On the Sixth Day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas, I rejoiced in someone else’s sorrow. Lil bit.

Okay, so do you remember the story about how I worked with the chief of staff for a state senator on some crime victims’ rights legislation? And how the chief of staff was super-hot and looked like David Beckham and NOT like Philip Seymour Hoffman, as I expected? And how it was all very West Wing and I totally expected Aaron Sorkin to come walking out of the adjoining office when I finally met said David Beckham look-alike?

Well, he and I have stayed in touch, we could wind up working together in new jobs for both of us at the same place, and his uncle died two days before Christmas and his girlfriend was in the hospital and now they’re apparently spending some time apart… and I am super-excited about it.

I know. I’m horrible.

Look. I’m not excited that she was hospitalized, okay? I’m not excited that his uncle died right before Christmas. That’s incredibly sad and my heart goes out to his family, truly. And I don’t know what’s wrong with the girlfriend (or possibly un-girlfriend), but for the record? I was totally concerned even though I’ve never met her. Just today I was driving to work thinking, “I wonder how Rick’s girlfriend is doing. I hope it’s not serious. I hope she didn’t have to stay in the hospital on Christmas Day. That would have been awful.”

See?

But you have to admit, it’s star-crossed. Woman has stalker. Woman works with never-seen man via phone and email for months to pass legislation in state. Woman races to committee hearing whilst trying to keep clothing on her person, fixes self up in office building bathroom, pretends to be as strong and together as she hopes to look while being completely frazzled and vulnerable on the inside. Woman meets man while man is holding delicious double-chocolate cookie. Instant attraction crackles. Conflict is set up: oh, if only… but we must wait until this legislation passes… and until his girlfriend is run over by a truck… can I have that cookie? Music swells, zoom tight on faces, fade to black, end scene.

We’re not talking B-grade rom-com here. We’re talking Love Actually. Something guys don’t hate to admit they like.

And no, I wasn’t actually hoping his girlfriend would get run over by a truck, or even by a Volkswagen Beetle or a SmartCar. I had completely accepted by now that she existed. I allegedly don’t know her name (it’s Sara – thanks, Rick’s Sister On His Facebook Page) but I know they just moved into a new apartment. Which makes this whole taking-time-apart-while-she-recovers-from-some-hospital-worthy-Christmas-illness thing a little awkward, I bet.

And yes. Yes, I am aware of the irony that I’m sort of excited about someone else’s heartache when I myself have been stuck in the muck of just that kind of heartache. Almost that kind.

But one person’s hell is another person’s hope, and I don’t want anyone to suffer, but I need to hope a little. Is all.

Hey, probably this will go nowhere. Probably the girlfriend will recover and they’ll reconcile and I won’t get the job working in the same building as Rick. Probably I’ll never actually see him in person again.

But it’s Christmastime. The cusp of a new year. And I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing. And a girl can dream.

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On the Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas, I went on a book bender.

The snow was falling fast and furious when I got up in the morning, making me wish I could just curl up on the couch with a blanket and the novel I’m reading but haven’t picked up in at least a week and a half for lack of time. And because of a little guilt at the lusty way I’m reading it, since it’s a psychological thriller and this is Christmastime, and I think it’s sort of ugly to voraciously read about bloody heads during the celebration of the birth of the Lord. I picked a fine time to get sucked into a genre I haven’t read in years, eh?

There are lots of reasons I can’t curl up on the couch with a book for hours. Unfortunately, my back is one of those reasons. But another is that my house is in serious need of a cleaning when I have some free time. And we always want what we cannot have.

I’m 3/4 of the way through this book, and I have one more new one to read after this. But then I’ll be left bookless. Sure, I could go to the library, and maybe I will. But for a few quiet minutes at work, I got on thebookstorekiller amazon.com and went a little crazy. Fiction to history, Boleyn to bio, a dozen books wound up added to my electronic wish list. It was a feast for the reader’s soul, even if the books weren’t real and I was merely making a list of the ones I wanted to read but for which I would first have to pay. I even gobbled up a few pages via the Amazon preview feature before I remembered I hate reading from screens (blogs excepted). Then I remembered I’d promised myself I’d go to the anchor branch of the library, just a few blocks from the new house, while I was on vacation and get myself signed up. And I didn’t get there. Sigh. Alright, put that on the to-do list for the upcoming week.

I buy books. Simple reason: with adulthood comes the responsibilities that don’t allow us to determine a deadline by which we will have a book finished. It’s been so long since I’ve gone to a library, I’m ashamed to say, I don’t even know how they do things in the digital age. Can I renew my books online? Reserve a few? I should know these things. I’m friends with the PR guy for the entire library system. (Not an amazing feat – the man is uber-popular. Practically a local celebrity.)

Curious? Here are the books on my wish list, in no particular order:
The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
Half Empty – David Rakoff
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
Bring Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
Cronkite – Douglas Brinkley
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln – Doris Kearns Goodwin
A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson – Robert Caro

I’m really not much of one for the Tudors, but I’ve heard such great things about Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels that I’m curious. Maybe I’ll grab those from the library – that way I don’t have to spend the money on them if I don’t like them. But oh, I love putting a finished book on the bookshelf and living with it after. A bookshelf is a list of things accomplished, stories known, lessons learned, places visited. It’s a solid show of intangibles. Mine is my favorite piece of furniture in my home. If you want to know what’s on it, you can always check out my On My Bookshelf page. It’s a list of all the books I’ve read in the last few years. When I finish one, I add it to the top of the list. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve given myself permission not to finish a book I’m not enjoying. That never used to happen, but now I can’t see good reason to waste time on a book I don’t like. And I’ve found good reason to read one twice if I like it a lot.

There’s such a filling satisfaction about getting lost in a great book. We crave it, we book lovers, don’t we? Like we crave warmth or chocolate or sex or sleep. We need it to survive.

So, on the fifth day of Christmas, as the clock ticked toward the sixth day, I settled for warmth… and 30 pages of a psychological thriller.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas, lunch took seven hours.

The plan was really kind of ridiculous from the start: Mom would drive down to Aunt Beth’s house to pick her up, then drive over to NJ so she could sign some retirement paperwork at her investment guy’s office, not far from Sister 2’s house. Then they’d pick up Sister 2 and Youngest Neph and go to lunch. I went along because I was visiting to spend quality holiday time with family.

As you may remember from the Third Day of Christmas, my mother has become a terrible driver. It should take about 30 minutes to get to Aunt Beth’s house from my parents’. But there was a road closure and my mother’s head exploded all over the inside of her CR-V, which took a while to clean up, and so the 30-minute ride turned into 75 minutes and, unbelievably, a dose of Dramamine. (I can drive forever and not get sick, but if someone else is driving, I’m on the clock for 90 minutes. Half that if there’s a lot of stop-and-go. And with my mother lately, there is a lot of braking.)

“Why don’t we go back to Route 1 and take it down to Rhawn?” I suggested lightly. I knew my mother would know where she was going from there.

“Because it’s too far out of the way,” she responded as though being out of the way was the worst thing ever.

Let’s review. We were driving down to my aunt’s house, 30 minutes from my parents’ house, “on the way” to go to lunch with my sister in New Jersey, in order to avoid taking two cars across the bridge. Because that would be silly. Going straight to my sister’s house from my parents’ house takes 45 minutes. Getting there from my aunt’s house takes 45 minutes. So we’re already going 30 minutes out of our way and using probably $3.50 in gas one way for the sake of saving $3 in bridge tolls and maybe $1.50 in gas round-trip.

Secondly, how are you “out of the way” if you are, in fact, getting exactly where you’re trying to go in a manner with which you are quite familiar, as opposed to wandering anxiously around roads you don’t know, occasionally in the wrong direction? But avoiding going “out of the way” was a recurring excuse for bad driving in the last 24 hours. I held my tongue.

About 60 minutes into our 75 minute tension-filledbut for the love of God, not out of our way jaunt to Aunt Beth’s, my sister called. “What is going on? Why aren’t you guys there yet?”

“How did you know we’re not there?” I asked as my mother made a terrible and sudden left onto a side street. “Philmont Avenue was closed. We had to recalculate. I’ve been trying to call her to tell her.”

“Aunt Beth called the house,” my sister replied.

It was official: logic had been collectively abandoned. “Why the hell did she call the house and not Mom’s cell phone? And why isn’t she answering her phone?”

“She’s been outside cleaning out her car.” Such efficiency. Cleaning out your car to make that time spent worrying that your sister-in-law is dead on the side of the road a little more productive. And also make it impossible for your sister-in-law to call you and tell you not to worry that she’s dead on the side of the road. If my head didn’t wind up going through the windshield at some point on this drive, I might start banging it on the dashboard.

Opportunity knocked. My mother suddenly decided to turn left into a parking lot, prompting the long bleat of a horn as another car came up and rocketed past her on that side.

“Okay, I gotta go, Mom’s going to kill us,” I told my sister brightly. “Talk to you later.”

Finally we arrived at Aunt Beth’s, who began insisting that we blow off the paperwork she needed to sign since we had been so late, and instead just go get my sister for lunch. The whole point of my mother and aunt going to New Jersey was to get that paperwork taken care of; lunch with my sister was the bonus. Now we weren’t going to accomplish the paperwork, which meant my aunt would have to drive over another time, very possibly with my mother, and God only knew who would be collected in the carnage along the way.

I tried to tell them that my sister wouldn’t be ready for us to arrive yet, but they didn’t want to listen until I texted her and she told me she was naked and about to get into the shower. That convinced them to go accomplish the whole point of the trip first. Phew.

The paperwork thing took like seven minutes. I got out of the car to stretch, still nursing my back and very aware that I’d been sitting in a car for an hour and 45 minutes now.

Finally: lunch. Afterward, back at Sister 2’s house, Mom requested a duet with my sister on piano and me on vocals: “Memory” from Cats and “O Holy Night.” Don’t ask me why “Memory” has become a Christmas tradition in my family. It’s to do with my father wanting it sung at his funeral, and Christmastime being a traditional time for music-making. We can’t do the song at Dad’s funeral because we’re Catholic and it’s not a sacred piece, and also because it’s our dad and he would be dead and we probably wouldn’t be in the mood to sing and play. But in fairness, the song is from Cats, and that show itself is fairly deadly. And now every time I hear it, I think of my father’s eventual demise. Super-inspiring. Very Holiday.

Finally, we got back to Mom and Dad’s house. We had left for paperwork and lunch at 9:30am. We got back to the house at 4:30pm.

And then I had a martini and wondered how many lives I’d used up on that trip.

 

On the Third Day of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas, I realized where I got my trust issues.

It was a girls’ night out – just Mom, my three sisters and me. Mom had gotten us tickets to see “A Christmas Carol” up on the campus of Princeton University at a place called McCarter Theater. We were having dinner first. But Mom had never been there and really wasn’t sure about directions. Her computer was giving her trouble.

Enter trust issues.

Mom had fretted about the directions since before we got in the car. I had told her we could use the navigator on my phone, no problem. She wanted me to look up the directions that way 30 minutes before we left. And I would have, just to put her at ease, but I didn’t have my charger and I didn’t want to run down the battery too soon. My phone gives turn-by-turn directions and directions in list form, but I had figured turn-by-turn might be better if she found herself anxious in an unfamiliar area. Still, even in the car, as I tapped in the address on my phone, Mom was impatient. “I want to take Route 1,” she said.

“Okay,” I said as I plugged in the information. 

“Well, where does it say to go?”

“Well just get on Route 1 and we’ll go from there.”

The tires nearly screeched as she slammed on the brakes. In the middle of a populated road. “I’m not going any farther until I know where I’m going!”

What the…?

“Mom,” from both myself and Sister 3, in the backseat. She’d nearly been thrown into the windshield. 

I knew that explaining to my mom that the phone would give live directions from wherever we were, so that it was literally impossible to get lost, would only make her feel like I was talking down to her. It was enough that I had told her she has a navigation system on her iPhone. “It’s not hooked up,” she had replied, and I had had to keep myself from telling her it doesn’t need to be.

“Just get on Route 1,” I said again.

There was much second-guessing of the Google navigation on my phone, which has never erred. “Route 1 splits. It goes to New York or it stays in New Jersey. Which one does it say to take?”

I have to edit myself a lot around my mother. I didn’t say, “Well… we’re in New Jersey and we’re staying in New Jersey…” I said, “You’ve got it right. Just stay here.”

*******

–Braking!–

 

“This says Bank Street. I thought we were supposed to be on University.”

“It becomes Bank.”

*******

–Braking!–

“How am I supposed to go straight? There is no straight.”

“Yes there is. Look, see across this road here, that little street there?”

“That one?”

“Yep.”

“But I can’t get down that street.”

I didn’t say, “Mom, see the speed limit sign? See the other car going down that street? It’s not as narrow as it looks.” Instead I said, “Sure you can,” in a deliberately light and airy tone which I cannot believe she ever, ever buys, because it does take effort and she has to be able to tell that it takes effort even though I try to make it sound like it does not take any effort.

We managed to get to Palmer Square. It’s a lovely little village full of shops and not full of parking. We got there at 5:03pm, 27 minutes ahead of the time we were meeting Sisters 1 & 2. But we didn’t walk into the restaurant for 30 minutes, because of the angsting over the parking. Note: I did not say we couldn’t find parking. I said there was angsting.

 

First there was the agony of the parallel spot. I know everyone thinks they’re a better driver than whomever they’re riding with, but really. Very herky-jerky with the gas and the brake. I kept bracing myself and trying not to insult her by looking like I was bracing myself. A casual bracing. Nonchalant preparation for impact. “Oh, I’m just gonna put my hands here and lean my head against the headrest because I’m so relaxed by your constant brake-jamming. Oh, by the way, when did you become such a horrible driver?” 

Thirty-two unnecessary adjustments later, we get into the spot, and there’s a meter. My mother reads the sign aloud. My mother reads every sign aloud. She gets that from her mother. All women strive, be it wisely or not, to never become our mothers, and so I have sworn I will never read signs aloud. Nor will I hum a non-existent song or “do do do” silently so that the only sound anyone hears is my tongue clicking against the spot where my teeth meet my hard palate.

So she reads the sign aloud, muttering time limits and expanses and conditions. What it boils down to is that the meters are running for another two hours and 45 minutes, but there’s a two-hour limit on the spot. Which shouldn’t be a problem, because we have to drive from the restaurant to the theater, so we’re not staying in the spot longer than two hours anyway.

But there is great angst. There is much change-counting (requests only for quarters, refusing to hear that the meters take dimes and nickels, too, even though I offer them). Then there is a heavy sigh and a trek into an art shop for change. I watch my mother walk into the store.

“Ohmygod,” I heave as I lean my head against the window.

“Right?” comes from Sister 3 in the back.

“She’s exhausting!” I say.

“I know,” from behind me. 

“The braking?”

“I know!”

“Seriously?”

“Really.”

“You can’t just stop on a highway, Mom.” 

“Oh, but she did.”

Ten minutes later, Mom comes out and tells us about the very nice woman in the art shop who didn’t give her change, but did give her a free pass for a parking garage around the corner. Lovely. We go. 

“Lot full,” Mom reads the sign aloud. 

More angsting. “Should we just go back around and try our luck at that spot again?” We don’t answer because there is no good answer. My mother thinks out loud, particularly when her daughters are around, and truly every single thought she’d had in her head for the last 40 minutes had been spoken. I’m used to this, but I still don’t know when I’m supposed to respond and when I’m not. She pulled into the driveway of the lot and suddenly – 

— braking! —

“I don’t want to park here. I can’t park here.”

No reason. Just.. can’t.

Instead of driving around the lot to pull out head-first, she backed out of the driveway, nearly getting hit by another car (more braking). 

After we finally did park in another garage, and had dinner, and all piled into Sister 2’s Highlander to ride together to the theatre (no time limit on the garage), we really enjoyed the production of “A Christmas Carol.” I particularly loved the costumes, the sets, and the intermission when we realized there were two women who appeared just as pregnant as Sister 2, sitting in the row behind us. One of them asked my sister how far along she was.

“Oh, about 31 1/2 weeks,” she said.

“Oh, that’s what I would have guessed!” replied the other pregnant woman brightly.

“How about you?” my sister asked politely, figuring they were the same.

“Oh, I’m actually 37 weeks.” A coy eye roll and smile.

My sister’s eyes popped. “WHAT?!?!” she shrieked. Not quietly. In a theater. She pouted the rest of the show, gap-legged with her hands folded atop my little niece’s grow-chamber. She later admitted she had forgotten her line, which, of course, is, “Oh, you look so great! Good luck! Wow, hope you don’t go into labor during the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future! Hahaha!”  

Heading back to my parents’ house, Mom followed Sister 1. Sister 1 did not go back to the house the same way we had come. Instead, she got on I-95.

— Braking! —

(A groan from Sister 3 in the backseat.)

“We’re on 95?!”

“Yes,” I replied. 

“I wanted to take Route 1!” Mom declared.

A few miles later, Sister 1 pulled over to the side of the road and put on her flashers. Immediately, Mom thought the worst. Something was horribly wrong. “Is something wrong? Is she sick? Does she have a flat tire? Is her car dead? Oh, God…” Muttering, muttering, gloom and doom, horrors… we’ll all be killed here, obviously…

(Sister 1 had gotten a parking ticket and just spotted it affixed to the windshield on the passenger side. She stopped to grab it so it didn’t fly away. That’s all.)

Now I was glad I had stayed with my mother. Sister 1 had offered to have me ride home with her, but I wondered if Mom was comfortable getting there. Turns out, my suspicion was right. Mom didn’t know how to get to the house from here. It wasn’t tricky – my parents live right off of I-95. Mom can get there just fine coming from the south. This was the third time in the day that she was nervous about getting somewhere she knows how to get to. 

So I guided her back, careful not to sound – even to her – like I was at all surprised that she wasn’t sure. But I guided her down to an exit lower than she’d needed, figuring it was easier and much more familiar to her once she exited. 

“I should have gotten off back there,” she bemoaned as though she’d just lost a chance to donate a vital organ to a family member. “Oh my God, I’m sooo far down!”

I looked in the mirror at Sister 3, who just rolled her eyes and smacked herself in the head soundlessly. From where we were, it was two miles to my parents’ house. I wondered why all the drama.

The Ghost of Christmas Future revealed that next time? I’m driving.

 

 

 

On the Second Day of Christmas

At some meager hour of the second day of Christmas, I heard the freezing rain hitting the windows. I probably grimaced in my bed. After sun-up, when I got up and made my way to coffee, I saw the fat flakes falling at an awfully quick rate. It looked so pretty, but I kind of groaned again, wondering how much snow we would get (I hadn’t seen a guess at accumulation) and whether it would be fairly impossible to get out of my parking pad in the muck. Then it switched back to freezing rain. And then a mix. A mix of ick.

I debated calling in sick, since my back was still crooked with spasm and I wasn’t at all confident I’d be able to get to the car and clean it off without going down hard and shattering something made of calcium or cartilage. But then my phone dinged and I learned that the Chinese food Christmas feast had poisoned a coworker. Crab wontons. Now I had to do her job instead of mine.

So much for the fantasy of nursing my spine, watching movies and eating soup.

So much for fantasies in general, apparently, if that’s what gets me excited these days. Sheesh.

Well, wait a minute, I realized. That’s not how it has to be. Maybe I can at least partly save that really pathetic fantasy.

After treading very carefully down my marble front steps with a tray of cookies in one hand and the iron railing gripped in the other to deliver cookies to a neighbor, I got back in the door, took off my wet shoes and pulled up “The Family Stone” on my DVR. As it began, I heated up a can of Progresso chicken noodle. And then I settled down to seek proper lumbar support and spend an hour with Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes (my celebrity lookalike, as several opinions go) and Craig T. Nelson, throwing forks and accusations and meaningful glances at each other. There is something so satisfying about coming in from the cold, walking sock-footed, wrapping up in a blanket and warming yourself from the inside out. I got to hang out just long enough for the mucky mix to switch over to rain, sluicing some of the heavy snow off the car to help me out with the clearing job.

I got out of the parking pad without incident. I made it through the lengthened work day without too many grunts of pain alarming the coworkers. And later, I got to take in one of my favorite events of the year: The Kennedy Center Honors on CBS… a blatant, gluttonous, indulgent display of the best artistry in the country.

And also Kid Rock.

Who I didn’t hate if I had my eyes closed.

The day turned out less painful than I’d feared, on all fronts.

On the First Day of Christmas

I was on the road at midnight when the day turned from Christmas Eve to Christmas, crossing into Pennsylvania. An hour later, I very quietly – I mean really, really quietly, entered my parents’ house, determined not to stir Twin Nephs and prompt them to come out asking if Santa had arrived. Instead I found their mother, Sister 1, framed in an idyllic scene. She slept peacefully on the brown leather couch, covered in a red blanket and backlit by the string of white lights that decorated the mantle where the creche awaited the baby Jesus. She had waited up for me… or tried. I took a picture in my mind before I gently woke her so she could go to bed.

The Norman Rockwell moments continued in slightly different charm as I bedded down with Sister 3. Others may have been dreaming of a white Christmas. Sister 3 was apparently dreaming of karate. I was a crooked jerky jockey who had driven her crooked hoss with a back kinked by muscle spasm, only to share a bed with Twitchy McGee for six hours of short winter’s naps interrupted by cautious repositioning on my part and wild fits of flopping on hers. 

Still, it was Christmas, and we were glad to be together.

At “seven zewo zewo” on the digital clock, Twin Nephs stormed the bedroom with trumpeted announcements of Santa’s visit. Neph 1 forcibly removed the covers from my person and demanded that I arise. He’s much more of a morning person than his brother, who is usually very quiet upon waking, but not today. Today was not an occasion for quiet upon waking.

Presents, presents, presents! Santa knew the twins had been good boys this year. Amazingly, the first gift that garnered screams of joy from Neph 1 was a safety helmet. Neph 2 was less impressed, but feigned happiness for his brother’s benefit. Neph 1, weeks before, had demanded that someone “take these crazy things off me!” after his first try at roller skating. Neph 2, ever different from his brother, had kissed pavement 10 minutes in and scored a goose egg on his head, only to jubilantly request another go. 

Neph 1 was worried for his brother’s safety. Hence the helmets. But they’ll get other use as well, since my parents gave the boys their first training-wheeled bikes for Christmas. Out on the deck in the cold after all the other gifts were opened, the grown-ups waited with cameras at the ready in various stages of pajama’d dress, looking like fools for ten minutes while the twins found shoes to put over their footie PJs and coats to don, though they knew not why. They payoff was a bit of a letdown, since the boys didn’t shriek with joy, but they did try to ride around the deck for a bit before breakfast.

After the holiday strata and a dose of my father’s Naprosyn, I hit the showers. I only had until 11:30 before I needed to leave for my road trip to work. Sister and BIL 2, along with Youngest Neph, arrived with 30 minutes to spare. Youngest Neph cared nothing for opening my gift; he had fallen asleep on the way over the river to grandmother’s house and now was feeling grumpy. No matter; his red fuzzy blanket sleepered self was all I needed to see.

The day at work was light and we made merry with a “Christmas Story” theme, one coworker donating a leg lamp and all of us paying our own way for Chinese food to be delivered, since the company couldn’t scrounge up a few bucks to provide for us. I settled for bits of carrot and peas (which I don’t even like) in my chicken fried rice instead of red and green sugar sprinkles for the Christmas repast. Late, I carried my crooked self home with music from my favorite mix of choral arrangements before capping the holy night with a video chat to friends in Australia and a glass of wine by the tree.

Then I Rockwelled myself up the steps and into my otherwise unoccupied bed for a long winter’s nap this time, glad of a long day of cheer, and the gift of anti-inflammatories and ice packs.

Heavenly peace.

Truck Nuts Boasting, and My Open Ire

You can tell a lot about people by how they present themselves to the world. I’m guessing that’s particularly true of the guy I saw in a very large pickup truck last night. I first noticed the glint of something metallic from beneath the bumper. Then I realized it was a set of chrome truck nuts.

Image

      …Only bigger.

 

Nice, right? Oh, but that wasn’t all. There were actually two sets of gleaming gonads dangling from this dude’s outsized pickup tail. Two. Above them, on the left side of the bumper, I noticed a sticker. The word LICK, printed in white on a black background. Hmmm. Sure enough, over on the right side of the bumper was another such sticker, which said MY.

And yes. These words were in all caps. I guess they would kind of have to be.

The syntax could have been better, because visually, the license plate and the truck nuts were both hung between the stickers (though the steely sacks were descended), implying that one should “LICK (nuts) (tag) (nuts) MY.” But then again, it may be safe to assume this guy doesn’t know what syntax is. “Syntax? Ain’t that uh kind uh tampon?”

But perhaps the best part was the little detail I noticed after all of this. It was a cross decal, smack in the center of the tailgate. It was small… smaller than any of the dangling participles below the bumper.  Smaller than LICK and MY. But apparently, the truck’s owner believed it conveyed an appropriate proportion of Christian value. A little bit of Jesus goes a long way.

It’s worth noting that, syntactically, it now appeared that the driver wanted the Lord Jesus to LICK (nuts) (tag) (nuts) MY.

I’m sure this truck owner fancies himself quite clever. And he’s not the first person to think that smacking a religious symbol – a Christian religious symbol (that’s important) – on an otherwise distasteful, immature, offensive and confrontational display is redemptive and proves he is a man of good intention. You know, like the Confederate flag. Why, that’s the cross of St. Andrew on that red field. At the time it was created, it didn’t quite mean what we see now. But God, Jesus and the Constitution give me the right to say and display whatever I want. And goddammit, I will. And f— you if you don’t like it.

Oh, I love irony.

See, I get tired of people using their supposed faith in Jesus as an excuse to treat people badly or to be brashly disrespectful of literally everyone who comes along. When Joseph and Mary traveled out of Bethlehem, they didn’t do it with a sticker on the donkey that said KISS MY…  And I get tired of people insisting that heritage or culture gives them the right to display offensive things. I mean, I’m half-German. You don’t see me flying a flag of the Third Reich and claiming heritage or culture as my motive.

But I’m making assumptions. Yes. I’m certainly not saying this pickup owner is a Nazi or a racist. But to some degree, I am assuming he is an unintelligent, inarticulate, somewhat self-righteous cretin. And I might be wrong. He could be the nicest guy in the world. The nicest guy in the world who somehow thinks it’s not a serious medical misstep to have two pairs of nuts.

And yes, in my assumptions I demonstrate that I might be an elitist, sacrilegious, also somewhat self-righteous snob. Which is almost definitely true at times.

But nothing on my car or my person declares to everyone on a highway that they can lick me, in any given place. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Which I frankly believe does make me a better person, at least so far as commuters are concerned.

Usually, the type of person who puts on such displays is also the type to loudly declare that they don’t care what people think of them. Good for them. Because if they did care, they probably wouldn’t like what they learned. You could say the same for me, I suppose, but I’d rather be thought an elitist, godless snob than a boorish neanderthal who claims to love Jesus.  I do love Jesus. Not perfectly, but without the need to turn my car into a mobile billboard for assholery.

Then again, I think umprompted and exaggerated displays of manhood are indicative of overcompensation.

In which case… maybe it’s more like peanuts coasting on a leaky tire.

Poor fella.

When $1,000 Is A Bad Sign

I opened the card from my aunt figuring there would be a check inside. She had told me as much on the phone the other day. She doesn’t call often, but she had rung to ask how I was settling into the house. We chatted for 20 minutes about houses and neighbors and the usual things. She mentioned a housewarming gift. I’m her goddaughter, she has no money, and she’s crazy, so I’m always careful about what I’ll accept and not. My Christmas gift is usually (four years running) a fleece zip-up.

This year it was a check for $1,000.

I can’t remember exactly what I said when I opened it, but I think it was something like, “Holy shit.” This was not excitement. This was serious concern.

Even if she did have it, who on earth sends that much as a Christmas gift? Or a housewarming gift? Or the two of those things put together?

I called my mother. “We need to talk about the check your sister sent me.”

Mom said she had apparently sent one to each of her nieces and nephews. Same amount.

Well, shit.

My aunt has long been a bit of a buyer of end-times prophecies. It’s odd, considering she’s also very Catholic and one would think she would keep in mind the scripture that says that we know not the day or the hour. She thought the world was ending in 2000. Even had her daughter believing it. She kind of thought it might happen the last time this kind of thing failed to actually predict the Rapture.

Did she think it was for real this time? The Mayans?

And if so… what would we be able to do with the money?

But that’s an application of logic, and my aunt does not have a rational or logical mind. Oh, she seems entirely logical most of the time, but she’s not. If you question her or challenge her, the logic goes away. She wanted to get rid of my grandmother’s baby grand piano, and asked my dad to organize a group of guys to do it. But then she wouldn’t work with them on a schedule, and wouldn’t let them come into the house (my grandparents’ house, in which my mother, my aunt and uncle grew up, willed to her because she has nothing) when she wasn’t there. This wasn’t a group of strangers. This was my dad, my uncle, my brother-in-law and my sister’s boyfriend.

My mother was so furious at the perceived insult, she hasn’t spoken to her since then. That was the day after Thanksgiving.

But the problem is that isolation tends to make mental illness worse, and since my grandfather died, my aunt is even more isolated. She has a part-time job at a doctor’s office, but it’s hard to know how much she actually works and who’s around when she’s there. Her kids have long since avoided her as much as possible, because she pushes them with her prophesies and they’re afraid she’ll push it on their kids, too. Her daughter sends back every gift. It’s sad, really – she is a good person with a heart of gold, and she won’t give up on trying to let her grandkids know she loves them. And she does love them. She’s a very loving person. But her daughter and daughters-in-law worry about the effect she’ll have on the kids. And I don’t blame them.

The worry with the checks was obvious: is she giving away all her money because she’s planning something extreme? We normally wouldn’t think so – she’s so religious, she’d never commit suicide, we think. But then again, she also believes she gets messages from God, talks to Saint Joseph. So what if she thought one of them had told her to do it?

After several conversations with various family members, my mom wound up calling her sister. She took a firm line, because she has found that it’s necessary. She asked, bluntly, what my aunt was doing.

“Oh, well I just thought this was what Dad wanted me to do,” was my aunt’s reply.

My mother explained to her that if that was what their father had wanted before his death in February at the age of 93, he would have willed the money to his grandkids in the first place. And my aunt said if we want to send the money back, it’s fine – she just had to do what she felt she had to do. So it’s clearer now: this was the money my aunt got from the stock dividends my grandfather left her. And apparently she thought he would want her to give it away. Like she thought my late grandmother wanted her to move in with my grandfather. Would have been angry with her if she didn’t.

There’s a lot more that I don’t know about my aunt’s beliefs in an alternate reality and in a religious fanaticism. Apparently she believes some things have happened in the past which never actually did happen. And she will not listen to anyone who tells her they didn’t. She won’t listen to anybody.

So why don’t we get her help? you may wonder.

We can’t.

My aunt has no insurance, because she doesn’t have a full-time job and she doesn’t have any other benefits that would allow for it. Moreover, she will not consent to treatment because she doesn’t think she’s mentally ill. This is not a new argument. This has been going on for the better part of my life.  That means we would have to commit her against her will, and she hasn’t done anything severe enough (yet) to give us that power. Add to this the fact that no one wants to trick or deceive her, and we know that pushing her too hard will make her cut us out, so we won’t know anything about how she is.

So we wait. We wait and we worry, and what’s hardest is that we know she is suffering. She is frightened. She is suspicious. She is convinced her fears will become reality. She has lost her children and her grandchildren, and it’s easy as an observer to cluck one’s tongue and think it’s terrible that they abandoned her, and it is. But I understand why the did, because they grew up with this woman who got in their heads, and now they just want to protect their families.

This is the plight of the mentally ill. This is what makes me worry about my own mental health: I know there is a family history. Mostly depression or anxiety, we think, but sometimes this. All undiagnosed. My sister is an LCSW, and she’s not allowed to diagnose, but if she could, she says she would diagnose our aunt as paranoid schizophrenic with religious preoccupation.

We need a better way to care for the mentally ill people we love. We need more options.

If any of you are aware of any, please let me know.

Merry Lead-Up

I am sitting at my kitchen table, looking out at my festive and merry living room with its golden light cast about by the white ones on the tree and the standing one in the corner and the frosted ones in the Dickens Village houses and their reflection off the yellow painted wall. I am under a kind of spotlight from above the counter-bar behind me. The kitchen window is open a couple of inches to cool the house down from its stuffy 72 degree temperature after having the oven on for the last four hours. It reminds me of winter holidays at my grandparents’ house, when they did the same thing.

I am so damned tired. I yawned tremendously, four times in three minutes while folding laundry a little while ago.

There. I did it again.

But a it’s good tired. (Except for writing. I had “it’s” and “a” transposed in that sentence just then. And then I tried to spell “except” with a pound sign.) I’ve been on vacation this week, which is glorious. I mean that fact itself is enough to make angels burst into song. Fine, the angels don’t give a crap. I’m the one bursting into song. The angels are working overtime right now and kind of resent my absence with pay.

So first one of my besties from college, Joey, came to visit. We dined late on Friday after his arrival, at a cute little French bistro where the onion soup named for its nation was over-salted (and that’s saying something), but the ambiance was lovely and the boeuf bourguignon was divine. The next morning we sipped coffee as he flung open my front door and sang a song to the neighborhood.

I’m not kidding.  He’s like that. Gay playwrights are like that. Not to generalize.

We baked his grandmother’s thought-to-be-complex-but-actually-only-four-ingredients cookies and strolled through the park to the kicky little hipster coffee shop on the other side for a cuppa joe and a grand conversation with the baristo.  We traipsed through a couple of sections of my fun city, popping into shops along the way, trying on fetching and/or ridiculous hats, for example. We perused an appropriately grungy and hip record shop. And then we ducked into a restaurant for dinner, which was fanfreakingtastic as I expected.

I love love love finding new places to eat in tucked-away locales with friends. They are so impressed with me when I do this, because I’ve planned to go here, I’ve mentioned the name. But really I’m totally just using them as guinea pigs for my gastric galavanting. Win-win.

When Joey left on Sunday, I had a day with relatively little to do.

Just that one.

I watched football and read. A book. Lots of pages of it. It’s really good.

Monday and Tuesday I baked and waited for the various repair-type people to come repair things. On Monday night I watched “The Polar Express.” Twice. Because I needed some transportive magic, and that one does it for me every time. Tuesday I had friends over for dinner – my fettuccine Alfredo from scratch, which I make once a year and only once a year because if I make it more than that my arteries will slam shut and I’ll die. After my friends left, I put on “Elf,” saw the first ten minutes and fell asleep through the rest of it. How is it that you always wake up right when it’s over and the DVD is playing the menu screen on a loop?

Wednesday, Sister 2 came with Youngest Neph (BIL 2 was working), and we hung out and went to see crazy Christmas light displays that I’d tried to take Joey to but he’d pitched a nutty about sitting in traffic and we turned around and went home. Sis and I ate up the wonder on my nephew’s sweet toddler face while he “whoaed” and “wowed” and “dis is amazinged” down the street. Then we had dinner and watched “While You Were Sleeping” because we love that movie and we always laugh out loud at the very best part, which is like five seconds of a newspaper delivery kid riding his bike, flinging a paper and falling over. She drank ah glass of pinot noir, her 32-week-pregnant self very happy to sip it slowly with the doctor’s permission.

When they left this afternoon, I resumed baking and doing laundry (washer’s working! Huzzah!) All baking comes with Christmas music from either Pandora or the cable TV channel or CDs. And that comes with me snap-scatting around the kitchen with Frank and Johnny and Michael Buble’ (they play way too much of him on Pandora). I was just pulling a dozen oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies out of the oven when there was a knock on the door and the declaration of a UPS man’s presence. Holy Fast Delivery, Batman: it was the two replacement wine glasses I’d ordered from Crate & Barrel Tuesday night after I’d shattered a second one of the four I had. They arrived in less than 48 hours.

Clearly, the folks at Crate & Barrel are aware that the world is ending tomorrow and some of us need our wine glasses pronto.

The UPS guy commented on how great the cookies smelled, so I offered him one. He totally wanted it, but he checked his watch and said he didn’t have time.

I don’t know what that meant. When I say, “Do you want one?” do you take that to mean “Please come in, sit down and have a leisurely chew?”

So instead, I ran back to the kitchen, grabbed two from the cooling rack and handed them to him through the door, with a “Merry Christmas” and a smile. He took a bite and groaned with pleasure as he walked away.

UPS guy was kinda hot, by the way. And so I fleetingly wondered what Brown can do for me as I walked back to tend my oven.

And now I’m sitting. Sitting and enjoying. And thinking. I have one more day off before it’s back to the usual grindstone, working through Christmas and all. I still have some Christmas gifts to buy, and I have cookie trays to assemble and deliver. And I have a few more movies to watch in order to complete my holiday traditions.

But that to-do list makes me smile. I’m glad I find so much pleasure in the things that lead up to Christmas, since I so often have to work on the holiday and miss that one day’s shining moments. More and more, it’s about the lead-up, for me.

Merry Lead-Up, all.

Sweaty Equity

I can’t figure out if I’m in appliance heaven or appliance hell.

Maybe it’s appliance limbo. Yeah, that seems more like it. I’m Catholic.

The washing machine I bought? The one with the stacking dryer, the one that barely fit in the house or the laundry room, the one that required that the doors come off the hinges again?

Well, the good news is, after I bought the machines on Nov. 26th and they were delivered the 28th, and after I waited until Dec. 10th for the stacking kit to come in so they could install that on the 11th: it washed the clothes.

The bad news is: it didn’t spin or drain. I’ve done four loads of laundry in a month (or a week – or actually two days), and three of them had to be wrung out before they could go in the dryer. I may as well have been down by the river, beating them on a rock.

So the guy came to try to fix it. Since the machine is used, he cleaned out the (disgusting) filter, drained the standing water (all over my basement floor, using every towel I had including fingertip towels bearing the smiling face of the Creepster Bunny) and replaced the computer board. He sat on the floor playing Angry Birds on his phone while he waited through the rinse & spin cycle to see if his repairs had worked.

Twice.

No dice.

So now there is a pile of nasty dirty smelly towels in my basement shower, and there are three guys down there taking the dryer down off the washer, taking out the (three-week) old washer and putting in the new one. They were supposed to call when they were on their way, so I hopped in the shower thinking they’d probably call while I was in there. I was right. I had just wet down my hair when there was a knock at the door. And then a phone call.

I let them in fully clothed, but I hadn’t combed my wet hair. I made sure they got the machines in and out without wrecking my walls or my floor (again). I left them alone for three minutes and they broke the light fixture in the ceiling. I’ve just been informed that the valve for the water line is leaking, shooting a stream of H2O all over my laundry room. “But it’s okay. It’s working.”

Oh, okay then. Good, because I’m out of towels.

This is after two guys who work for the builder were here earlier this morning replacing my non-draining dishwasher and installing the water line for my refrigerator so I could have ice and such. The one guy refused my offer of coffee when they arrived, saying he wasn’t man enough for it, and then complained that he broke a nail while installing the machine. But he possessed the prerequisite visible underwear and holey jeans. And he cut a live wire without flinching, despite the bright flash, the loud pop and the quick whiff of ozone.

Interesting fella.

So my house smells like a bunch of sweaty unwashed men instead of the cookies I’m supposed to be baking. Which isn’t to say the oven doesn’t work. It does. I’m just afraid that the second I’m up to my elbows in butter and flour, I’ll hear water trickling somewhere it isn’t supposed to trickle.

Fortunately, I’m not paying for any of this work. The dishwasher and fridge line were part of the builder’s responsibility, and the washer and dryer don’t cost me anything for 60 days. After that, I pay for parts.

I’m hoping I can get some laundry done between now and then.