the notion of how that situation came to be. Someone actually pooped and then crawled under the door to leave it there.”

Look, I’m not saying indoor tennis is perfect. But there is something sweet and magical that happens indoors that, for some reason, doesn’t translate for me when there’s sky and birds and cicadas all around. The club sequesters us from the real world. We are removed from it. It’s private. When I'm inside that tennis club, it's like the rest of my life just disappears. Even with the poop and puddles, it’s hard sometimes to walk out the door.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Night Before

On the night of September 10th, 2001, I was with my book group. The woman who was hosting had just had a harrowing experience, either that day or over the past weekend. She was in her minivan with her kids and they came to a railroad crossing. She’s a conscientious woman, so it must have been one of those situations where traffic is moving and then all of a sudden it’s not moving, because when the lights began to flash and the gates came down she was trapped in a spot that was either on or too close to the tracks with a gate or a car behind her preventing her from backing up. I don’t remember the details. It was a long time ago. She got her kids out of the car in time and, yes, there was damage to the minivan. But everyone was ok, and that’s what was important.

The book we’d just read was Dave Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius. It’s an autobiographical story about a young man and his younger brother, and the way they deal (and don’t deal) with the death of their parents at way too young an age. At least that’s what I think it was about. That’s what it seemed to be about to me.

I remember some details of that night so clearly. Where I sat in the room. That there were cheese sticks served, and that I didn’t eat any. There’s a point in the book where Eggers was justifying some or other unsavory behavior of his, and he says “I am owed.” He means for the loss of his mother. Both his parents, really. And for having to act like a grown up and raise his little brother. And it was that line, that idea, that sent the group off on a discussion about how everything can be going along one way and you can receive a piece of news, or an event can occur, that just changes everything forever. It changes you and how the world seems to you. All of sudden, nothing is the way it was two minutes ago and no matter how much you wish for it, it will never be that way again. How a single event can inform your perception of everything that comes after it.

I was perhaps the most vocal about this idea, because I could really relate to Eggers’ loss and grief and bitterness. Like me, another woman in the group had lost a parent early in life and she didn’t relate to that idea of instant, irrevocable change at all.

I remember someone used the idea of a plane crash as an example of how lives can be dramatically altered in a single moment. We talk like that in book group – about specific events, but also about abstractions.

My book group no longer meets on Mondays. Over the years, we’ve switched nights to accommodate schedules. For the past many years now, we meet on Wednesdays.

I remember Monday, September 10th being a starry night. I remember driving home that night thinking how grateful I was for that group of women in my life. How I wished a little that everyone in the group had shared my feelings about how life can change on a dime. And also how I loved that Eggers book, and loved discussion we’d just had, and loved that I felt safe enough in the world to be able to share how I felt. I thought a lot about how I finally felt safe. Stuff that maybe wouldn’t have seemed eerie or ironic if we'd had our meeting on a Wednesday. On September 12th instead of September 10th.

Although I can’t imagine we would have met that day at all.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pretty Privilege

So, I’m sitting in front of the bagel store, waiting for the teenager and his friend to come out with their bacon-and-egg bagels, and I don’t have much to do to entertain myself so I begin to do what I love doing most (besides playing tennis and eating popcorn): people watch. Far and away the most compelling person to watch was the woman in the shift. I’m not sure why they call that style of dress a shift; it’s a decidedly unsexy name for what can often be a very sexy dress. This one was classic: simple, short, sleeveless, black. It looked like something Holly Golightly would wear, but this woman was not having breakfast at Tiffany’s. She was bringing a small bundle into the dry cleaner.

Everything about her was perfect. She had perfectly highlighted blond hair that was pulled up into a perfect chignon. She had perfectly tanned legs, perfectly toned arms. Not too much make-up, not too much jewelry, her watch and shoes were classy but not flashy. It was nine in the morning; she was probably on her way to work. She fished her tasteful wallet out of her tasteful purse and tastefully paid the man for her tasteful, dry-cleaned clothes.

I couldn’t tell how old the woman was, even though she walked right in front of my car on her way into the storefront. She could have been 25, she could have been 45, she could have been anywhere in between. She was young and fit and capable, and her car was only parked a few spots down from the cleaner’s doorway. So I was a little surprised when the proprietor carried her fresh dry cleaning to her car for her and set it down across the back seat. Where does this happen besides Hooterville?

This is Pretty Privilege in action. Beautiful women, endlessly fawned over. I used to spend so much time pitying these women. Poor you, I would think. You were born so beautiful, you never had to cultivate an interesting personality or develop a sense of humor. How sad that you have to go through life shallow and dull.

But you know what? Fuck that. I didn’t realize they were getting their dry cleaning carried to their cars. Come on. You don’t have to carry your own dry cleaning to the car? Really?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Announcing Me on Patch

When I told my friend John Doe (not his real name) about my new Patch column he seemed a little piqued.

“It’s a weekly column,” I’d said, “and I can write about whatever I want!”

“Anything? Doesn’t it have to be local?” he said.

(Patch is a hyper-local online news magazine put out by AOL.)

“Well, given the fact that I rarely leave the confines of my house or neighborhood, most of the stuff I write ends up being pretty local,” I said. “I asked the editor if I could rework some of my blog posts as submissions.”

“And she said that’s ok?” asked John Doe.

“Yes!” I said. I could barely contain myself.

“She’s paying you to do something that you’re already doing anyway?” he said. “That’s like someone paying me to masturbate.”

“Ew,” I said. “But I guess, sort of, yeah.”

Click here to see PATCH

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yes, Ma'am!

In my never-ending quest to be the Nicest Mother On Earth, I took the teenager and three of his friends to Six Flags/Great Adventure last week – a destination I had hoped I would live my entire life without ever experiencing. Before leaving, I went on their website to get directions. I discovered that you could buy and print out discounted admission tickets online, saving $20 per person, as well as pre-purchasing parking and food vouchers. I passed on the food, but bought us all admission and parking, printed my directions, loaded up the car with boys and headed south.

The entrance road to Great Adventure is clearly marked with signs and instructions every few feet. There’s a lot to read. That, along with being in completely unfamiliar territory, made me a little tense and when I’m tense I don’t like to read instructions, I like to talk to someone. Fortunately for me there was a gentleman not too far away wearing one of those orange and chartreuse reflective vests that let you know right away this is a person who is here to help. I was slowly approaching a giant line of toll-booths that all seemed to be labeled Credit Cards Only. I had no idea which line to get in, given that I’d already paid for my parking online. I yelled over to my vested friend, stating my predicament in a few short sentences. “Do I actually need to be in one of these lines?” I asked.

“Yes, Ma’am. You need to be in a line. How is anyone going to know you paid already if you don’t show your voucher at the booth, Ma’am?” He had that same exhausted tone my son takes with me whenever I ask him a question.

“He called you ‘Ma’am,’” said one of the boys.

“He called me ‘Ma’am’ twice,” I said. “I hate that.”

The boys all wanted to know why. So I told them the secret of ‘Ma’am.’ My contempt for that term is not really due to what Natalie Angiers refers to in her New York Times piece today: that the honorific implies a middle-aged dowdiness (although it does).

“It’s code for ‘you idiot,’” I explained to the boys. “It may seem like someone is trying to address you respectfully, but here, in this part of the country, 99% of the time someone says ‘ma’am’ they’re really saying ‘you moron.’”

The boys found this very amusing. “It’s often the same with ‘sir,’” I said. “It all depends on the tone of your voice, but most of the time, the speaker is saying ‘you’re stupid.’”

I was very pleased with myself, imparting this bit of wisdom. It’s not often that I can be the successful purveyor of life lessons to my own kids, let alone a car full of teenage boys. I could tell by their small grunts of acknowledgment, the heads nodding in the rear view mirror, that they really heard me – really got what I was saying.

It was confirmed all the more as we made our way through the park, and for the next six hours, my four teenage charges managed to “Ma’am” and “Sir” every living soul they encountered.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lost and Found

Yesterday I lost three things and I found two. Well, I didn’t really lose them all yesterday. Yesterday was just the day I started a running list of all the things I couldn’t find.

The first was not that important. It was my neighbor’s house key, which is usually in the little cup in the cupboard with all my other neighbors’ house keys. My neighbor asked me to walk her dog in the afternoon and she said, “you have the key, don’t you?” I’d answered before I looked. But she always keeps a spare key hidden at her house, so the dog got walked and I was simply left with a key mystery.

Then I was looking for the phone charger. It was in a plastic ziplock bag along with the car charger and I hadn’t seen it in since we got back from vacation. It’s a charger to an old phone, one that I’d bought a temporary usage plan for while we were at the beach, and now that old phone needed a charge.

I was looking in earnest for the phone charger when it dawned on me that another thing was lost, too, but I couldn’t remember what it was. Oh yeah, my neighbor’s house key. I’ll look for both.

“The other thing that’s missing is the Kindle power cord,” said my husband when I asked if he had the neighbor’s key. He bought me a Kindle for my birthday and I’m sure I’ll like it someday but right now I have no interest in it. I already own my next four books as (what do you call real books now?) "corporal entities," so it’s going to be a while before I can delve into a book electronically. The power cord was on the coffee table since I’d opened the Kindle box, so we quickly blamed the cleaning woman for its disappearance and assumed it would never be seen again.

A day passed and I still couldn’t find the phone charger. I began to curse the amount of “things” we have, always assuming that if we simply had less stuff, everything would be easier to keep track of. “What were the other two things I was looking for?” I asked my husband.

“All I can remember is the Kindle cord,” he said.

I stopped my search and sat down to try and think clearly about what the third missing thing was. “Oh right, the house key.”

I found the Kindle wire in the kitchen drawer. The one where I keep all my “charging wires.” I discovered it when I went in there to get my charger for my cell phone. Guess what else was in there? The ziplock with the other phone charger. What is wrong with my brain that I didn’t even consider looking in the Charging Wire Drawer for the missing charging wires?

Neighbor’s house key: still at large.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'm A Word Nerd

I went to the pharmacy today and on the counter was a little display container for Snickers bars. I love Snickers. Not as much as M&Ms, which I had a passionate conversation with Nancy about yesterday (during which she defended both the advent of Blue M&Ms and Pretzel M&Ms, two positions which I warned her might jeopardize our friendship). But if I were going to blow an entire day’s worth of Weight Watchers points on candy, and M&Ms were unavailable, Snickers would be my second choice.

Why? I would have to say it’s unequivocally the nougat.

I’m not certain what nougat is beyond sheer caramelly goodness, but it sure does resonate with my tastebuds and is well worth the immediate after-effect of having my teeth feel like they’re covered in fur. So I did give that counter display more than just a furtive glance. I knew I wasn’t going to buy a Snickers bar, but I just wanted to rest my eyes upon the logo-type and have a small, private moment fantasizing about its chocolatey chewiness.

NOUGATOCITY. That’s what the logotype read. Huh? Am I hallucinating?

Nope. Some genius coined this word and talked the appropriate Mars Brand Manager to print it on the backside of the candy bar.

I love that.

I love when big package-goods companies have fun with language. Like the time I was waiting for my son to come out of Lacrosse practice and out of sheer boredom I started reading the package copy on the bottle of Kiwi-Strawberry Vitamin Water that was sitting beside me in the cup-holder. It was a whole paragraph about a study that had been done which demonstrated that people didn’t need the letters of a word in the right order to be able to read it. Just the first and last letters of the word had to be correct. Everything in between can be willy-nilly, and to prove it, they wrote this assertion in just that manner.

If I wasn’t a die-hard Vitamin Water fan before, I became one then.

It doesn’t take more than a little effort (and a lot of courage) to add some whimsy to your product packaging. That Snickers bar logo made me smile for half an hour. But, that’s me. Word nerd.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Here's Why I Don't Drink Coffee

I first gave up coffee sometime around 1991 when a chiropractor I was seeing told me that my inexplicable back pain was likely being aggravated by caffeine. (He also told me that childless women my age – 31 at the time – were prone to all sorts of muscular complications, since our bodies were built to reproduce and by not having babies we were bucking our musculoskeletal systems. Pregnancy seemed a rash strategy to combat back pain, so I started my rehabilitation with caffeine removal.)

In 1991 I drank several cups of coffee a day. It was my breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack. Often I didn’t eat solid food at all until after 2PM. My coffee needed to be prepared just so, with real sugar and a generous amount of half-and-half. Enough half-and-half to turn the black coffee a lovely camelhair beige. I would only drink it out of a white mug, in order to make sure it was exactly the right hue. Those cups of coffee, taken in alongside cigarettes, were about as close to heaven on earth as I ever hoped to come.

Quitting coffee was a grim endeavor. It took me months before I could stay awake beyond three in the afternoon. My body was not used to relying on its own energy source and the caffeine withdrawal was long and arduous. But then, after those first few months, I found my own life energy and lived a productive and perhaps less agitated life.

Living caffeine free (no coffee, no chocolate, no coke) left me feeling healthy and virtuous, although my back pain didn’t go away. But I ultimately decided to stay off coffee because, mostly, I felt better.

When I started Weight Watchers two years ago, I quickly discovered that my daily cup of decaf was an enormous four-point indulgence. That’s how many points I had to give myself if my decaf was to turn the appropriate shade of beige. So I gave it up completely, opting for solid, chewable points instead.

Then I discovered fat-free half-and-half. No points. A teaspoon of sugar is only one point. So some days – on special occasions – I might treat myself to a cup of decaf just for fun.

That was the case last night around 9PM, after grocery shopping, a few points to spare for the day, I decided to sit down at my desk with a nice cup of decaf and organize my papers. I’d made a bit of decaf earlier in the week, so the coffee maker was already out. I pulled the Chock Full O Nuts out of the fridge and prepared to scoop. Hmmm. Where’s the little red measuring spoon that’s always in here, I wondered as I pulled back the can’s yellow plastic lid. That’s really odd, I said out loud as I looked in the drawer for another measuring spoon. Oh, well. Whatever. I scooped, brewed, sugared and drank. Yum.

At 11:30 PM I was meticulously uploading vacation photos to Facebook. Tagging. Captioning. How odd that I was so tired at 10 oclock last night. I could go on like this for hours.

I finally went to bed at midnight (late for me) and was up two hours later raring to go. I had a lot of thoughts swimming in my mind and considered that if I wrote them down maybe I could settle back to sleep. No. Still up at 3. Still up at 3:45. My husband used to call this phenomenon “missing the sleep train.” The way you sometimes can’t fall back asleep and have to just lay in bed, like you’re waiting at a train station, an hour, an hour and a half, and when the train shows up, then and only then are you able to again drift off.

But this felt different than missing the sleep train. This felt like there was never going to be another train at this station again. Like they discontinued the line completely and soon the station will be full of graffiti and soon after that it will collapse in decay. And that’s when it occurred to me that perhaps what I drank at 9PM was not decaf after all.

A quick 4 AM trip to the kitchen confirmed my suspicion. My little lost red coffee scoop was nestled right where it always is: in the green-lidded Chock Full O Nuts. The one way at the back of the fridge.

By 6AM I was back on the sleep train. Just in time to wake up at 7 to take my son to Cross Country practice.