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.