fire

Camou Is So Hot Right Now: How I Learned I’m Going Straight To Hell

 

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban announced the beginning of their spring military offensive against the U.S.-led coalition Saturday…

 At first, this seemed like standard Afghan fare. But after like a nanosecond, it hit me: “spring military offensive?” Is this a war or a line of designer clothing? “The Taliban announced…?” They can announce this? Like, with a press conference?

What the hell…?

This is not a political statement, really. It’s more like a pointing out of things that are ridiculous, like when an enemy combatant that’s not an actual nation launches a seasonal approach to killing people. (I know the tables can be turned, because the Pentagon releases information on plans of attack. Shock and awe, for example.) Another bit of AP writing contained the phrase “spring fighting season.” Are you kidding me?

Obviously, though, this is no joke. The “spring military offensive” begins tomorrow, and will be geared against US-coalition bases and Afghan officials. I didn’t read far enough to find out exactly what distiguishes the spring offensive from any other, but the fact that they break it down by season may indicate as much about the length of the war as it does about where they’re fighting it.

And this little glimpse at the PR of war isn’t new, either. Al Qaeda actually has reps who will go on TV for interviews. Boy, times have changed. Can you imagine an official representative of the Viet Cong chatting with Walter Cronkite in a side-by-side set of boxes?

By the way, the Taliban made the announcement in a two-page statement. Not a press conference. I’m guessing they don’t have a studio, but I could be wrong… Al Qaeda seems to make videos everywhere they go. With backdrops, even.

To make matters absolutely awful, however, immediately after I read the article I cracked wise to my friend Kara. “Oh, the spring military offensive is much different from the others. The fabrics are lighter, the gun-toting accessories are completely interchangable…” On and on I went.

Then about an hour later I remembered: Kara’s fiance’ deployed for Afghanistan about six weeks ago. She’s a wreck about it.

And I’m a total thoughtless cad.

I sent a text message to one of my sisters (the one whose humor is most like mine): “i just went on and on to kara about the taliban’s spring military offensive like it’s a fashion show. her fiance’ is there. i suck.”

“ha! awkward! … funny, tho” was her reply.

Because if you’re going to make your friend cry, it’s best to make sure the humor you intended is clear, at least.

This is like that time a week ago when I made a “your mom” joke to a co-worker whose mother died.

Sigh.

Later today, I went to grab some food and reached over a little girl to take the last sample of bread scraps from the tray of freebies while I waited for my order. The little girl’s bright eyes went dull when she felt around on the tray she was too small to see, and realized there were no scraps left. I was mid-chew when I realized what I had done.

That’s right, kid. I took it. I took the last scrap without even thinking of you. I’m on a roll today. Next I’m going to steal a cup of change from a blind beggar on the street.  And he won’t even know it was me.

planters

Killer gardening skills: I has ‘em

As in: I kill everything.

My mother calls it Black Thumb. I got it from her. When we were kids, we never had anything living and growing in the house with the exception of the actual humans and something that had been left in the fridge too long. This is also the case in my home, though I am outnumbered by the refrigerator samples.

Correction: I do have a pet. We didn’t really have those when I was a kid. I mean, sure, we had goldfish from time to time, but we usually killed them inside of a month by overfeeding them, not feeding them enough, never changing the water, etc. One sister used to like to take hers out of the water and pet them. That didn’t go well. Another had a pair of fish named Bill and Hillary, and while cleaning out the tank, she accidentally sent Bill down the drain. I found that to be a rather hilarious and coincidental happenstance, since this was circa 1998, but she was a smidge too young to understand why I laughed out loud. That Hillary, though, she was a survivor. She lived a little while. Who’s surprised?

My baby sister had a goldfish called Brownie that she managed to keep alive for more than a year, but I’ve always believed that was due to the advantage of having one of those mini-aquariums with the bubbles instead of just the flat water in the bowl. Pay no attention to the obvious issue of the name vs. the species, by the way; when she was tiny, she had an imaginary pink dog named Shamrock.

I did not make that up.

We had a bird once- a parakeet- but he was really dumb and flew into brick walls a lot. Then again, maybe he wasn’t so dumb. My father hated all creatures that weren’t human, and Speckles seemed to sense this; from his cage on the mantel, he’d turn his back to my dad, and kick birdseed in his hair while he sat on the end of the couch at night.

For this reason alone, I thought Speckles the Parakeet was pretty slick.

Then they changed the chemical composition of the tap water in the city, and Speckles went feet-up overnight. He’d lasted less than a year.

So you see, non-humans tend not to fare very well in my family. Bottom line: if you cannot make noise to indicate a need for nourishment, you would do well to find another home.

There was one gardener in the bunch, though: my grandfather. My mother’s father had a penchant for gardening, which is impressive when you barely have a yard. He grew tomatoes and tulips, radishes and roses, and my favorite of his plantings: heaping, heavily-scented bushes of hydrangeas. Now that it’s spring, every time I see a tulip or a hydrangea, I think of him. Roses, tulips and hydrangeas are my favorite flowers. I have no doubt that it’s because of him.

For Easter, my dear friend Dianne gave me a flowering hanging plant. She’s a gardener and gives me entirely too much credit. She remembered the hanging plants at my old place, having apparently only seen them within the first two weeks of my purchasing them.  I sat her gift on the balcony railing. It looked so lonely there, and it seemed to point up the bareness of the rest of the balcony. So, to give it some friends, and in the spirit of my grandfather’s ability to nurture life, and also because my balcony was looking sad, lifeless and bacheloresque (minus the presence of any bachelors whatsoever), I decided to go to the nursery today and get some flowering plants to pretty-up the joint. 

First of all, since when are things that grow out of the ground so flipping expensive?

The trick here is that, as Dianne remembers, I have had seasonal flowering plants before, but they’ve always been hanging baskets, and none of them have lived more than two months. Usually they’ve drowned in rainstorms because I forgot to take them down and tuck them away. Also someone once told me that when they get too much water, the nutrients in the soil leach out and they can’t survive. Which annoyed me, inexplicably. I feel as though these flowering plants should be more resourceful. (This is my father’s influence.)

Sometimes they’ve survived the rainstorms and I’ve let them draw on the reserves from those storms until they died of thirst. But now, in my new place, I can’t hang baskets; the balcony and soffits are composite decking and there’s nowhere to hang anything from. So, $10 potted petunias? Nope. Gotta go for the $30 arrangements in the terra-cotta planters. And I have a looooong balcony railing to cover; it’s about 15 feet. So one or two plants wasn’t gonna cut it.

Sure, I could transfer little pretty things from flats into planters myself and save some money. But I have no idea what I’m doing. And I don’t buy dirt. Seems… silly.

So I got a cart and puttered around the nursery, which is quite large and very popular in my town. Of course, I oohed and ahhed in my head over the hanging baskets that I couldn’t get, chock-a-block full of gorgeous colors. I debated getting them anyway and just cutting off the suspension systems, but since they tend to cascade their lovely blossoms, I figured they’d eventually not work out well sitting on a railing. I kept shopping, inhaling scents and eyeballing colors. I was a little overwhelmed and intimidated.

Who’s got two (black) thumbs and is intimidated by something called a pansy? This girl!

But I will say I am proud of myself for remembering to check out what kind of light various plants can take. My balcony faces west, so I needed stuff that could endure some serious sun. Hooray for Planters For Dummies.

Petunias, I learned, can’t take the sun that my balcony gets. Neither can gardenias, or azaleas. This exhausted my knowledge of names of flowering plants. Some of the helpful signs I saw said, “This plant can tolerate sun.” But the word “tolerate” got to me. It seemed like the plant would be sighing in resignation about it, rolling its eyes like, “If I have to… After that, I was left on my own to peer into the arrangements and find those SUN or SHADE labels and approximate the kinds of colors I wanted. Purply. And pink, but not super-pink. Some yellow, maybe.

Seventy-eight dollars later, I walked out with three pots of flowering plants.

Sheesh.

One of them nearly took a header twice between the car and the balcony, but I managed to keep it alive at least that far. I did seem to have turned a couple of the blossoms on that one inside-out somehow. I gently fixed them.

I suppose I’ll have to remember to at least check the soil for moisture every morning (not at night, because I work late and won’t be able to see to water them). Also I’ll have to remember not to bump into them and knock them off the railing, which isn’t, you know, totally outside the realm of possibility.

I’m not convinced I got the right things. I’m fairly sure, in fact, that I saw a petunia in there somewhere, which, within two days, is going to look woeful. People who know what they’re doing with plants (the neighbors across the street, for example) will look up, sigh and say, “Those will never survive there.” But I’m hoping my $78 investment will help me remember to at least water the damned things.

beeatch

Crap. I suck.

I am a terrible, selfish person.

Ugh. I was afraid of this.

The lead-up: a guy that I dated a year and a half ago, who remained basically out of the game since we broke up, is now dating someone. And it’s bothering me.

Wait, no, don’t click off. I’m not going to cry or anything. I know this is incredibly dumb. We liked each other plenty, but he bailed without a word. I was quite surprised by the disappearing act. A month later, he sent me an email (that’s how it goes these days) offering a heartfelt apology that included words like “I was a cosmic idiot” – no, really, he said that –  and asking for another chance.

I did require an in-person conversation, which did happen, but ultimately I like to give people second chances, so I did. (Admittedly, sometimes this is less about the virtue of understanding someone’s struggles as it is about me being a total sucker.)

In record time (read: four days), he bailed again. I saw him one night, and then I went to work the next morning, and then a snowstorm hit, and then I was stuck at work, an hour away, in a friggin’ blizzard, schlepping on-foot to a hotel for three days instead of driving home because Eisenhower’s highway system was a shambles, and Bob doesn’t so much as call to make sure I haven’t been buried in a snowbank by a plow. (My car, yes. Me, no.) I did worry for a night that he had been buried in a snowbank by a plow, because even when you think of 15 possible reasons for someone to give you the cold shoulder and you finally decide they’re just being jerks, you then find out there was a 16th reason you hadn’t thought of and then you’re the jerk. But I figured the odds were against that.

Now, before you get the wrong impression, Bob is not a jerk. Quite the opposite. Bob’s thing is that he has nearly zero self-esteem and a lot of leftover angst from his divorce from a woman who was really not very nice to him. He has a very hard time with the winter holidays because they’re so family-oriented and he has no family, and this was all happening right before Christmas. Life and love are hurtful things sometimes, and I understood where he was coming from. But after the second bailing, even though he was sorry and self-loathing about it all over again, I basically decided we would be friends, and that was it. In a totally non-angry way (because I wasn’t angry), I told him he obviously didn’t really want that second chance anyway, and it was okay. He said he really did want it, but…

That was it. “But…” Just, you know, hanging there.

Okay.

So we’re friends, albeit the kind that hasn’t seen each other since The Bailing, but we keep in touch and keep up with each other’s lives, and it’s really nice. I’ve had a boyfriend since, and a few other dates. He’s had a few dates that didn’t go well. Not terribly long ago, after telling me about a woman he’d been out with maybe three times who suddenly shared that he was not her type at all and she couldn’t see any reason to go out with him again (ouch!), he asked if he could see me. I thought lunch would be really nice, but I actually said no because I was a little concerned that his natural self-loathing and his regrets about how things had ended with me would lead to a little awkwardness. I didn’t want to date him again; he’s a great person, but I had realized that we handle life’s craziness differently enough that it would cause tension, and he really doesn’t (or didn’t) like himself very much, and that’s a turn-off for me.

But now, I’ve learned from that ever-present announcer of things, Facebook, that he’s seeing someone. I didn’t go all creepy and try to find this out on my own: Bob and I are candid enough that we can ask each other if there’s anyone new on the scene. He asked me other things about my last boyfriend, which I refused to answer. It’s that kind of friendship. But he hadn’t mentioned Kate, and suddenly there’s a photo. It’s after the Boston Marathon (which they both ran), and he looks very relaxed and happy, which is kind of unusual, so I commented on how nice it was to see him smiling. He sent me a message telling me that she makes him smile. Aha! C’est l’amour! Another brief exchange revealed that they’ve been dating for about three months. And I’m happy for him. I really am. He has seemed more positive lately, more “up,” and that’s a much better way to feel, and I’m glad he’s in that place.

But there’s this little tiny voice in my head that says, “Oh. So… you’re not pining over me anymore?”

Total. Selfish. Bee-atch.

I suck.

But here’s the thing, I think: I sort of want to know what Bob is like when he’s happy and feeling secure. He never got there with me, despite my efforts to support and encourage him without making him feel like that’s what I was trying to do. I can’t help but be curious, and I can’t help but wonder if we would have been better together if he had been happier with himself. Ah, but he wasn’t, and that’s that.

But…

telemarket call

Thanking You, Please Be Calling Again

I see the email and freeze. “Citi CreditMonitor has detected a change in your credit report.”

Gulp.

 This has never happened before. What could it be? Did someone steal my credit card number and go on a spree at the gay sex shop again? Did I black out and forget to pay a bill? Thank goodness there’s technology to tell me about these problems, right?

Uh-huh. Right.

Within the (legit) email from my credit monitoring service, there’s a link to the service’s web program that will allow me to view the change. First of all, I can’t remember my login, or my password. Or maybe I do remember my login, but not my password. Or maybe I remember my password, but not my login. In any case, I can’t get in, and my entire financial future hangs in the balance. Apparently.

So I tell the computer that I can’t remember my login/password, and it sends me an email to walk me through. Swell. I log in using the correct information, and get the following: “You are not authorized to view this page. Please call 1-800-” whatever.

Great. Dysfunctional website telling me that my credit report has been altered. That’s not at all distressing. I envision my bank account dwindling as I dial the number, which, of course, directly connects me to Dubai or India.

“Thank you for calling, how am I helping  you?”

I explain to the woman on the other end of the trans-continental phone line that I got this email, and now I can’t access the website. She starts the process of determining that I really am who I say I am. Name. Address (this requires thought; I moved a few months ago– which address do they have? If I give them the wrong one, will they arrest me?). Phone number (same thinking).

“Okay, thank you. Now, I will ask you ay securiteee question, ok?”

“Sure.” I’m expecting “What is your mother’s maiden name?” or “In which city were you born?” or “What was the name of your first pet?”

But she hits me with this one:

“Where is your longest car?”

My…what?

“…What?”

“Where is your longest car?” she repeats.

Where is my longest car? Does she mean what car did I own the longest? Or what was my longest road trip? What the…?

“What?!” I’m so confused.

“Where. Is your longest. Car?”

I have no idea what this woman is talking about. Am I being punked?

“That doesn’t even make sense,” I blurt, sans gentility filter. It’s the stress of the unknown but surely life-changing credit change mixed with the confusion of the question. It’s making me snippy.

“I’m sorry,” she says, then tries again, slower: “Where. Is your longest car?”

I still can’t figure out what the hell this question is, because I don’t remember ever setting any kind of security question to be anything remotely resembling this random jumble of words. Suddenly, I realize it’s the language barrier. Saying it slower did not make it clearer. It only made it slower.

“Spell it,” I demand.

“Esse. Seeee. Ay. Arrr.”

At first, I don’t even know what she’s trying to spell. Then I catch on.

“Oh, SCAR!” I say. Phew! What do I win?!

(Wait. What the hell kind of security question is this? Where is my longest scar? Really?)

“Um… my stomach,” I tell her, my voice dropping. I feel a little awkward about telling a random total stranger in another country about my surgical scar from an episode with my reproductive system.

“Ummm, no, that is not correct,” she tells me, like I just lost the fabulous prize I thought I had won. What the hell? I think I know where– what is going on here?

“Actually, yes it is,” I inexplicably feel the need to argue. Immediately, I realize this is a completely ridiculous argument. But I happen to know exactly where my longest scar is, thank you very much, I almost died getting it and I’m rather put off that she says I’m wrong. How would she know?

“Nnnoooo–” she says cautiously.

I cut her off. “Look, I don’t even remember setting that as a security question. I mean that’s not even a good question. The answer can change.” I’m taking a tone that’s roughly equivalent to the way an eight-year-old protests math homework she doesn’t understand: “This is dumb.” I’m just angered by the principle of the question now. What kind of cockamamie security operation are you people running, here?

“Okay, let me connect you with the technical support,” she offers. So she connects me to The Technical Support, who has a slightly less accented accent. He explains conciliatorily that he has to ask me a bunch of questions. Three questions in, I realize the root of the problem: these factoids are from when I first opened the credit card in question. Seventeen years ago. No wonder I don’t remember the security question. And the scar on my lower abdomen is only eight years old. We navigate the treacherous waters of my memory from literally half my life ago vis-a-vis what county I lived in and what my phone number was, and establish that, as Romeo Crennel would insist, I am who we thought I was.

“Okay, ma’am, here’s what it is. Your credit card company reported to Equifax that you are paying your bill as arranged.”

Wait a minute.

“So… you’re saying they reported to Equifax that I pay my bills on time like I’m supposed to?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Are you kidding me with this? I had a heart attack because CitiCard said, “Yeah, she’s good?” How dumb is that?! I’ve never had this happen before, and I’ve had this credit monitoring service for years.

“So… there’s nothing wrong.”

“No, ma’am.”

Well, that’s good. This whole exercise has been really stupid, but okay, I’m not perched on the precipice of financial ruin, so… yay me!

“Okay! Well… good! Um… hey, what is my credit score, anyway?”

“Yes, ma’am,” The Technical Support says. “I will put that information in for your web access. You can see it in 24 hours on the website.”

“The same site I couldn’t access today?”

“Yes, ma’am,” The Technical Support tells me happily. “Is there anything else I can be help with today?”

Sigh. “No, I suppose I’ll be calling again tomorrow…”

“Yes, ma’am. Have a good day!”

Yyyyeah.

friends

Ode To A Neurotic Friend

Have  you ever had a friend that you once thought was going to be more than a friend, and then they weren’t, but they sort of still were, and then some stuff happened and you thought it was all going to change, but it didn’t, and then other stuff happened and you thought now it would definitely change, but it really didn’t, but then some MORE stuff happened and you were pretty much convinced that time?

Me too.

Brad and I met on my first day of work in my previous job. I don’t really remember what was said. I just remember standing in the hallway, meeting him, thinking, “He’s going to be my friend.” Like it was first grade or something.

Two weeks later, the planes hit the Towers and the Pentagon. Brad’s uncle and grandfather both worked in the Towers, and his mom, he knew, was going to New York, but he couldn’t remember if it was that week or the week after. He couldn’t get a hold of anyone and he spent the whole day just watching the news. When he left, he sent me his phone number via instant message and told me to call him later. I wasn’t sure what was happening, because we had been chatting a lot, and I was new, and it seemed like he liked me, and I was 24 years old so that sort of means something. (I had progressed to sixth grade at this point.) But I knew he was worried and the whole country was scared, so of course, I called.

We had like a 30 minute conversation with me wondering whether I should ask about his various family members, and he was about to end the call, so I finally asked, cautiously.

 “Oh! Yeah, they’re fine,” he said.

Little did I know that that phone conversation was the first of about a bazillion we would have over the years.

Brad lived right across the street from me; he in his apartment complex and I in mine. Sometimes we went out after work, or on a weekend. He took me to the first bar I went to since moving to town for the job. We hung out sometimes and watched a movie and ordered Chinese. When he had parties (which usually involved some sort of savage brutality masquerading as a sport on pay-per-view), I was the designated First Person To Come, because I was usually bringing something necessary (like cups), and also because I was the only person who was allowed to know how neurotic he was before the party started.

“Oh my God, nobody’s coming,” he would say.

“They’ll come,” I would say. “We have an hour before they’re supposed to show up.”

“Ugh, what if they don’t come?” would be his reply.

“They’ll come.”

“Oh my God.” (He’s Woody Allen, this guy.)

We had late night phone calls that lasted two, three hours. This, after spending all day in the same building at work. He is the rare male mammal that actually likes talking on the phone. We hashed out each other’s days, we told stories, we unraveled the mysteries of the opposite sex with each other. (I was his woman-explainer; he was my man-explainer. Turns out, apparently every guy I’ve ever dated in life is a jerk, no matter how good the relationship was while it lasted. So saith Brad.) We quickly realized that we were total basketcases on our own, but with the other person, we were completely level-headed and reasonable. There wasn’t a problem we couldn’t work through for each other.

When my ovary decided to explode and try to kill me, guess who spent the whole night in the ER with me while I slowly died of internal hemorrhaging and the idiocy of a B-grade medical crew on a Saturday night? Yup. Brad. He yelled at the doctor – twice – because I was clearly in agony, there was one other patient in the ER, and I was being ignored. He got there at midnight and left at 7am, 30 minutes before I went into surgery, and about an hour after my parents had arrived. At 9am, he went to work. At 10pm, he came back to visit me. Having had some trouble getting in after visiting hours, he apparently had to work a little magic on the front desk. He was declarative when he entered my tiny room.

“We’re engaged,” he said.

“Oh,” I replied weakly, in a post-op painkiller-and-anesthesia-cocktail haze and feeling really awful. “Where’s my ring?”

Between the sweetness and the thoughtfulness, he found time to crack wise with the nurses and mock me while I lay in anguish.

One night, when my first (and longtime) love drove ten and a half hours from his home and showed up at my door to ask me for another chance on a  night when all I wanted to do was watch American Idol, Brad called me. Ryan had finally left and I was on the phone with my sister at the time, drinking the bottle of wine Ryan had brought (which I waited all of five minutes to uncork after an anguished, heart-rending hour of awfulness). Brad’s call came through and I clicked over.

“Hi.”

“OHmigod I have to talk to you.” This is how he starts all phone conversations. Never “hello.” Always straight to the neurosis du jour.

“Well, I have to talk to you too, but I’m on the other line with my sister right now.”

“But this is, like, huge.”

“Mine’s pretty huge.”

“Nnnnope, I’m pretty sure mine’s bigger.”

“Nnnnooo, I’m thinkin’ mine is.”

“Amanda (girl he was seeing) had a kid in her class that has tuberculosis and now I’ve been exposed.”

“Yeah, um, Ryan drove halfway across the country, showed up at my door with a bottle of wine and a white rose, and asked me for another chance.”

“Yeah, you win. Call me back.”

“Yep.”

I was heartbroken when he told me he’d found a girl he really, really liked, but I give him credit; he called and asked me to come over because he needed to talk to me. Not many guys you’re not even dating would do that.  But I thought we were in trouble then. I thought our friendship would fade. I cried as much over that as I did over him falling for someone else.

But we stayed close. I got over the idea of him and me, and we still had those marathon phone conversations. Brad dated Lila for two years, and man, was there drama. I’m the one he talked to about how to deal with it.

Then he met Carrie.

Carrie was a force of nature. She worked with us, all gusto and go-getterness, fresh from a place somewhere in Virginia. He couldn’t shake her, and he didn’t want to. She was the reason he ended it with Lila, ultimately (even though I was on the phone telling him he couldn’t start anything with Carrie until he broke up with Lila. Sometimes I yelled that at him. Just to make sure he understood.) After two months with Carrie, he called one night all worked up because she had made a list of expectations. Wow, I thought. She has no idea who she’s dealing with. He was worried this was a harbinger of things to come.

It was.

Brad got a job in New York. The idea of him leaving town was sad and scary for me. I thought for sure we’d lose each other in the distance, that we could never stay as connected as we had been for five years. On his last day at work, he came over to me to say goodbye (which irritated me; didn’t I deserve more than a workplace adieu?) and I burst into tears. I had to run into the ladies’ room. I tried to calm down, but I couldn’t.

When I gave up on getting it together, I flung the bathroom door open, and there he was, in the hallway, waiting for me. “This isn’t working,” I sobbed into his shoulder when he wrapped me up in a hug. “I can’t stop crying. It’s your stupid fault.”

He just hugged me tighter.

But still we stayed close. We emailed each other as though we were using the instant messaging system at work. All day long, one- or two-line emails volleyed back and forth between our respective servers. Little, stupid stuff. Stuff that didn’t mean anything. Just the stuff of days passing. But with the emails and the text messages (and the less frequent phone calls), we kept up our friendship, same as ever.

One day, at 1pm, he emailed me. “I have to tell you something.”

“What?”

Nothing for 30 minutes.

Then: “Yeah, we’ll talk.”

“Ugh. You’re annoying.”

It went on like this for three and a half hours. Finally, at 4:30pm, he sent The Email.

“I bought a ring.” 

For Carrie.

I had gotten to a point where the idea of Brad and me together made me laugh, so I wasn’t jealous about him loving her. But still, when I read those words, I stopped breathing. A ring?! What?!

“What. Kind. Of. Ring.” Send.

“The kind with a diamond” came back.

Holy crap! How did I not know this was coming?! How did he not talk to me for, like, hours about this? How did he manage to make this decision without me?! I hadn’t realized it, but the drama that surrounded Carrie’s list of expectations two months into their relationship was the only drama he ever had with her. My little Brad was growing up. He didn’t need me to be a part of his major decisions. It was happening. We were drifting.

I lambasted him via electronic device. “I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU ARE TELLING ME THIS AT 4:30 IN THE AFTERNOON!  Three and a half hours, you made me wait, and now I have a Thing, and you tell me this NOW?! Ugh. There will be a phone call. Oh yes. A phone call will be made.”

I had to keep The Ring a secret for a month, even though I still worked with Carrie. I knew for a month that he was going to pop the question, and I couldn’t say a word. I’m good at keeping secrets, but I spent the entire week before she left to meet him for vacation with a mantra in my head: “Don’t say ‘ring,’ don’t say ‘ring…’” and trying not to look at her left hand.

Several months later, she got a job in New York and moved up. A few months after that, I stood on a beach and watched him marry her. I wondered what would happen to our friendship now.

Two years after that, while we were Facebook-chatting one morning, as per our usual routine, he sent me a message: “ANSWER YOUR PHONE!”

“Oh, that’s you!” I replied, getting my phone.

“Hi.”

“Okay, good. Now. Read this.” I heard a click as he hit ENTER on his keyboard.

“Carrie is pregnant” popped up on my screen.

“AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!” I cried.

“Okay, back to the computer,” he said, and hung up. We had the rest of the conversation via Facebook chat. Their parents knew; that was it. Another secret for me to keep for a month. Carrie didn’t even know I knew. I’m forbidden from telling her how far in advance I had been informed.

Throughout Carrie’s pregnancy, he’s shared his anxieties (of which he has several). His mother, her mother, the Jewish vs. Methodist thing (he’s Jewish, Carrie is the daughter of a Methodist minister, his mother makes him insane, she’s very close to hers), furniture, dogs, new apartments in New York (this is where I get to remind him that he lives, in point of fact, in New Jersey, which he blindly refuses to admit, despite driver’s licenses, license plates, mailing addresses and various other things that confirm his actual state of residence).

Last week, at seven months along, Carrie fell and had to spend a night in the hospital.

I was on vacation, and he hadn’t tried to call or text or Facebook chat with me while I was away. He didn’t tell me about it for days.

When he finally did, via text while I stood on the jetway for a flight, I responded, “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this.”

This is it, I thought. Now that he’s going to have a kid, everything’s going to change. Including our friendship.

“Eh, everything’s fine,” he replied. And then I remembered: his very first text to me that night was, “Are you back yet? You go away for too long!”

Somebody missed me.

“I told you I had my laptop, and my phone. You could have texted, emailed, called or Facebooked,” I replied.

“yeah I don’t really like texting these days” was the response.

Yeah… we’ll be alright.

music

And Now For Something Completely Different…

There’s more to me than snark, you know.

No, really, there is.

And so I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking about mercilessly exposing you to what is probably my greatest passion in life, without even asking you if you want me to.

I’m talking to, like, five people, so it’s not like I’m jeopardizing a massive following, here. But I kind of like you guys, so hopefully you won’t desert me. I’ll get back to funny snark on Tuesdays, I promise.

What I’m thinking about doing is a Music Monday series. I’ve worked this out scientifically, based on the following transitive property of singlecell’s version of math: Mondays suck.  Music makes us happy. So, if I do a Music Monday series, then theoretically, I could make readers/listeners happier on a day that is famed for suckitude.

I like it.

Here’s the catch: my passion is classical, choral and opera music.

Ohhhhh, you say. If you could look worriedly at one another, you would.

So why am I doing this to you?

You could blame it on my middle school music teacher, Amy Sullivan. She recognized that I had a fair voice, and recommended me for the Indianapolis Children’s Choir’s Choral Festival, held every summer since the ICC’s founding in 1986. The festival is like camp, but without the sleepovers and mean pranks. I went, and spent a week immersed in music. At the end of the week, the camp kids got to sing a concert with the choir kids. And after that, the choir held auditions for the camp kids interested in becoming members.

You know I totally signed up. And I made it.

For the next three years, I sang under the incomparable direction of Henry Leck, the founder of ICC. He taught us sight-reading, technique, mechanics, theory and solfege (that Do Re Me stuff that Julie Andrews whipped out in The Sound of Music… only actually educational). He also taught us discipline, focus, self-confidence and listening. And languages. In three years, I sang in 15 languages. Kids are sponges. They absorb this kind of stuff so easily it’s ridiculous. And I was a total sponge for this. I fell in love.

At 13, I was part of a 65-singer ensemble who traveled to New York City for an international children’s choral festival. We sang in Carnegie Hall, performing several pieces ourselves, and then performing several others with about 750 other kids.

Let me say that again: when I was 13, I got to sing in Carnegie Hall.

Hi. That’s insane.

Two years later, I had the incredible fortune of going on tour to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. We sang in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Auckland. (Hawaii was just a two-day respite before we got home.) We stayed in homestays with the families of the kids we performed with in Canberra, Melbourne and Auckland. I’m still friends with my Melbourne family.  In Sydney, we sang in the Opera House, just to see what it sounded like. (There are several concert halls and performances spaces in the Opera House, each one represented by one of the “sails” of the architecture. Each hall is acoustically built for a specific type of music performance. You can learn more about it here.)

That choir was the single most formative experience of my life. When I was too old to sing with them anymore (women’s voices change, too, and at the time, the choir limited singers to age 8 – 15; it’s been expanded greatly since, as other subdivisions have been added over the years) I kept singing with my school choir. In college, my classes, internships and jobs interfered with choir, so I took voice lessons instead. After I graduated, I was working all kinds of screwy hours and couldn’t sing anywhere; I stopped  four years. Then one day I was sitting in church, thinking about how much I missed my music. Duh. I joined my parish’s choir and started cantoring at mass (leading the congregation, without the choir).

Life carried me to other states after ICC. In 2005, I heard my local choral arts society perform. I’m referring to them as the “local” choral arts society because I’m mysterious and don’t tell the blogosphere where I live, exactly, but don’t take it to mean this is a podunk group. We’re talking the best talent in the (culturally significant) city, under the direction of a stellar musical mind, and in a strong and mutually beneficial partnership with the “local” (astounding, amazing) symphony orchestra, which is captained by a world-renowned conductor.

I had to audition. Somehow, I got into the group, and found myself surrounded by brilliant singers with far more knowledge and training than I– several of whom had taken classes from Henry Leck. I was challenged, I was learning… I was loving it. In 2007, I went with the choir to France to perform Mozart’s Requiem in Paris, Oiron and Montelimar. I can’t go into the absolute awe of this trip here, but I’m sure I’ll tell you about it another time. When I took my current job, I had to give up the choir; it was the single most difficult part of taking the job, and my heart still aches for having left.

Music is a universal truth. Not everyone is touched or moved by paintings or sketches, architecture or sculpture, dance or literature. But somewhere along the line, some kind of music will move everyone to tears, or to chest-swelling, breathtaking awe. It has done this to me so many times, because I have been so blessed as to be part of the groups with which I’ve sung, and I’ve been exposed to such wonderful, miraculous music in the process. That’s what I want to share with you, to give you the chance to cry with an indistinguishable, but immutable, emotion at the turn of a phrase… or to feel your breath catch in your throat as a note soars… or to wonder at the brilliance of a composer who knew just exactly how to make a feeling sound.

Don’t worry. It won’t hurt a bit.

First installment comes now. This is a piece we sang in New York in that festival. Imagine 800 trained children’s voices filling Carnegie Hall with this sound. “I’m Goin’ Up A-Yonder” is a spiritual, arranged, in this recording, by Walter Hawkins. I’m pretty picky about finding these recordings, so what I find will always be the best representation of my best judgment, though I can’t swear the recording quality will always be top-notch. This is a performance by the Lenoir-Rhyne Youth Chorus in Hickory, NC. I would suggest, with no offense to these beautiful kids, that you close your eyes and listen, rather than watch. I hope it moves you, as it has moved me every time I’ve heard or thought of it for the last 21 years.

Happy Music Monday.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aK5EQnEFwA8

bored church

Half-Assed Holy Days

I’m not Pat Robertson’s daughter or anything, but Easter has always been a joyous day for me. It’s not that I go overboard celebrating; I keep a pretty low candy profile (though I have been known to have brownies for breakfast on this festive day of our eternal salvation, because eternal salvation food has no calories). But I’m always in a good mood on Easter Sunday morning, despite invariably being up late the night before and up early on the holiday to sing. I’m a cantor at my church, and I often get the 9am mass on Easter. Aside from the challenge of getting the vocal chords to flap properly at that hour, I’m happy to do it. But from the second I get up there in front of the rest of the church, I can tell: Easter is not joyous for everyone.

It’s the dead faces that give it away.

Yo. Jesus died… and then rose from the dead. You think you could at least look alive?

Leading people in song (allegedly), I figure, is a lot like teaching. You look out and see some animated faces and a lot of completely dispassionate ones. And you spend the next hour trying to drag people along. Anyone who sings, dances, acts or speaks to groups knows this feeling. You draw from the energy the audience or congregation gives you. When you get nothing, you feel like you’re falling flat.

I was gettin’ nothin’. No joy. I was Bettye LaVette, lookin’ for my joy. Except white and not nearly as distinct-sounding.

It’s interesting, because the parishioners all certainly seemed chatty before the mass started, while our newest priest was futzing around in the sacristy and running really quite late.

(You know you totally love that I just used a Yiddish word in the middle of an Easter blog.)

Now, this whole phenomenon is not new to me. We have a very musically-oriented parish, but there is always that lot what refuses to sing, and the cantors can sense it as soon as the entrance hymn starts: “Oh, it’s gonna be that kind of mass, is it? Okay, dig deep.” I could get on my soapbox here about how everybody in the pews will probably sing in their cars to Bruce Springsteen or Olivia Newton-John or Justin Bieber, but they just won’t do it in church…

Yup!


       Yup!


 Yup! (Own it)


                            Nope.

…and about how if you listen to live recordings of pop star concerts and hear everyone sing, they sound pretty darned good, so I don’t want to hear the “my voice is terrible” excuse. But I won’t get on my soapbox.

(Sorry I lied on Easter about getting on my soapbox, Jesus. Just tryin’ to do You a solid, here.)

(Did you know Jesus reads my blog? See? You’re in good company.)

My point is, I’m not up here singing for the sake of performance art. This is not a concert. You’re supposed to sing with me. You won’t sing at all without me. I know because if I cough, you have no idea what to do. You know the words, and you know the tunes, because we’re Catholic and this is Easter and it’s not, like, you know, new. So what’s your excuse?

I guarantee you, if I asked that question and waded through the “my voice is terrible” and “I don’t like to sing” excuses, what I’d really find is… “I’m half-assing the holy day.”

Let’s face it: you’re at the 9am mass because you want to get this thing over with so you can go get the kids to the Easter Egg Hunt and then go have brunch at your parents’ house before you get home to change back into your sweats to watch golf/hockey/baseball. It’s called a Holy Day of Obligation for a reason, right?

Don’t lie. It’s Easter.

Look. I’m never going to tell you you’re a bad person for coming to church and not really participating. You’re here, and I don’t know how the Jesus Jackpot really works, so who am I to say? We’re all just hoping for the best, here. But I am the head singer in charge, and I would really appreciate it if you would help me out. Every Catholic knows: the things that distinguish one parish from the other are A) the caliber of the priests’ homilies, and 2) the music. You will totally complain if you don’t like either one. We’re here to enrich your worship experience. So if we’re making the music good for you, please consider returning the favor. It really does matter to us. It’s not that we take it personally; it’s that hearing voices joined together makes us happy. If you sing, you make my day more joyful.

Happy Easter!

Where Do You Write?

There’s apparently a sub-viral meme going around, asking Where Do You Write? I got the question from fellow blogger Older Eyes. Well, I mean, he didn’t ask me directly, but he put it out there and sort of encouraged everyone who read his entry to answer the question with an entry of their own. So.

I write everywhere.

Hahaha, you thought I was done! If you thought I was done, you’ve never read one of my blog entries. I tend toward the loquacious side.

Sometimes I write while I’m sitting on the floor of my living room, with my laptop perched on top of the stereo. This is because I don’t have wifi. Long story, short writing sessions. It ain’t as easy to sit on the floor as it used to be.

When I can’t take that, or I need to spend more time (and an entry almost always takes at least an hour because I’m obsessive about editing, re-editing, re-reading, re-re-reading, etc.), I move the laptop to the kitchen table, where I can look out the window (hopefully unrestrained by the presence of random men on my balcony) and sip a cup of coffee or a glass of water, which I am absolutely certain I will one day spill all over the laptop.

Other times, the laptop actually becomes what it is, and I write while sitting on the couch. If that’s where I am, it’s much more likely that I’m writing late at night, and that the beverage of choice is either a glass of wine or a martini. Which I will probably spill on my couch. Thank God for stain-resistent microfiber.

There are nights when I’ll write in bed. This totally breaks my No Technology In the Bedroom Rule. I do not have a television in my bedroom, and if I have anything to say about it, I never will, because I believe bedrooms should be sanctuaries and that the media of choice should be books. Keeps things relaxed, unencumbered, peaceful and sensual. But since books are allowed, I think writing is allowed, and since my hand tends to cramp up if I try to write longform, I’ll fetch the laptop for these rare occasions when something brews in bed and I just have to get it out.

Something literary, I mean.

I write at work. I mean, I write for work, but sometimes I’ll work on an entry on the side. Devious little thing, aren’t I? In case you’re wondering, if I’m not home or I don’t have free access to wifi, I write drafts in a MSWord file rather than in the draft section of WordPress, mostly because that way I can do it without “surfing the internet.” The good thing about writing at work, I find, is that having something “else” to write while I’m writing what I have to write helps to keep me engaged rather than bored. Plus sometimes there’s just material that’s too good to let go.

I wrote this entry in an airport. And since my people-watching tendencies go into overdrive while I’m in an airport, it’s definitely become the source for several blog ideas. One of them, which may or may not see the light of day, is the fact that fully half of the people who were sitting in the largely business-oriented I Need To Recharge My Laptop/SmartPhone section of the gate are women. And they were working. I wasn’t, but everybody thought I was, because I was typing away on my laptop.

Mind you, I had just read a whole issue of Cosmo, so I felt like I had to do something that looked at least one step above mindless. (Cosmo is not totally mindless, though. I always buy it when I’m sitting in an airport. Once I wade through all the clap-trap about lip gloss and 22-year-old jargon that makes me roll my eyes,  I always find value in certain articles, if you know what I’m sayin’.)

I wrote on the plane on the way there, and I wrote on the plane on the way home.

And I’m constantly writing in my head. Sometimes I’ll write a whole Thing and then by the time I get to a computer all I have to do is type out the fully mentally-edited version. That’s how I wrote the Maid of Honor Toasts I had the… well, honor to give at both my sister’s weddings.

When inspiration strikes, it’s best to get to work before you lose it.

old flight attendants

Welcome to Self-Awareness Airlines! Listen up.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to thank you for flying with us today. Before we take off, we have a few things to go over.  This isn’t your usual cautionary spiel, so listen up and allow us to serve you better!

Please take a look under the seat in front of you. Your feet are there. They are probably ugly. But feet, however icky, are necessary evils. Ladies, please do try to help them out with pretty polish. Yes, it will attract attention to your tootsies, but it will also help if it seems like you’ve at least tried to make them more visually appealing. Pretty polish balances nasty feet. We can all use a touch of color! It’s also a great disguise if you have dirty nails, which is gross, and no one wants to look at that.

Gentlemen: if you are wearing sandals or flip-flops, please make sure this is the last time you do it. Guys, you know you don’t take care of your feet. The nails are ragged and uneven, the heels are calloused and blackened, so please, cover them up. If you think wearing socks with your sandals is a convenient and comfy solution, you are wrong. Thank you for sparing us the sight, but now you look like a total dork. Being able to easily remove them at the security checkpoint is not a good reason for wearing mandals. There are no good reasons for wearing mandals.

Runners: if you’ve got a black or missing nail, please follow the guidelines I’ve just outlined for the men.

Please direct your attention now to the overhead compartment. Items may shift during flight. Please adjust your fashion sense along with them. If you weigh more than 200 pounds and you are not 6’2”, do not wear tank tops. Ever. During our flight, you’ll be able to look out your window at the Grand Canyon. If your cleavage resembles it, you’re banned from wearing tank tops, too. If you’re a man, you should never wear tank tops under any circumstances, and this is doubly true if you have hair anywhere other than your head, chest, arms and legs.

It’s important to maintain good circulation in your legs. If yours are a mottled mess of varicose veins, bruises, cellulite to your knees and festering wounds, please wear pants or skirts that will cover them.

In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, the lack of oxygen could be an explanation for wearing spandex. It is the only explanation if you have any figure flaws. We’re not saying we’re better people than you; we’re just saying no one wants to see that.

Wait. Actually, we are better people than you. Your flight crew weighs 100 pounds less than you and you don’t see them wearing spandex. Get it together.

Some travelers with us today may believe that  tighter clothing has a slimming effect. They feel like if they wear something looser or cut to hide flaws, they look bigger. However, we do not have sausage on the plane, so if you look like one, you shouldn’t be here.

Tube tops. Nix them. You could be the hottest thing to walk the planet; we don’t care. You look ridiculous.

Ladies:  scrunchies may be used in the lavatory, while washing your face, but that is all. Same with banana clips.

Men: if you managed to get through security with your socks pulled up to maximum calf/knee height and you’re wearing shorts, but are not in a full-on soccer uniform, we don’t know how you got on this plane. If you have excess baggage in your midsection, please know that, unlike your seatbelt, your regular belt should not be fastened low and tight around your crotch. Fix it.

Your life vest is under your seat. Please notice how silly this flight attendant looks while wearing it. Some clothing designers make dress shirts with short sleeves. They look silly, too. Don’t buy them.

This concludes our advisory. We know you have a choice. Thank you for flying Self-Awareness Airlines.

old guy speedo

Things I’ve Learned On the Beach

 

Vacations are not breaks from learning. The powers of observation can be amazing educational tools. I’ve learned more about bathing suits than I ever thought possible. Notice, I’m not saying it’s good. Below, a list of lessons. Yes, they’re kind of critical. But clearly, somebody has to say it.

1. European men still think Speedos are the way to go.

I really don’t understand this. It’s like they stubbornly refuse to wear any bathing attire other than a Speedo. And apparently, the more brightly-colored or wildly patterned, the better. I’m amazed I didn’t see anything with feathers strut by. Why do these guys not understand how incredibly UNflattering these things are, even when you’re 26 and gorgeous? Are they really comfortable? How is it possible that they’re comfortable? If you want to be seen, wear one. If you want to be seen and not make people look away, stick to trunks.

1A. The only thing worse than a guy in a Speedo is an old guy in a stretched-out Speedo.

I don’t think I need to explain this. But it did remind me of an episode at a different beach a few years ago. This guy wearing some sort of natural-colored fishnet “cover-up” decided to make camp right next to us. He had long, curly bleached blond hair and a leathery tan. He wore, I kid you not, a stretched-out gold lame’ Speedo. And…

…wait for it…

a fanny pack.

It was like Sammy Hagar went on a bender, forgot where he was, and decided to catch some rays.

Exactly like this, but with a belly and a tan. Wait. It might have actually been Sammy Hagar. (Image from the uber-classy sucksorrocks.com)

After he was finished with his visit, he climbed on a bicycle and rode off.

I’ll let you fully process that image.

Okay then.

2. There is seriously  no end of middle-aged, potbellied men who believe it’s perfectly acceptable to show at least two inches of butt crack while walking around the beach.

These men are usually with their wives. I don’t understand how they’re permitted to get away with this. They’ve got their shorts slung so low, everyone else is subject to their posterior crests. And it’s not cute. In fact, it’s usually furry. And not kitten furry or puppy furry or baby bunny rabbit furry.

3. There is also no end of women of all ages who wear ill-advised bathing suits.

I suppose I should applaud these women and girls for having a healthy enough body image to flaunt the flab, the cellulite, the jiggly bits. In a way, I think it’s great that they’re comfortable with their bodies. But people, I’m not that old and I’m a healthy weight, and I still keep my cellulite covered. It’s just polite. I know that my flaws lie in my proverbial trunk, and I’m not going to show you what they are. It’s so much sexier if you don’t let it all hang out. What is it about the current times that make people thing it’s better to show everything right from jump? Am I my grandmother? Are there kids on my lawn? I don’t think so.

4. There are also plenty of girls and women who don’t feel the need to keep their legs closed while they’re lying about on the beach. One of them was facing me directly. And when I say her legs were not closed, I mean if her doctor were around, she’d be totally ready for a quick pelvic. She was from some other country, but I’m  not having that as an excuse. Knees together, love. Where is your mother?

But, turns out…

5. There are parents who seemingly don’t care what their daughters look like on the beach.

Now. I have plenty of therapy-necessitating issues borne of my mother ‘s criticisms. But never, not ever, did I wear a bikini, untie the top strap that goes around your neck, tie it behind my back instead, and then slouch over to play cards. Legs akimbo, and fabric I mean barely covering nipples. She could have been wearing pasties, for all the good this bikini top was doing while she had the top strap tied around her back. And her parents were right there. Right there! How does that happen? I wasn’t even allowed to wear a bikini for as long as I lived in my parents’ house. I swear, I didn’t own one until I was 22. But here’s this lovely 17-year-old girl with a sweet face and she’s all exposed. In front of her father. I wanted to roll up my magazine and smack him in the head with it.

I don’t get it.

6. Trying too hard automatically negates attractiveness.

This is one of those things you don’t learn until you’re older, and God, do I wish I knew it ten years ago. The people I see trying too hard are younger, and it breaks my heart. They’re teetering on four-inch heels and wearing short skirts that they keep having to pull down as they walk. Their hair is all Done, but it’s humid and it’s breezy, so they’re getting frustrated with it. It’s hard work to be beautiful. But at their age, it’s harder to just let yourself be beautiful, and that’s sad, because it’s so much easier to look lovely naturally when you’re 22. I just want to stop these girls on the street and tell them to relax. Don’t make it so much harder than it is. I say this in all seriousness and heartfelt sincerity: there is more beauty in grace than there will ever be in glamour. If you’re not comfortable, you’re less beautiful. Let it go, and it will come to you. You’ll be irresistible. All the great ones knew it: Hepburn, Kelly, Bacall. There are famous, beautiful women right now who know it: Halle Berry, Diane Lane, Ashley Judd come to mind. Confidence and grace. They’re what make you beautiful. They’re what make men stare. Hairspray and spandex are for rookies.