Wednesday, December 14, 2011

SAT Words for Gas Money

The Teenager’s friend parks in front of my house and walks in without knocking. He says he’s been video chatting with my son but was dumped when The Teenager received a chat request from his girlfriend. “Not his Real Girlfriend,” says the friend. “That other girl who he pretends is his girlfriend.”

All of this made complete sense to me. I knew the friend was talking about a girl from the mid-west that The Teenager had met on his Alaska trip over the summer. What I didn’t know was who the Real Girlfriend was, so I start grilling the friend, naming names. I’m met with only a coy smile.

I name the girl that The Teenager made a pact to pierce his ear with. And the other girl he spends Sunday nights “studying” with at Café Eclectic, a local antidote to Starbucks, with couches and loud music and table service. I know he pays for her when they sit for hours writing papers. I’ve had to remind him that even though they only order coffee, he still has to leave a tip.

I get no information so I go back to folding the laundry on the dining room table.

The Teenager and his friend bounce from room to room, snacking, playing with electronics, preening in mirrors. They stop in to the dining room to complain about the high cost of gas, perhaps hoping I might take pity and throw them a twenty.

Later, when the laundry is done and I’m back at my computer, they infiltrate my tiny office and whine about how bored they are. I suggest going to a movie. They can’t find a good one, they say. “You can go grocery shopping for me,” I tell them. I’m unable to fathom how two teenage boys, each with a car at his disposal, can’t seem to find anything to do on a Friday night.

The Teenager is picking things up off my bookshelves and putting them back in the wrong places. His friend has discovered that if he pulls down on my office door while moving it open and closed, he can make it creak like the doors in horror movies.

They complain more about gas money and the fact that I don’t keep enough drinks chilling in the refrigerator and I shoo them out and try to go back to work.

I’m not sure what made me think of the SAT flash cards, but a quick succession of ideas assembled in my mind – a phenomenon that has become so rare it left me marveling that the process could still take place.

I stick my head into the TV room. “We’re going to play SAT Words For Gas Money,” I say, knowing that the phrase “Gas Money” would get their attention.

“What’s that?” asks the friend and I quickly explain how I would ask them SAT words and give them each a quarter for every word they can define. I get the flash cards and my bowl of change and set up at the living room coffee table. They sit on the couch facing me, ready for action.

In my usual fashion, I revise the rules before we begin. “Not a quarter, a nickel,” I say. I was afraid I would go broke.

They pooh-pooh a nickel and we settle on a dime per word. As it turned out, my fear was needless; they botched up one word after another – words that I was sure they would know.

The Teenager is scheduled to take his first SAT in six weeks and I really had no idea how grim the vocabulary situation was. I’m not talking about crazy-ass words, either. Comprehensive. Notoriety. Altruistic. Words that I use all the time in sentences. Sometimes even correctly.

“Nuance,” I say to them.

Blank stares, both.

“Teenager, I used this word the other day when we were talking during breakfast,” I say to His Blankness. “Do you even know what I’m saying when I talk to you?”

“Not usually,” he says.

Occasionally, they get a definition or synonym correct and I slide a dime across the table into their small piles. If their definition is not quite right but was in the ballpark, I give them a nickel. By the end of the round, they each have $1.75, barely enough to drive to the next town.

“One more, one more,” says The Teenager, determined to win a full $2.00.


I think, How cute that his favorite hangout came up as an SAT word.

However, The Teenager does not look amused. Worse, he looks resigned. He doesn’t seem like he’s even trying to figure out why his Sunday haunt might bear that name.

“No,” I tell him, scooping up the rest of my change and dumping it back into the bowl. “Eclectic, does not mean ‘Coffee and Tea.’”

Friday, December 2, 2011

Roadrunner, Roadrunner

Early on I would just go to see who vomits. Which is really out of character for me. I usually can’t abide anything bilious, but somehow, in the runners, it didn’t make me gag, but instead left me with a feeling of awe that was at first unexpected and which later I feel like I became almost addicted to.

When people talk about runners, they usually focus on the Runner’s High. The euphoric feeling afterwards that you can do anything. That you’re gorgeous and invincible and, well, perfect. However, that is not how these runners present when they’re walking beyond the finish line, holding their sides, leaning forward to gently hurl. Still, I find it so captivating, I can’t take my eyes off them.

This is just one of the things I’ve discovered about high school cross-country, a sport that I knew virtually nothing about three years ago. In fact, when my son was a freshman and a dad in town asked if he was playing a fall sport, the dad responded with a snort when I said cross-country. “That’s not a real sport,” the dad said. At the time, I felt like I knew what he meant. You’re not embattled in head to head combat. There is no ball. There’s nothing about it that reeks of good ol’ boys.

I nodded when the dad said that, because, as usual, I wanted to fit in. But if he made the same declaration now, I would snort right back.

Because I would now find that statement dismissive and disrespectful of what these kids endure over the course of their season, and, yes, it’s different than having a drill sergeant for a coach who makes a whole team run suicides for an hour if one kid forgets his mouth guard. There is a soul and a humanity to running a long distance race that I find utterly humbling.

Kids come through the finish line and, even if they don’t vomit (and many don’t), they are in agony; it’s displayed on every pore of their face. There’s not much hooting and hollering; they’re someplace inside themselves and to witness the quietness of it feels both intimate and raw.

Some kids just walk off and back to their groups. They’re finding their breath and calming their legs. Others need to be held, and their teammates rush towards them, two kids flanking on either side. They walk the runner slowly, holding him up, bringing him back to life.

These kids do look like they’ve jut come off a battlefield, like they’re the walking wounded and you can see in their eyes that they’ve just been to a place that they’d never expected to go. It hurts. Some cry. Many walk off for a few minutes to be alone.

I just came back from the team banquet, an event that was about as low key as you can get. Pot luck, field house, no slide shows or trophies. Mostly just pasta and camaraderie.

The two captains, one senior and one junior, spoke about how the boys train six days a week, run four to seven miles every day, in the August heat and the October rain. And, as the team captain said, “when it’s time for a race, there is no one to blame things on. All there is is you and your time.” If that’s not a little microcosm of life, I don’t know what is.

Finally, the captains each told the story of how he’d gotten to cross-country. They had completely different styles, but their tales were similar. “I didn’t make the soccer team…” “I needed to get faster for baseball…” After years of these banquets, I feel like it’s a cross-country refrain. “I’m here because I wasn’t good enough.”

If not for the mortal humiliation my son would feel, I would have stepped right up onto the table at the end of those speeches and sang out a refrain of my own, one that may have been implied but needs to be spoken, loudly, to any and every kid who is willing to test himself this way: Look at you! Look what you’ve accomplished! You guys are plenty good. You’re fucking amazing.

This piece ran on Montclair Patch today and the comment there are very heartfelt. You can see it HERE.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Short Story Link

I got a short story published in an online literary magazine. The link is HERE. The issue is Wilderness House Literary Review #6/3 and the story is called Stanford Avenue. I want to link it here in case I ever need to find it again.

The site is unusual in that you have to click on the story link and it gives a PDF file. I'm not really sure why they set it up that way. It seems a bit of an inconvenience.

You don't need to read the story. In fact, it's probably better if you don't. You can just send me a note that says: Good job, Jessica! That would be perfect.

Friday, November 25, 2011

How My Mind Works

My husband recently treated me to his spot-on impression of me: “I have a backache. Do you think I’m dying?”


The day before Thanksgiving, my neighbor called to see if I had a rolling pin she could borrow. I told her I sort of did; our rolling pin is now just a cylinder – the handles were unscrewed, dismantled and lost by one of my sons when he was a toddler. You can still roll with it, though, so she came over and I presented it to her. “It’s really only a dowel,” she said. Which is true. A rolling pin without handles is basically a dowel.

Twenty-seven Thanksgivings ago, my brother was home from college and he needed a ride to the home of one of his high school friends. I brought him there and came inside to say hello to the kid who I hadn’t seen in a few years. The kid’s older brother was there with his girlfriend and I talked to them for a while, lamenting how I had graduated from college a year before but still wasn’t able to find a job I liked. “Are you interested in communications?” the girlfriend asked me. “Because I work for a company that’s actively looking to hire.”

I was a psychology major and had a very different idea about what “communications” meant than she did, but I said yes and she gave me her colleague’s name and I called the woman and got an interview and then got a job there all within a few short weeks.

I thought of all this because my brother’s friend’s last name was Dowell.

At that job, I met my husband. He was one of very few single men working among a sea of linen-clad, pedicured, estrogen-laden Communications professionals. He and I went out for lunch a few times and then occasionally to the movies. I had a boyfriend at the time, but didn’t think much of it. I was in New York and my not-yet-husband was thin, well-dressed, and fun to talk to, so I assumed he was gay.

It turned out I was wrong about that and we started dating and then one thing led to another and now here we are, 27 years later, lending dowels to our neighbors.

I was thinking yesterday, about how much I have to be thankful for and topping the list was finding someone who can reflect to me who I am and help me laugh about it.

I’m glad we have been left with a pastry-rolling dowel. Because the people who come into our lives and become the most important to us are often the result of chance encounters and uncharacteristic decisions, and my gratitude for these types of happenstance may never have come into such clear focus if what I had was still a regular old rolling pin.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wanted: $20,000 USB Port

I’ve spent the past few weeks looking for a new car, a project that should be easy and fun, but for me is playing out like some kind of existential reckoning.

I don’t think I’ve ever “shopped” for a car in my life. I was either handed down cars, or stumbled upon something in a used car lot. The few new cars I’ve bought had been decided upon long before I ended up at a showroom. I didn’t test drive a series of mini-vans, I just walked into a Honda dealer and bought an Odyssey. I own the car I drive now because I liked the way my neighbor looked in hers – sophisticated and put together. I bought one for myself, thinking I might look the same way.

(I don’t.)

The root of the problem lies where most (ok, all), of my problems begin: I don’t know what I want.

I’ve studiously considered small, mid-size, sub-compact, luxury, hatchback, new, used, certified pre-owned, American, foreign, financed and leased. I can speak with frightening eloquence about any given car’s ranking in its class, its gas mileage, what comes standard, what fully-loaded costs. Car sentences come out of my mouth that make my best friend burst out laughing and my husband’s eyes glaze over.

I thought that research would bring me closer to understanding what it is I want, but, in fact, it’s just made things more cloudy and confused.

My family is no help. “Just get something with a USB port,” my husband has said. The kids agree. Beyond that, they couldn’t care less.

So this is how my conversations go with the car salesmen. Sitting across from them at their desks, my mind on one thing and one thing only: will I regret foregoing leather seats? They lean toward me, look deep into my eyes and ask the question that I’ve been hoping I’d know the answer to by now: What is it, exactly, that you’re looking for?

They want to help me. They want to meet my needs. I can feel it emanating from them, in their breath, and in the way they tap, tap, tap their pens gently on a clean white sheet of paper – a sheet that could soon be filled with whatever my imagination puts forth, however I care to spell out my heart’s desire.

“I need a car with a USB port,” I say. And it should be black.”

They wait, pen poised, but I’m finished. They smile. I smile. And then we go drive some stuff around.

I barely pay attention to the cars as I drive them. I ask the salesmen whether it’s scary to get in a car with a stranger, to be a passenger next to someone you don’t even know. One guy told me he was car-jacked a few years ago. A guy he took out pulled a knife on him about a mile from the dealership. He let the salesman out of the car and drove off.

“I’m not going to do that to you,” I tell him.

He thanks me.

We park, shake hands, exchange numbers. I have little recollection of the encounters. I want the earth to move, but it stays put.

That I don’t know what I want is not entirely true. There’s a specific model of VW, which is not only a convertible but it’s a hard-top, auto-retracting convertible that, when the top is opening or closing, makes the car look like a Transformer. It’s a 2-door, tight-fit, over-priced, poorly rated car that is so cute in red it’s almost unbearable. That’s the car I want.

“Really? A convertible?” my husband says to me. “You don’t even like driving with your windows open.”


If someone just put a car in my driveway and started sending me monthly bills, that would be ideal. But so far that hasn’t happened and it doesn’t seem likely that it will. So, I’m going to have to read more Edmund’s reviews, visit more dealers. Find myself a 4-door, automatic, front-wheel drive USB port, even if it kills me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Opposites Attract

My husband just came back from a speaking engagement at Philadelphia University. He was asked to give a presentation to a group of animation students. He put together a bunch of work he had overseen when he was the creative director at Nickelodeon. I’m not sure what it all amounted to, but he said he left them with this sentiment: You all have a lot of opportunity right now, because everything is falling apart. If you’re willing to think and figure things out, there’s probably a lot of different ways your careers could go.

He told them, “When I started at Nickelodeon, it was kind of a nothing network. We had to build it up into something. If you went there now for a job, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun.”

This is one of the things my husband does best: imagine things that don’t exist yet. I don’t even know how that’s done.

He told me that afterwards, one after another student came up to him and said the same thing. That they really appreciated his perspective. That everyone else that comes to talk to them – everyone – describes a future of doom and gloom. Even the professor said that to him.

“I don’t do doom and gloom,” my husband told the professor. “For that, you need to talk to my wife.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Six Flags. Big Dimples. First Wife.

I’m in the car driving home. I have four teenage boys in the car. They’re tired and the ride is long, so they’re draped over the seats and armrests, occupying even more of the car than they need. Long legs. Smelly socks.

Big Dimples is sitting alone in the third row of my SUV, the area we would call “the way back” of a station wagon when we were kids. I can’t hear most of what he says from back there, only that he keeps yelling up to the front to turn the music louder.

The Parkway is slow, but not crawling. Still, it feels like we’ve been in the car forever. Each of them has slept for a little while, but we’re close to home now, so they’re all eager and alert.

“Let’s play the wave game,” one of them says.

I imagine them standing up and sitting down the way people do in a stadium. I tell them I don’t want them standing in the car, but I quickly realize that’s not what they’re talking about. They’re talking about waving to people in other cars. The way you do when you’re five. And they begin.

This unnerves me; I feel like we’re going to get shot. There’s something about being in close proximity to Big Dimples that makes me feel like I’m living on the edge, and I feel that way now, even in my four thousand pound car.

The girls who are driving behind us look like they’re in college. They see Big Dimples and they smile and wave back. The boys are giddy. Big Dimples has his hand up by his ear – he’s asking them to call him.

The girls smile and shrug their shoulders. How can we call you when we don’t have your number, they appear to be saying. Big Dimples starts holding fingers up. Nine fingers. Seven fingers. He’s miming his phone number for them.

“She texted me!” he yells.

I attempt to intervene but it’s half-assed. I’m not sure yet if they’re doing anything wrong and I’m curious to see what happens. “That girl shouldn’t be texting while she’s driving!” I yell out.

The driver isn’t texting, someone informs me. The passenger is.

Big Dimples shares the conversation with the other boys, but I can’t hear most of what he says because the music is on, the air-conditioner is blowing. I’m trying to appear blasé, so I don’t want to ask him to repeat himself.

The other boys vacillate between awe and mockery. “They’re asking where we’re going,” Big Dimples says.

“Are you going to tell them your friend’s mom is driving us home from an amusement park?” one of the boys shoots back.

The boys learn that the girls are in college and that they’re on their way home. They don’t live nearby and they don’t know they’re texting with high school freshmen. By this time, Big Dimples has stored their number in his phone, probably labeled as Girls On Parkway.

The girls pull out from behind us and start to pass me on the left. I’m sure they want to see who’s driving. I shield my face as they drive by, embarrassed by what I’ve just witnessed.

“This how Big Dimples is going to meet his first wife,” says one of the boys.

I sneak a peek at the girls before they drive off and they’re smiling – giggling – and a part of me thinks he’s probably right.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Long Live The Gecko

Let me just start by saying, I’m not proud of anything I’m about to write.

I can’t blame it on the storm. Before we ever lost power – long before – I felt “done” with the gecko. I’ve tried to get rid of him, but someone always talks me out of it. But this storm that took out the power, that catapulted The Teenager out to some friend's heated home for days, that left my husband stranded in Boston a little longer than he planned, seemed like just the Unfortunate Event that might set me free.

By the third day without power, the house was cold – colder than the outside air. I think it was 52 degrees inside and the gecko was barely moving. He’d been looking sickly to begin with – for weeks he had an opaque quality to his skin and yucky stuff on his toes. He barely opened his eyes, which made him look even more grumpy than usual. His tail, an indicator of virility, was far too thin.

“Just so you know, I’ve decided not to take any extraordinary measures with the gecko,” I said to my husband in one of our thrice-daily phone calls during which I mostly complained about how cold and unpleasant life here was.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “You have to bring him somewhere warm.”

I reminded my husband about my injured shoulder and how taxing transporting a gecko tank would be. “You have to,” he said.

So I did. I took the gecko over to a friend who had power and heat and a big heart. I grumbled, even as I set up his warming lights, knowing this was just going to prolong his miserable life. And then, in for a pint, in for a pound, I drove to the pet store to get him crickets.

I could have just asked for 10 crickets, as I always do, but for some reason I launched into a confessional speech about how I really didn’t want to “save” my gecko, how he was ill and how I would have happily let him freeze to death, but I didn’t, I moved him to warmth and now here I was, needing to feed him crickets.

The two guys behind the counter were speechless. Both in their twenties, and obvious animal lovers, I’m sure they didn’t know what to make of me, a middle-aged lizard hater.

“How do you know he’s ill?” one finally managed to ask.

I told them about his skin issues and his tail and his surly demeanor and they gave me a bottle of emollients for him. “He’s not molting properly,” one said. “He’s probably in pain.”

“What am I supposed to do, spray him with this?” I said.

No, it goes into a basin. Lukewarm water, preferably distilled. The gecko was to soak in it for 20 minutes and then I was to gently rub off his molting skin.

“Are you kidding me? You want me to give the gecko a bath?”

Had they not heard me when I said I was hoping he would just die?

One of them talked about how much he was probably suffering and that if I was going to let him perish, I could at least make him comfortable in the meantime. This reasoning would normally make no sense to me, but the storm had really rattled me, so I entertained their pleas.

I turned the bottle over to see how much it cost.

“Look,” sang the guy with two earrings as he wagged his finger at me, “someone cares a little!”

“If you buy the Reptile Bath, we’ll throw in the crickets for free,” said the other.

“Ok, but I’m not bathing him at my friends house,” I said.

No, of course, whenever your power comes back on, they said.

I took the crickets to the gecko and unceremoniously dumped them into his tank. He seemed neither grateful nor joyful and I wondered whether it was possible that he might just die of scorn.

Geckos can live for 20 years, the pet saviors told me. Ours is seven. I try to imagine myself thirteen years from now, gray and liver-spotted, inquiring whether I can get a Senior Discount on crickets at the pet store and it’s not a fantasy that I care to engage in.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Sag

I remember several years ago, my older son had some friends over on a Saturday night around Halloween. One of the dads came to pick up his kid; the dad had obviously slipped away from a Halloween party to execute the retrieval. He had on a suede vest and a purple shirt, jeans, some large pendant hanging from his neck. He may have said he was a Dude From The Seventies, and I remember thinking, “Huh, I dress just like that most of the time.”

It got me wondering: Would my kids, when they’re 40 or 50, show up at a Halloween party in a pair of jeans slung low on their hips – below their butts, even – with a colorful pair of boxers displayed, announcing they were Dudes From 2011? Egad.

If this Halloween was any precursor, that particular demise of society has already begun, because just days ago, I opened the door to eight giggling, early pubescent girls and, in an attempt to make small talk, asked one – a neighborhood girl – what she was supposed to be. She promptly uttered the name of my 12-year-old son and when I looked confused, she pulled up her tee shirt to reveal several inches of striped boxers, cinched below by a pair of belted, sagging jeans.

I gave her an extra Reese’s Cup, because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. And then I watched her take the porch steps, slow and wide-legged, just as my son does, so her pants wouldn’t fall down completely.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Brain Has A Mind Of Its Own

I was in the supermarket the other day, procuring my twice-weekly stash of Brussels sprouts, when I saw one of my tennis friends at the other end of the produce aisle. We drove our carts up to each other and hugged (because we really like each other, not because it’s expected) and immediately started talking about menopause. Why? I don’t really know. But it seemed as easy and natural as inquiring about what the other was making for dinner.

She told me about a movie she had seen recently on HBO – it was called “Enlightenment” or something like that – and she said the protagonist was a black-or-white kind of character who went off to Hawaii (maybe) and changed a whole lot of things about her life in a radical, all-encompassing way. The reason I’m not entirely clear on what the story was about is because at one point my tennis friend mentioned that the main character was played by “that woman in Jurassic Park. What was her name, again?”

I knew exactly who she was talking about, but couldn’t access the actress’s name either. “I know, I know,” I said. “She’s blond and she’s sort of….”

I couldn’t think of the right adjective to describe this actress physically, but I did remember there was always something about her nose and lips and chin that made her beautiful, but in a way that was…

“Hard,” said my tennis friend, who was also struggling with the actress’s name.

“Yes! Hard! There’s something about her that’s hard,” I said. And then I half-listened to the plot of the movie while I employed a good deal of my brain to try and remember her name.

My friend said she could only watch bits and pieces of the movie because she really saw herself in the character and it was troubling. She wept when she watched it. She turned away.

I shared with her my own weepiness. How I had to yell at myself on the way to the dentist: “Pull yourself together. You cannot be in this fragile state while someone is scaling the plaque from your teeth.”

We both nodded solemnly, a symbol of our lachrymose sisterhood. Then, I left with my Brussels sprouts and went about my day.

I slept well that night, as I usually do, and in the morning, I woke up with two words on my lips: Laura Dern.

(There is a hardness about her, right?)

I was so excited to remember the actress’s name; I couldn’t wait to get to my computer and send an email containing only those two words.

But to whom?

I had no idea who I had that conversation with. I couldn’t remember the name of the movie, or where I was when I was told about it. Obviously, I had no idea who had been doing the telling.

The name Laura Dern danced around in my head like a scene from Black Orpheus, all jubilant, whirling streamers. The context, however, was a total blank.

I lay still and rehashed every interaction I’d had the day before. Was it someone I saw at the football game? Was it someone I saw on my block? Where had I been yesterday? Who had I seen? What had I done?

Finally, my brain spat forth the image of my tennis friend, her blue eyes matching her blue sweatshirt. The name of the movie emerged. The network it was on. A few other details.

More and more my brain feels like it has a mind of its own, and not a particularly cooperative one. If I want to access information, a memory, I need to go about it passively—let it waft in when it’s ready.

People tell me secrets. “You can’t tell anyone this,” they say.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “In five minutes, I won’t even remember it.”

Friday, September 30, 2011

Road Test

I was about 17, when I went to my first concert. I was with a bunch of friends and we drove what seemed like a million miles from suburban New Jersey to the Nassau Coliseum to see Jethro Tull. There were maybe eight of us and we situated ourselves inside of a flower delivery van that one of the kids drove for his job. There were no seats in the back of the van, just hard corrugated metal and errant Baby’s Breath. The drive was long. It was raining. And I remember that bumpy, endless trip as being not only one of the first times I felt really grown up, but also my first introduction to that particularly unpleasant trifecta of physical conditions: hungry, cold, and wet.

Fast forward to last Friday, where I find myself in a similar state, although this time I am not in the back of a cold, steel flower truck, but rather in the driver’s seat of a friend’s Honda Civic, parked at the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, trying to kill time with my now-17-year-old while we wait for an hour for the MVC Gal to emerge from the small concrete building beside us and take my son for his road test.

I am wet because it’s pouring. The conditions couldn’t be worse for driving except maybe if it were a blizzard. We’ve borrowed my friend’s car because you need a hand brake between the two front seats in order to take the test and my car has an emergency brake accessible only by foot. There is no back wiper on this car and it’s raining so hard you can’t see out the rear window. “Am I going to be able to parallel park?” my son muses. “You’ll do the best you can,” I say.

I’m cold because I’m not dressed appropriately. The tee shirt I have on is too light and the denim jacket I brought is not warm. We blast the heat but it’s barely addressing the problem, because my jeans are soaked from ankle to thigh due to my myriad sprints from the small concrete building to the big concrete building along with my hemispheric jogs around the car from passenger to driver’s side and back.

These sprints and jogs are the result of my major shortcoming in life: I am plan-impaired. I tried to overcome my handicap for this particular excursion, but I failed.

My first mistake was not paying a driving instructor the $100 fee to just pick my son up from school, bring him for his license, and then deliver him back home again. When they told me $100, I thought it was outlandish. Highway robbery, if you will. And I resolved to find a car with an appropriately positioned break and do it myself.

Finding the car took two minutes. My friend was happy to oblige. I also prided myself on taking my son’s Learner’s Permit out of my glove box and sticking it in my wallet, as I suspected he might need it and wouldn’t I feel terrible if we’d gone all that way only to find his paperwork was left in the wrong car?

I was also proud of myself for researching what documents were needed to obtain an initial license. I was surprised to find that the Six Points Of Identification were required for 17-year-olds, although I don’t know why I should have been. No matter. I had plenty of time to fish out his birth certificate and Social Security card, get a school report card the bore his address along with a school ID card. I even called the school to say I was signing him out for the day and the secretary armed me with a letter verifying his enrollment. “Sometimes they ask for this,” she said.

I retrieved him from school, stopped at the deli so he could get a bacon-laden snack, and we headed off. We waited our turn in line and it wasn’t until we had pulled right up to the Road Test Stop Sign that I could read the instructions underneath: Please have your Registration and Insurance ready.

I knew right away they did not want my registration and insurance; they wanted the ones that went with my friend’s car. This was the one stone I’d left unturned.

In a somewhat miraculous turn of events, my friend had just yesterday put her registration card into her glove box, a habit that I never subscribe to (and, I guess, neither did she). However her insurance card remained with her.

The MVC Gal was about to make us reschedule, but then she said my friend could have her insurance company fax a letter (to the big concrete building) and I could pick it up and bring it to her (in the small concrete building) and once that happened, my son could take his road test.

When I picked up the fax, I did not stop at the vending machine to get myself a snack because it was 11:50 and I was trying to get back to the small concrete building before noon, which is when the MVC Gal takes lunch. Miracle Number Two was that, in spite of out-the-door lines and stolid bureaucracy, I actually had the fax in my hands exactly four minutes after I called my friend to arrange it. However, by the time I reached the small concrete building again, it was 11:56 and the MVC Gal had already reheated last night’s General Tsao’s Chicken and sidled up to the folding table. I watched her tuck her napkin into her collar as she gave me an almost authentic look of regret.

“Come back at 1:00,” she said.

I was afraid to leave our spot in line, so we stayed put while she had her lunch inside the warm, little concrete building and I ate the only thing I’d taken with me from home: Trident gum.

Once she showed up, the rest went pretty smoothly. My son made only one mistake (put your blinker on for a K-turn) and I committed a few social faux pas, but two hours later, we walked back out into the rain, license in hand, and I snatched my rattling last breaths (with deep-sea-diver sound) as I watched my baby’s world expand in vastness before my eyes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


(A slightly modified, pg-13 version of article appears on Patch today with the subhead: I’m no longer an Accents With Flowers virgin. This is the original, R-Rated director's cut.)

There’s a store on Church Street that I’ve never been in. By all accounts it looks like a florist. This is mainly because the sidewalk in front of the store has been filled with plants, planters, birdbaths and various other things you might find in front of a flower shop. Also, it has the word “flowers” in its name. I was stalking a new friend the other day and saw her slip in there, so, despite not needing flowers, I decided to follow.

The entryway of the store is filled with little gifty things – indeed, the type of thing you might find in a flower shop. There were a few racks of greeting cards and within the glass counter was a display of fancy chocolates. “Oh, you can get candy and flowers here,” I thought, filing the information away as if I were a Gatsby-era suitor rather than an eating-disordered matron.

I presented myself to my new friend and she was appropriately startled to see me. We’d just had lunch on Church Street the day before and something felt peculiar about seeing her here, exactly 24 hours later.

“Do you come here often?” she said, meaning to the store.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in here in my life,” I said.

“I love this store,” she said, and then just to make sure I understood, “I really love it.”

I glanced around once again and noticed a few odd accoutrements on the display table to my left. There were several small glass vials with cinnamon-infused oil that didn’t seem to “go” with the rest of the display.

“Everything in here is so random!” she said with unmistakable giddiness, and once she pointed it out, it was as if the store transformed into some kind of secret treasure before my very eyes.

Yes, there was a refrigerator full of cut flowers, and yes, there was a glass case of decorated chocolates, but there were also lamps and throw pillows and candles and clothes. In fact, it felt a little like someone had taken American Sampler, Dobbs and Copabananas and smushed them all together into one big eye-candy extravaganza.

I wandered into the adjoining room. Sleepwear, jewelry, handbags, tea sets, linens, kitchenware. Shelves of items that celebrate dogs and cats, including Christmas ornaments hanging on a near-bare tree. Art, books, mirrors, change purses. Blackberry jam. Barack Obama toilet paper.

The actual display layouts are as fascinating as what’s displayed. There was a table with a smattering of novelty g-strings, a journal-type book in which you could record your thoughts about parenting, and then a small stack of Bubba’s Butt Soap. Of course, I was instantly drawn to the Butt Soap. On the back of it, the directions provided simple instruction: “Insert soap bar into crack and move up and down a few times, rinse and repeat ‘til clean.” I tried to imagine that type of package copy being approved in a Proctor and Gamble brand meeting, but faltered.

“I could stay in here all day,” my friend said as she gathered up her purchases and left.

Me, too, I thought, as I went on to discover the Baby Section, the Candy Cane Section, the Naughty Section, the Other Naughty Section and then quietly tried to imagine what it would have been like to actually live in a house decorated in chintz and fringed lamps that look like they should be in a bordello, which is just where I was headed, years ago, before my husband steered me to Stickley.

Eventually, sensory overload set in and I stepped out of nirvana and back into my life. “You can get flowers and butt soap here,” I said to myself as I left – making a mental note of all the upcoming occasions where either – or both – might come in handy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Breakfast Conversation With The 12-Year-Old

HIM: Does it cost money for the bike store to take something off your bike?
ME: I don't know, I guess it depends what it is. Maybe we could just take it off here.
HIM: Ok.
HIM: Can I tell you what I want to take off?
ME: Sure.
HIM: The brakes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Welcome to Middle School, May I Please Take Your Sanity?

My youngest went off to a new school last week and the preparation made me sigh. My preparation. For revisiting that strange planet called Middle School with its unique brand of intrigue.

Not so long ago, The Teenager introduced me to the finer points of Middle School during a shopping expedition and I remember thinking, Lewis Carroll, step aside.

We were off to buy sneakers, a once simple activity that had suddenly become highly complicated. He’d asked me to take him for weeks, and I’d put him off. He already had a pair of sneakers, and I didn’t understand why he needed another one. Finally, I relented.

As we got into the car he asked if we could pick up one of his friends (I’ll call him James Dean). Then, thirty seconds after we arrived at the store, another friend sauntered in. I’ll call him James Dean’s Cousin. James Dean and my son both acted like it was a huge coincidence that James Dean’s Cousin had just shown up.

“Are these two here for a fashion consult?” I asked my son, marveling that teenage boys would want to shop together.

“They have to make sure they’re real,” he said.

I walked gingerly up to a pair of sneakers perched regally atop a Lucite pedestal. I gave them a little poke. They seemed real enough.

“I don’t think this store is going to sell counterfeit sneakers,” I said. Three pair of eyes rolled.

We were not shopping in a bona fide sneaker store. It was a skate store: skate shoes, skateboards and skate clothing. There was an element of “cool” to the store that seemed to make James Dean feel right at home. Another friend bounded into the store out of breath. This boy lived over a mile away, but it appeared that he had run over quickly in order to partake in the activities.

James Dean gave the okay to a pair of green on green, leather and suede high tops. “I like those,” my son said. “But I can’t get them.”

“Why not?” I asked.

He explained that another friend already had those sneakers.

“How about these?” I asked, picking up a pair of multicolored Nikes with a gold Swoosh.

“Taken,” he said.

“By whom?”

The same kid: Marlon Brando. Brando evidently had the green ones, the gold swooshes and six other pair. The boys all agreed: You can’t get the same shoes as someone else. They told me a story about a reasonably popular kid who showed up at school with the same shoes as another boy and was instantly branded a “biter.”

I used context clues to determine that a Biter is a middle-school version of a Copy Cat.

“Excuse me,” I said. “But if a kid has eight pair of sneakers, he’s not allowed to say that no one else can have the same sneakers as he does.”

The boys all shook their heads, pitying me my cluelessness.

I made an eye-contact appeal to the store clerk. A look that said, Even though I’ve been an adult since before you were born, we still have in common that we are no longer in middle school. So can you please help me out here?

The clerk caught on right away. “My friends and I wear the same shoes all the time,” he said to the boys.

This idea so repulsed James Dean and James Dean’s Cousin that they just up and left, muttering something about looking at sneakers in another store down the street.

The store clerk went on, “That kid with eight pair of sneakers needs to get a life. He’s in here every day!”

This had the exact opposite effect on my son as I had hoped. His eyes lit up and I could already see his little brain working hard trying to figure out how he might organize his life to be in this store every day; how he, too, could own eight pair of sneakers. How, perhaps, if he did own eight pair of sneakers, middle school would not feel like such a mystery planet after all.

I launched into my speech: “I don’t understand. People sell fake sneakers? You can’t have the same as anyone else? There are only so many designs! How can everyone have a unique pair of sneakers?”

These are the types of questions that get asked just prior to your innocence being peeled away. Questions that usher you from that blissful land called ignorance and into the mayhem called middle school. It happens gently and quietly and, if you’re lucky, privately. With any luck, you’ll be wearing the right shoes for the trip.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lovely Rita

I was almost late for an Emergency Coffee Date today because I was having A Moment with the meter maid. I’d put my quarter in and nothing happened and while I was cursing, I saw her walking to her car. I yelled, “Excuse me,” in that voice I reserve for people at whom I’m about to launch a hissy fit – although she didn’t know me, so she was unaware that my usual voice is not so shrill.

“I just put money in the meter,” I called over to her, “and it didn’t give me any time.”

She started toward me. “This happens all the time,” I added in a voice you could tell was exasperated whether you knew me or not.

“Is it jammed?” she asked. By this time we were both at the meter in question and she could see for herself that it wasn’t. “You can just leave your car here,” she said, and then she called me sweetheart, as if she were my grandmother and not an Hispanic woman 15 years my junior. “I won’t give you a ticket when the screen is blank like that.”

This certainly took some of the fight out of me and I realized that I was not going to be able to take out my crappy day on this particular civil servant. She gave me a sweet smile and told me I should go off and do my errands; my car would be fine.

“Do you want another quarter?” I asked, holding out the second coin I would have fed into the meter.

“No, sweetheart, you just have a good day,” she said.

I started thanking her effusively – too effusively, perhaps – and then I started to apologize. I told her I was having a crappy day and I didn’t mean to take out my bad mood on her or her parking meters. I had been apologizing for things all day already – a misunderstanding I’d creating in a hasty email exchange this morning, all the awful shots I made during my tennis game – and felt there was far more to apologize for. For not being the woman who lost her husband to a brain aneurysm or the mother who had to treat her child’s newly diagnosed leukemia, as was the case with two old friends this week. For acting petty and small with my family to cover up the fact that I’m feeling really vulnerable and scared about money and new schools and impending college searches. And soon, to my Coffee Date, for being late because I’m having A Moment with the meter maid.

I thought the meter maid was going to smile again and be on her way, but instead she stood right in front of me and said, “Sweetheart, sometimes we all have days like that.” Then she told me about her mother who had Stage 4 cancer and another family friend who just lost her 12-year-old in a car accident. I was still stressing out about being late for Coffee, so I had to re-play what she’d just said to me before it sunk in. For a brief moment, I stopped thinking about myself and I looked at the meter maid. She was dressed like a cop and had a beautiful French manicure. She looked like she had a little gem pierced into her face – it was tiny. Maybe it was just a mole. And her eyes were dark and sparkly; she looked right at me when she spoke.

“I’m telling you all this because we always need to remember that no matter how bad our problems are, they could be much worse,” she said, and then repeated one of my favorite little axioms about how people, when invited to drop their problems into a well and pick anyone else’s problems to take home with them instead, all invariably choose to take back their own.

I then hugged the meter maid and let her go back to her work. And I went in to meet my Coffee Date and ended up having the most delicious cup of coffee I can ever remember.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I’m sure I don’t need to really spell this out, but just in case, here it goes.

If you ever find yourself working at Weight Watchers – as one of the people who checks the weight of others, say – and the weight watcher in question has come in for her monthly weigh-in, and she knows her weight is up from last month (she already knows it!), and she says to you, “How bad is it?”, you can just quietly lean over and tell her her weight. You don’t need to say to her, “Here, I’ll just give you the print-out and you can see for yourself…will you be able to see it without your reading glasses?”

Because when you say something like that to a woman of a certain age – especially when that woman’s birthday is upon her and she will be A Certain Age And Then Some, it hits her in the same way as asking a woman who is a little thick around the middle whether she is pregnant. And I think we all have come far enough in life by now (and by “all” I mean even my 11-year-old son) to know that that is a sentence that should never, ever be uttered unless the thick-middled woman has her sonogram print-out pinned to her lapel.

If you misstep, and you do make a gauche reference to reading glasses, you just need to be prepared for the possible reaction. The Woman of A Certain Age may not actually follow through on this, but what she wants, at the conclusion of your sentence…she wants to reach across the desk and punch you in your fucking face.

Ok, so now you know.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Here's Why I Don't Do Dishes On My Birthday

I’m not sure if it’s a Leo thing, but many of us with August birthdays don’t just celebrate the day we were born, we celebrate the whole week. Sometimes the whole month. For me, celebrating doesn’t entail much more than saying, “It’s my birthday!” To which someone will respond, “Oh, Happy Birthday!” and I’ll offer a big, gushy, “Thanks!” and, voila, I feel celebrated.

I usually keep my birthday expectations very low. Similar to Mother’s Day, if no one ends up in the emergency room and/or I don’t have to clean up vomit, I consider the day a resounding success.

I was not born with this perspective – it’s been acquired.

In my twenties, I spent a bit of time as a PA. PA is short for Production Assistant and can mean many things in terms of skill and responsibility. For me, it meant doing all the impossible things that no one else wanted to do. Keeping someone’s ice coffee cold in a heat wave. Trying to find magenta duct tape. Fixing a broken Xerox machine.

You can often tell which are the PAs at any shoot. They’re the ones running ragged to prove themselves while simultaneously stifling their fury about being the lowest paid, least respected members of the crew.

The first PA job I was ever given was for a Man-On-The-Street interview spot. We were going to shoot at the Willowbrook Mall and we had a call time of 10 AM. I remember all those details, including the exact date of the shoot not because it was my first time, but because it was my birthday.

Most of the crew was traveling from Manhattan, but I already lived in New Jersey, as did Steve, the production manager, so he and I were going to drive to the mall together. I don’t remember what time he was scheduled to pick me up, but I do remember that our plans changed substantially, because early that morning, as I was washing my breakfast dishes, a glass broke in my hand. The sink filled with blood and I could not get the bleeding under control. I called Steve, “I’m going to be a little late. I have to go to the ER.”

Steve offered to bring me to the hospital. Our first stop was the triage nurse who listened to my story and started taking down my information. “Birth date?” she asked. “Today!” I said.

For the first time she looked up from her notes. “Today is your birthday?”

I smiled and nodded like a 7-year-old.

“Honey, what were you doing washing dishes on your birthday?”

At first, I couldn’t tell if she was sympathetic or chiding, but it soon occurred to me that this must be some special brand of ER levity because the admitting nurse, the nurse who administered the Tetanus shot and the Physician’s Assistant who sewed my finger up all came up with the same sentiment.

“How did you do this, young lady?”

“Washing dishes,”

Then, looking at my chart, “What were you doing washing dishes on your birthday?”

An hour or so later, my index finger stitched, bandaged and throbbing, we headed to the mall. My finger garnered lots of attention, which I ended up exploiting over the course of the day.

My assignment was to find “men in business suits” who would agree to be interviewed. It was 11 AM on a weekday. “There are no men in business suits here,” I told the producer. “Men in business suits are all at their businesses.”

“Nonsense,” he said. “Go find me some suited men.”

I scampered off with my clipboard and throbbing finger and boldly approached the one and only business suit clad man in the mall. I told him what we were doing and asked if he’d be willing to be interviewed. No, he wouldn’t, he said. And he walked away.

I ran after him and began to beg. “Please, my boss is going to fire me if you don’t do it. I cut my finger open this morning and I got nine stitches and it’s really killing me and won’t you just give me this one break?”

I could see by the look on his face that I was getting through to him. He was on the verge of saying yes. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do what I was about to do, but it seemed the only way to secure his participation.

“Please,” I whined. “It’s my birthday.”

“It’s your birthday?” he said. Yes, it really is, I told him as I pushed my clipboard with the photo releases just a little closer to him. He took the release and my pen and said he’d be happy to do it.

“How did you cut your finger?” he said while he was signing his rights away.

“Washing dishes,” I said. And, before the words came out of his mouth, I added, “I know, I know. I shouldn’t do dishes on my birthday.”

Does no one wash dishes on their birthdays? Or take out the garbage? Or make the bed? My birthday is coming up and for the most part it’s business as usual. But if my kitchen looks a little more unkempt than usual, now you know why.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Laura the Tennis Pro Moves On

And, Poof! just like that Laura the Tennis Pro turned into Laura the Respiratory Therapist.

I’ve been dreading this day for a long time. The day when Laura the Tennis Pro would really truly not be our Tennis Pro any longer. It was inevitable. She enrolled in a post graduate program to become a Certified Respiratory Therapist and during her studies, she would cram us all in for clinics on whatever day she could keep free that semester. Fortunately for her, school only lasted a finite amount of time. This last leg of it nearly killed her. Not so fortunate for us, though.

I continued to take lessons with Laura while she was in school because I knew that at some point (some point soon) the lessons would just end. That Laura the Tennis Pro would take off her Adidas, put on her surgical scrubs and go off to save people’s lives rather than just their backhands.

Still, in some secret place, I wished that Laura the Tennis Pro would find some respiratory work that didn’t require her presence every day. That she could find some special hospital or care facility that had made their patients agree to not have asthma attacks or emphysema on Wednesdays. That on Wednesdays, Laura the Respiratory Therapist would be able to sneak into a phone booth, don her Dri-Fit, and, just for a few short hours, become Laura the Tennis Pro again.

That shit never works and this time was no exception. Not only is Laura the Respiratory Therapist not going to be available for the occasional clinic, she’s not even staying in the tri-state area.

I’m really good at pretending sad things like this aren’t real and that’s part of the reason I haven’t written about it before. She has bequeathed us to another tennis pro who I’ve met over the summer and who I like a lot. But he doesn’t appear to be able to pull off an Austin Powers imitation, and he doesn’t have that same charming quality of being fearful of fire extinguishers. I don’t know if he’ll be a Serve Whisperer like Laura, although he does seem utterly capable of finding the same sort of glee that Laura did whenever Gina got hit with a ball.

I guess the truth is, I don't feel like I've learned all that I'm meant to from Laura the Tennis Pro. And I'm not even really talking about tennis anymore.

Peter the Tennis Pro. It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Maybe he’ll need a moniker all his own.

In the meantime, I just keep hearing this song playing in my head:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Into The Wild

I now know that there is a qualitative difference in reading about teenage boys being mauled by a bear in Alaska when you yourself actually have a teenage boy in Alaska. Even though I learned about this horrific incident after I had spoken to the teenager from Anchorage Airport while he waited for his plane to board, I spent the whole day troubled and distracted, a sinking feeling inside that I just couldn’t shake, as if he were still in some kind of imminent danger.

Thirty days ago, I said to him, “Don’t get killed by a bear,” and he smirked and said, “I won’t,” and then he walked down the Alaska Air jet way and I watched his lanky 16-year-old self until I couldn’t see him anymore. And then I drove home hoping what he told me was true.

Months ago, there was a little joke that emerged when I was making his flight arrangements, between me and the airline representative. I was asking her how close the gates would be on his connecting flight and she said there was no way of knowing and, yes, he might have to ride the tram. I remember saying glibly, “Well, if he can’t figure out how to get from one plane to another, he probably has no business going on a wilderness trip in the first place.” We both laughed, maybe a little harder than we needed to, because we both knew that it’s so much easier to worry about things like trams and gate proximity than it is to worry about placing your beloved little speck of humanity into the unpredictable wiles of nature.

“What about bears?” I had asked the trip organizers a week before his departure.

“We have bear safety sessions,” the woman assured me. The kids go through a whole day of training on how to handle (and avoid) bear encounters. “What about earthquakes?” I’d asked her. “Lightening storms? Tsunamis?” I could feel my anxieties tumbling out of me like a water main break, but I really had no control of myself. The woman was able to address every one of my concerns and was actually doing a fairly good job of calming me down until I asked her about radioactivity from the nuclear disaster in Japan. “Should I be worrying about that?” I asked.

“No,” she said, and I could tell by the tone of her voice that it was time for me to stop.

The first report I read about the bear attack was early on Monday morning. Seven boys on a wilderness trip were backpacking without instructors as part of their leadership training. They were walking across a river when the bear attacked. The first two boys in line were mauled and, according to The Guardian, suffered “life-threatening injuries.” Two more boys were injured badly and everyone ended up in the hospital.

After I read the news, I went to meet some friends for tennis. (I try to stay occupied on the days the teenager is flying.) “Should I tell the teenager about the bear attack?” I asked one of the women. I always regard her as a mommy mentor.

“He’ll know about it,” she said. “He’ll hear about it in the news.”

“He may not, he’ll have been on a plane all day,” I said.

Her advice was to wait until he brought it up himself. “Then you can reassure him,” she said.

Reassure him?

She said I should tell him how sad I am about what happened to the boys but how I know nothing like that will ever happen to him. The other women nodded in agreement. I was completely dumbfounded. “I shouldn’t tell him how freaked out I am?” I said.

“No! You should absorb that fear yourself. Don’t share it. You don’t want him to be scared, do you?”

Well, yes. That’s exactly what I want. I want him to think: Wow, bears are out there ready to rip people to shreds, maybe a nice hotel vacation with black mold and bed bugs would be a more prudent journey next year.

I remember once being rational like my tennis friend, but that seems like another lifetime ago.

I’m not sure who brought up the subject, him or me, but the bear was discussed long before my son and I arrived home from the airport. “Those kids were attacked just a few miles from where we camped,” my son told me.

“How many miles?” I said.


Maybe because Alaska is so vast and such a paean to wildlife, four miles from a bear seems like nothing. It seems like having a bear in your bathroom. Having him in the shower with you. I tried to wrap my mind around what my son was telling me, which was basically, that my month-long mantra, “he won’t be attacked by a bear,” was successful merely because of dumb luck.

I expected to hear some horror in his voice, but the teenager spoke about the incident with uncharacteristic admiration. “Those kids were highly trained to deal with bears,” he said.

“Maybe not so much,” I said.

“Mom, they fought off a bear. The five other kids got the bear to leave. That’s amazing. If it was our group, we would have died. I promise.”

The words tumbled from him as casually as if he were reading a grocery list. Then in the next breath he began to tell me about the wilderness trip he wants to take next year.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Dinner With Anita

Last night, my editor at Patch asked me to cover an event. It was a Diner En Blanc that someone tried to get going in Montclair, modeled after the possibly-legendary-but-I-had-never-heard-of-it-before Parisian event that has been taking place every year for the past 20. The concept has many trappings of a Flash Mob, which, by all accounts, should have piqued my interest. But there’s no dancing involved (strike one) and you’re required to bring your own food (strike two) and it took place in a mosquito-filled park at dusk (strike three), so I was less than enthusiastic.

However, because I am a good worker bee, I agreed to check things out.

If my kids had heard Dinner en Blanc (and could speak French) they might have thought they’d died and gone to heaven – assuming, as they would, that the Dinner in White referred to the menu rather than the dress code. They would have been disappointed.

The original Diner en Blanc took place in 1988 when a Parisian guy (I’ll call him Francois) returned to Paris from some time abroad and wanted to hang with his friends. There were a lot of people planning to get together for dinner – too many – so they ended up bringing dinner (and tables, and chairs) to the Bois de Boulogne (which is a park, although about a million times bigger than the Montclair park I went to last night) and had their party there. They decided to all wear white so they could find each other easily as the group convened.

The rest is history. Every year since, some group has met at some Parisian monument or locale, dressed in white, tables in tow, and had what I’m sure was a fabulous, butter-drenched, French repast. There’s lots of secrecy around the event. Everyone knows the date but no one knows the place until immediately beforehand. Friends invite friends. Organizers organize. The event has grown to include thousands of people, all elegant and full of élan.

Last night’s White Dinner included 25. People, that is. It wasn’t fabulous, but it was sweet.

I would typically never go to something like this. I have a difficult enough time feeding my family from the convenience of my own kitchen – anything that smacks of pot luck puts me over the edge. However, like most things that I eschew, it’s still nice to be invited.

As it turned out, I had once met the organizer at a party and I knew about half the people in attendance. The organizer’s name was Anita and she had sent out 60 emails and those people sent out emails in turn, and I had a lot of questions to ask in order to write my story but the one most pressing question rolled around in the back of my head unspoken: How come I didn’t get an invitation to this?

No one knew who was coming, or who had been invited – it was all electronic word of mouth. In fact, when I showed up, many had assumed I’d received somebody’s email rather than just crashing in as The Press. But I know a lot of people – people from many different groups and niches – and I was a bit surprised that I had not even heard of it before. Even more so when Anita asked if I’d heard about this from Laurie.

Laurie, who lives next door to me.

I told myself it was because I have a reputation for never going anywhere, ever, but aside from the bugs and having to bring food, this is just the kind of whimsical thing I’m drawn to.

I tried very hard to stay focused on the event itself, but as soon as I got there, someone asked to see my bra (because of this) and I got into a long drawn out discussion about Keratin (as usual), which might be why my editor had to completely rewrite the first three paragraphs of the Patch piece.
C’est la vie.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Forget It

I lost my cart at Kings this morning.

I went to Kings to buy almond butter because I forgot to buy it at Whole Foods when I was there yesterday. The main reason I went to Whole Foods was to get some Omega-3/6/9 oil that I heard about here on Patch. I’ve known about Essential Fatty Acids for a while, but I am grossed out by fish oil. I’ve tried to get my EFAs through sprinkling ground flax seed on my oatmeal in the morning, and while I enjoy its fibrous, nutty goodness, it doesn’t seem, after a year of sprinkling, that it’s done what I had hoped it would do. Which is to make my brain a bit sharper.

I did get the EFA oil, but neglected, while there, to get the other two main ingredients I needed for my smoothie recipe – the smoothie into which I would pour my EFA oil and quickly turn into the poster child for brain function that I’ve been hoping to become.

Long ago, a friend had speculated that a woman’s mental acuity drops 15% after childbirth – and another 15% with every child she bears thereafter. In my experience, I would say the drop is at least that. And it doesn’t seem temporary. Nearly 17 years later, I am still groping for words and wandering in and out of rooms looking for something I need very urgently, until it occurs to me that I have no recollection at all of what I’m looking for.

Fortunately, my husband has some weird superpower that enables him to roll with most of it. “Can you bring me the thing from the thing?” I’ll call out to him from the kitchen, and somehow he’ll know that I want is the “basil” from the “porch” and he appears with it.

Others have simply gotten used to my fumphering. “What’s the word I’m looking for,” I’ll say to a friend, completely disrupting the flow of conversation. “You know, when a person gets himself involved in things. Like events. What’s he called?”

“Um, a ‘participant’?”

“Yes, yes!” I’ll say, a little nervous that I couldn’t recall what’s probably a third grade vocabulary word.

Sometimes I just go blank.

I was almost at the end of my Kings run when I realized I hadn’t yet gotten the nut butter. I left my cart back by the chicken and started up and down the aisles trying to remember where the peanut butter lives. Eventually I found it, secured my almond butter and went to retrieve my cart over by the registers. It wasn’t there. “I lost my cart,” I said to the manager. She moved to put out an APB. “What’s in it?” she asked.

Although I knew my cart was full, ice cream was all I could recall.

Suddenly I remembered that I was looking in the wrong place, went back to the chicken department, got my cart, checked out and headed home.

I was very depleted from all that remembering, so while I was putting away groceries, I pulled out the blender and started assembling my smoothie ingredients. Ice. Silken tofu. Soy milk. EFA oil. Nut butter. Wait, where’s the nut butter?

It’s not in the bags. It’s not in the fridge. It’s not on the counter. I look in the fridge again. And in the bags again. And then the fridge again. Then I look at the receipt.

I call Kings. “Hi, this is the woman who just lost her shopping cart,” I say. (She knows exactly who it is.) “I paid for my nut butter, but I can’t find it in my bags.”

No one turned in nut butter, she says, but come on back and we’ll give you another one.

This is one of the things I really love about Kings (the other is their apples), but still, I’m hungry and I want my smoothie, and I don’t feel like getting in the car and driving back there. I wish I could wiggle my nose or something and just make it appear. I grabbed my keys and clomped out to the car, far more heavy-footed than I needed to be since there was no one around to witness my petulance.

On a lark, I took a quick look in the trunk. Guess who forgot to bring one of the bags in? Nut butter? Check. I was so relieved I completely lost track of the monologue that was taking place in my head, the one berating myself for not paying closer attention to things. I headed back into the kitchen to finish my smoothie, which, as I recall, was very, very delicious.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sentence Of The Year

This might be my favorite sentence this year. I wish I paid more attention to favorite sentences. I wish I marked them and collected them into a little pile. I’m not sure what last year’s favorite sentence would be, but it would have probably come from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The context for this sentence goes like this: the narrator, an older man who lives in London with is wife, is convinced that she’s having an affair with a young, Chilean man. The narrator decides to leave London with the notion that somehow this might allow the truth of his wife’s infidelity to manifest itself. He goes off to Frankfurt for a few days and tries to keep busy, but repeatedly finds himself obsessing about her, the Chilean, the two of them together, what might be, what is. Here, he is ruminating anew:

“I sat at the table staring into the greasy food and waited for the tears to come, even wishing them to come, so that I might unburden myself of something, because as things stood I felt so heavy and tired that I couldn’t see any way to move. But they didn’t come, and so I continued to sit there hour after hour watching the unrelenting rain slosh against the glass, thinking of our life together, Lotte’s and mine, how everything in it was designed to give a sense of permanence, the chair against the wall that was there when we went to sleep and there again when we awoke, the little habits that quoted from the day before and predicted the day to come, though in truth it was all just an illusion, just as solid matter is an illusion, just as our bodies are an illusion, pretending to be one thing when really they are millions of atoms coming and going, some arriving while others are leaving us forever, as if each of us were only a great train station, only not even that since at least in a train station the stones and the tracks and the glass roof stay still while everything else rushes through it, no, it was worse than that, more like a giant empty field where every day a circus erected and dismantled itself, the whole thing from top to bottom, but never the same circus, so what hope did we really have of ever making sense of ourselves, let alone one another?”

Ok, that was two sentences. But really the first was like a helper sentence. That’s why I included it.

The sentence(s) come from Nicole Krauss’ latest, Great House. In the few writing workshops I’ve taken over the years, I have heard again and again that if you want to immerse yourself more fully in a writer – to feel deeply, through them, where that place is that creativity is born – then you should make it a physical experience. You should read their words out loud, or type the prose that they have typed. It’s a way to create connection, they say. It’s the way to become better.

If that’s true, this is the sentence that I would pick. I feel like this sentence says so much about everything. This is the sentence I would read and type over and over again.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hypothetical Question:

If you ask your middle schooler, directly, if he/she is the anti-christ, is it like a narc, where they have to tell you they are cops?

No reason. I'm just wondering.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


The day had started with a small blood bath. A big, framed poster of Batman had fallen off the wall, down the stairs and shattered into hundreds of little glass daggers on the landing. My husband and I picked up what was big, vacuumed what was small, and pulled out the remaining few shards that had lodged in the wall. But neither of us had checked the bathroom and that’s where the little one cut open his foot, emitting a surprising amount of blood, just minutes before he had to leave for school.

I had too much work to do that day. And the Scrabble app was down on Facebook, so my usual method of wasting time wasn’t available to me. I’m not sure what all else went down, but when the teenager came home from school I was ready for a fight, I could just feel it.

The teenager sat at his regular place at the kitchen table, eating his regular after school snack, with his usual look of disinterest in anything I had to say. We started talking about the upcoming SATs. He was about to take two subject SATs (not the regular SATs) – Math and Chemistry – and we’d been arguing about it for a week.

“I don’t want to take the Chem,” he told me again, probably the fifth time in as many days.

“You’re already signed up. Just take it.” This is how the dance always starts. We began it again.

“I’m not going to do well, so I don’t want to waste my time,” he said.

He wasn’t going to do well because he didn’t study enough. That didn’t seem like a good reason to me. I said what I usually say. He said what he usually says. And then he said something new. He actually gave me a reason for not taking the test that seemed well thought out and solid. It changed my mind. So I said this:

“Ok, teenager, do whatever you want.”

“Why do you have to say that?” he said. “Do you say things that way just to make me feel like I haven’t won?”

I was about to argue him down again, but I instantly knew he was right. That’s exactly why I say things that way.

I was too ashamed to admit it, but he could tell by my silence that it was true.

“If you just said, ‘Ok, you’re right,’ then we could all leave here feeling good,” he said. “But now I have this kernel of doubt in my head that I’ll keep going back to and wonder if I’ve made a mistake. The whole process could turn me into a depressed teenager with big emotional problems. Is that what you want?”

No, that’s not what I want. I just want to be right all of the time, which is my big emotional problem.

And if I’m not right, I at least don’t want to be called on it. But mostly I want to learn how to graciously back down from an argument and not feel like I’m defective in some way.

I want to be able to talk about the merits of taking an SAT test as dispassionately as I am able to clean up a hallway full of shattered glass. And when I see that the teenager is right, not clench my innards as if something is being ripped from inside me, but instead feel my heart light and buoyant at the wonder of having he who I taught how to speak in the first place, able to now speak up for himself.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Folding Back The Page

I play tennis with Ann on Fridays. Or, I did, until her surgery. She had to get some things in her wrist fused together from an old injury and she hasn’t been able to play for a while.

Ann loves Friday tennis for much the same reason we all do: it makes us feel better. Not just the hitting (or the occasional winning) but the being together – a sometimes unlikely group of women who know just enough about each other’s triggers and downfalls that with a little time and a lot of good vibes we are often able to put our collective Humpty Dumptys back together again. At least for a little while.

Ann is especially good at this. Probably the best. It’s her superpower – making people feel better about whatever crappy circumstance they find themselves in. She does it as naturally as breathing.

After her surgery, Ann showed up at the courts on Friday with her dog, her field chair and a big canvas tote. She set herself up by the net (where a referee might stand) and tethered her chocolate lab, organized her water bottles, applied her sunscreen and donned her hat. Before she sat back to enjoy, she reached into her tote and pulled out a bubble machine.

It was small and brightly colored – not the kind of thing you’d use for Danceteria. More like for a playdate with 3-year-olds – that last contraption to amuse before things begin to deteriorate. She set it up at her feet and every time one of us hit a great shot, or we had an especially good rally, she tapped the button with her toe and hundreds of tiny celebratory bubbles flew out.

“Great serve!” she’d call out. Or when that didn’t apply: “Good try!”

Ann can see the good in everything, and she helps you see it, too.

When she came to my house last week and got me talking about the teenager and his impending Alaska trip, she couldn’t have been more excited for him. In an effort to put a damper on that goodness, I ran to my magazine pile and pulled out the Trip Brochure. It’s a glossy, 48-page catalog that lists all the trips from this particular outfit.

The teenager’s trip is on page 34 and 35, and the brochure has been folded open to that page for months. On the left, there’s a small picture of someone sea kayaking in Prince William Sound and a little detail map of where they’ll be hiking. The right-hand page has two large, vertical photographs, one of a group backpacking at the foot of a mountain range and another of the crevasse. It’s not called a crevasse in the brochure – it’s described as an “ice climb on the Matanuska Glacier.” There are half a dozen kids in the photo, some standing close to the precipice holding ropes, and the others at the ends of those ropes making their way up what seems to be an endless drop down an ice-walled canyon. The photograph is taken from just far enough away that you can see the vastness of the glacier and the profound vulnerability of the climbers.

People who have seen the picture – “outdoorsy” people who hike and climb and eat snakes for breakfast – all look at that shot and say, “Hmm, that looks dangerous.”

I shake the photo in front of Ann, daring her to try and find something positive to say about what the teenager is about to do – what I have agreed to send him off to do. She takes the brochure from me, looks closely at the picture and then folds the page in half. Meaning, she tucks the crevasse away so that only the backpackers at the mountain are showing. They’re all facing the camera and smiling. They’re all on rock solid ground.

That’s how I’ve been spending this past week – trying to keep folding back the page. Even in the middle of my madness about thunderstorms and bears and the earthquake that rocked some part of Alaska last Thursday night (7.2), I take another breath, fold the page back and tentatively move a little closer to putting him on a plane Monday morning.

I try and picture Ann at the airport with me as I’m walking back to my car, my child in the air, and I imagine thousands of tiny bubbles surrounding me in some kind of surreal Lawrence Welkian moment. I can hear Ann’s voice in the background, “You can do this, Mom -- you’re doing it! Good job! Good job!”

Thursday, June 23, 2011


The following piece ran on Patch a few weeks ago, in my regular Monday column profiling kids. This kid is my son's friend and it's one of my favorite profiles. It was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and Ben, the teenager and I were sitting in the kitchen. I'd just had two people cancel interviews and I had a kid column due on Sunday night. I didn't know where to find another kid -- everyone was out of town. Then, like a gift from G-d, a profile emerged.

My conversation with Ben started out casually. He was in my kitchen with my son and I asked him to describe his process of getting rid of clothes or shoes that he no longer wears. “I put them in the box in my room,” he said.

You keep a box in your room for outgoing garments? Like a hamper? “No, it’s a trunk that sits under my mirror. Whenever I have a shirt or something that doesn’t fit me anymore, I put it in the trunk and every once in a while my mom and I go through it and decide what to throw out and what to give away. My hampers are in my closet.”

Hampers? How many hampers? “I have one for clothes that definitely need to be washed and another one for things that I’ve worn once but that I might be too lazy to wash. So I can fish that stuff out and wear it again.” He clarified further that he put the box there for the unwanted clothes and he created his own hamper system.

Wait, you’re a 16-year-old with no dirty clothes on your bedroom floor? “My room is perfectly organized. I hate clothes on the floor,” he said.

Ben described his laundry routine, his kitchen routine, his house tidying routine. He has a reputation among his friends for keeping things neat and organized and sometimes being stife with snacks (a word I learned means “stingy”) because he doesn’t like messes of crumbs.

“If I come into a room and it’s really neat and organized, I just feel a great sense of relief,” he said. I kept glancing at my son during the conversation, as if to say, “See, I told you there were people like this in the world,” but my son wouldn’t meet my eye.

“I don’t like stuff sitting in a dish drainer,” he said. “What if it needs to dry?” I asked him looking over my shoulder at my dish drainer piled high with drippy plastic ware. “Take a towel and wipe it off,” he said. “The drainer is just like a waiting room. There’s no reason for that stuff to stay there.”

This is the child I’ve always said I wanted, although I feel the uncomfortable need to clean off my countertops while he talks. “My mom thinks she’s really tidy, but when I do a clean sweep of the house, it’s always her stuff that’s lying around,” he said.

I began to quietly empty the dish drainer.

Many people are hard-wired to be tidy, and Ben seems to be that, but also there may be bit of a reaction to the Oscar/Felix dynamic that exists between him and his older brother. “You can’t believe what his room looks like. You can’t go in there,” said Ben, adding, “That’s where I got my second hamper. He would never use it.”

Ben believes that cleaning helps clear your mind. That even though things are going to get dirty again, it’s worth doing just to see them clean for a little while. And getting into good organizing habits leads to other useful things, like learning general life skills and how to keep things in working order around the house.

Ben’s Tips to Keeping Things Clean and Organized

1. No procrastination.
2. Don’t put stuff away just to get it out of the way. (If you stuff everything into a closet, you’re just going to have a messy closet.)
3. Use it, clean it, then put it away.
4. Don’t rush. Take your time and do a good job.
5. Leave things better than you found them.
6. Don’t let things get to the point where someone has to ask you to clean things up.

Do these rules of Ben’s inform his life overall? “No, not all,” he said, all smiles. “This is just strictly about my own house.”

Monday, June 20, 2011


“Can you give these books back to your mom?” I said to my son’s friend, handing three novels out my car window.

“No, I can’t take them,” he said. “I’ll probably lose them.”

“Just bring them into your house,” I said.

“I’ll lose them before I get inside,” he said.

We were having this conversation at the curb just a few yards away from his front door. I took the books back and replaced them on the passenger seat of my car, because I suspected that he was probably right.

“Remember yesterday, B went to the bank to get a debit card,” my son said. I nodded, one of the few things I did remember about yesterday. “He lost it before he got home.”

“Come on!” I said. These boys are all prone to exaggeration.

“He really did. He left the bank with his parents and went straight home and by the time they got home it was nowhere to be found,” reported my son’s friend.

I wish I could pin this phenomenon on teenage boys, but the 11-year-old and two of his friends were scouring the house this weekend looking for his lost video camera. “It was right next to the computer,” one said. “Yes, it was. We all saw it there,” another concurred.

“One of you must have moved it,” I told them, “picked it up and accidently put it down somewhere when you went to get something.”

“We didn’t. No, no. No one touched it,” they insisted.

“You must have picked it up and you just don’t remember taking it with you somewhere,” I said. I offer up these pearls of wisdom, not to make them feel inadequate, but in an attempt to expand their thinking. To break the vicious little cycle they create for themselves of walking to the computer, then over to the front door, then back to the computer, then back to the front door, looking in the same two places over and over again like a small contingent of ants whose brains are the size of atoms (I’m guessing) and cannot conceive of any reality beyond what they’ve been programmed for.

The ants, however, reject my theory out of hand, in that inimitable way that only pre-teen ants can. “Well, I’m going to look for it other places,” I said, and in under a minute the camera was in my hand.

“It was on the kitchen counter,” I told them.

“Oh, you must have put it there when you got us Vitamin Waters,” one ant said to another.

“No,” said my son, the most stubborn ant of all.

We have a game we play in my house. It’s called, “Do you think it will take me more than 15 seconds to find your lost thing?” At least that’s what I call it, because finding other people’s lost things – especially boys’ lost things – is apparently my one and only superpower. I almost always win at the game, and part of the reason for that is because 90% of the time, the cell phone is wedged deep within the sofa cushions and I guess I’m the only one who remembers that fact from one lost cell phone to the next.

But the other reason is a little scarier, which is that after all this time I believe I have actually come to think like a boy. In that scattered, too-many-things-going-on, pinball machine way that boys appear to process information – which is to say from every direction and not at all both at the same time.

When I witness boybrain in action, I don’t even think “Oh, you poor, poor creatures,” anymore. Instead, I just put the books back on the passenger seat and say, “Yeah, I get it.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Does This Stranger Make Me Look Fat?

Last Thursday, I spent the whole morning nearly buck-naked with a perfect stranger. And it wasn’t by accident. In early May, as Mother’s Day approached, I said to my husband, “Please don’t send me flowers. If you’re going to spend money on me for Mother’s Day, buy me a session with Jennifer.”

This was a big step for me on many levels. The first being Asking For What I Want, and not because I’m depleted and at the end of my rope, but just because I might enjoy it.

The second was Asking For Help, specifically for something other than killing a bug or plunging a toilet.

And finally, of course, the naked thing.

Jennifer is a wardrobe consultant and I was about to try on for her everything in my closet.

People who know me – who know how infrequently I leave my house – are puzzled that I’d even need such a service. “Did you tell her you were looking for some Downstairs Outfits?” one friend joked.

But this idea came about because I had a meeting to go to a few weeks ago and I nearly cancelled because I didn’t have anything to wear. I don’t mean, “Oh, I don’t have a thing to wear.” I mean, literally, I had a skirt and no top that matched. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone shopping, but I couldn’t believe I’d let things go this far.

Years ago, when I worked as a bartender, I remember sharing with a few of the “regulars” that I was about to start therapy. “You’re going to pay someone to listen to you talk about your problems?” they said. “Don’t you have any friends that will do that for you?” That exchange echoed in my head when I made my initial request to my husband. I have many fashionable friends. Why not just ask one of them to go through my closet with me?

But there’s something about cleaning out your closet with a total stranger that feels a little reckless – a little more dangerous than with a friend, tried and true. My friends are not going to force me to get rid of the skinny jeans that I wore exactly twice but I now can’t button, because I’m going to tell them that I’ll get back into those jeans one day and they’ll humor me because they love me. A stranger won’t do that. That’s the beauty of strangers; you never know what they’ll do.

I told Jennifer about my cranky feet and how I have to start an outfit with whatever shoes I’ll be able to tolerate that day and work my way up from there. I explained that I’m not very fancy, but I want to look more put together.

“I get it,” she said. “You want to look good, but not like you’re trying too hard.”

Yes, I told her, because right now I look like I don’t try, ever, at all.

She explained what we would do for the next few hours. We’d go through everything in my closet, make outfits, toss whatever looks awful and then she’d make suggestions about what I should pick up to round out my wardrobe. “Do we need coffee for this?” I asked. “Or wine? Or Xanax?”

We ended up needing none of the above and the process itself was the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on. (That was cheap, I know, but I couldn’t help myself.) Jennifer has a keen eye and is a master of diplomacy. She cheerfully rebranded all my Grateful Dead clothes “Bohemian” and let me put them back in the closet.

Even so, in no time at all I slid comfortably into my role as the naysayer. “I can’t wear that! I look too hippy. I’ll be too cold. Too much skin.” But she took me by the hand and forced me to look at myself with new eyes, and by the end of the first session, I had a dozen new outfits to wear – things I never would have put together myself – and I already owned them all!

But it wasn’t just the outfits that made me giddy. There I was, doing something I probably shouldn’t have been doing, with someone I don’t even know, and once I got used to unfamiliar hands reaching around me to clasp necklaces and smooth pleats, I couldn’t help thinking, Girlfriends, we should all be spending our mornings naked with strangers.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bidding Wars - A Very Unlikely Happily Ever After

In the 1999, my best friend and I bid on the same house.

I was pregnant with my second child; she already had two small children. We both lived in a town where people with school-aged children all seemed to be moving away. I was sad and exhausted from losing friends and neighbors. I said to my husband, “I don’t want to spend the next two decades saying goodbye to people.” So he agreed to move to the suburbs.

I didn’t think my friend and I would even look at the same houses. Our situations were completely different. We were selling a brownstone whose value had doubled since we’d purchased it. They were coming from a rental apartment.

But I was mistaken. Not only did we both look at the same houses, we both fell in love with the same houses. And unfortunately, so did many other people. It was the beginning of the Montclair Bidding Wars and finding a house...loving a house…even being able to pay for a house…had no bearing on whether you might one day own the house.

My best friend seemed a little more desperate than we were. Her youngest was just a baby who should have been napping frequently during the day. Their upstairs neighbors had young children and wore heavy shoes. All day long they frolicked and clomped above the nursery. My best friend and her baby were sleepless and cranky.

We had a whole house, a parking spot, a lovely babysitter, an easy life. I wasn’t suffering. I just didn’t want to be left by all my friends anymore.

At one point, we were both smitten with a house on the hill. “We’re going to bid on it,” my best friend said to me.

“Ok, you take it,” I said. It seemed like I was being magnanimous but really I just wanted her out of the running. I wanted to be able to look for houses without worrying that my best friend was going to want what I wanted. Plus, the house on the hill had no first floor powder room, so I “unselfishly” allowed her to pursue it.

Others, too, were undaunted by the lack of powder room, largely because the house was an easy walk to town. Bus, train, shopping – it fit perfectly the specs of what all us City Mice were looking for. Several couples bid on that house, and my best friend and her husband lost out.

There were other houses that we came close to bidding on, but mostly we passed because of location. My husband is legally blind and we needed to be within walking distance of a lot of things. My best friend lost a second house to a higher bidder and the process was making her tired and grumpy.

The house that we both bid on was for sale by owner. I’d heard about it from a friend who lived on the block and once I saw it I decided not to tell my best friend about it at all. It was a house that she, too, would surely fall in love with because it was perfect in every imaginable way. It was spacious and beautiful, decorated by an artist, new kitchen, first floor powder room, and it was a short walk to shops, bus and train. I left that viewing certain – certain – that this would be our next home.

I’m not sure how my best friend found out about the house; I think her realtor told her. I was probably not right in withholding the information from her, but I was right about one thing: when she saw it, she wanted it too. After the two of us put our bids in (along with two or three other couples), the owner asked for everyone’s best and final offer. “Is it just going to be about the money?” I remember asking the owner, “because there are a lot of reasons we need this house.”

Along with our bid, I included an impassioned letter about why we had to have this particular house. I went on and on about the location, my husband’s vision issues, how all of our Mission furniture required just this Arts and Crafts style house as residence. I added that we had friends on the block and tried to drop the name of someone we both knew from business. I think I even invoked the notion of kismet – the house number was the same as our first house. I was all good omens and schmaltz in my letter and I went to sleep that night with absolute confidence that my powers of persuasion would finally yield us the house of our dreams.

But just to be safe, I called my friend and asked her to withdraw her bid. “My husband is legally blind,” I said with a complete lack of shame. “We need to live where he can walk.”

“My son hasn’t napped in months,” she said. “We need to move now.”

We lost the house. My best friend got it. Nobody felt especially good about it, least of all me. “Don’t worry,” she said to me, “we’ll find you a house right in this neighborhood. We’ll be neighbors and we can borrow cups of sugar from each other all the time.”

“Yeah, right,” I said, back in the days before “whatever” had made it’s way into my personal lexicon.

My best friend just left my house a few minutes ago, having taken an early morning shower here. Her hot water heater isn’t working. She drove her car to get here, but only because she had to go straight to work. Usually when she comes to borrow, she walks. Because we survived the war and now live two houses apart.