Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kitchen: Before and After the Teenagers

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

Monday, September 21, 2009


Overheard at Chinese food take out shop:

Customer: What is this meat on a stick thing?

Counterwoman: It’s meat on a stick.

: But what kind of meat is it?

Counterwoman: It’s meat. On a stick.

Customer: Is it big? How big is it?

Counterwoman: It’s meat on a stick.

r: Ok. I’ll take four.

Friday, September 18, 2009

At What Price Love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guess What I Saw Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I guess that’s kind of true.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I’m Not So Odd…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Karma All Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Oudin Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

People pulling for people. That always makes me cry.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rules, Rules, Rules.

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

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

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

Six times?

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

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lazy. Late. Lucky. Ugly.

“You’re late, Jess, you’re late!”

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

Here’s another sentence:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucky isn’t ok? I love being lucky.

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

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

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