Sunday (Observed), Bloody Sunday (Observed)

Sooo, today I had a lot of laundry that needed to be done. Kind of all of it, actually. Including underwear. So, okay, no biggie, I go without for a day.
I had both the 4pm and 5:30pm Masses to cantor, and I have to wear a dress to cantor because the music director hath ordered it so. Fine. I wore a black high-low hemmed shift dress.
After the first Mass, I go downstairs to use the bathroom, and suddenly realize — guess what has shown up! Early!
I go back upstairs, figuring I’ll just grab my purse and use one of the supplies I have in it. But when I open the door from the stairs to the sacristy, there’s Monsignor Armington, who’s supposed to be saying the 5:30 Mass, and he’s sitting on a bench with Father Jago (Filipino. And awesome.) standing over him going, “Oh my God. Oh my God. You are bleeding!”
I don’t know a whole lot about Msgr. Armington. He’s not a resident priest — he says Masses for us once in a while, but definitely not every week. Sometimes he’s a little unsteady. In fact, we had railings installed on the steps from the altar to the lower envelope because he’s come so close to falling so many times, and our pastor is getting up there in years, too. And now the monsignor is sitting on this bench looking a little… off.
I’m always taken aback a little when I hear a priest use the Lord’s name in vain the way Father Jago just did. But once I get past that, I realize the monsignor has fallen outside and whacked the back of his head on the concrete. The other things I know about Msgr. Armington are that he has heart disease and that he had a minor stroke a few months ago, so now I figure he’s on blood thinners. And he fell and hit his head. I happen to have my cell phone in my hand (because yeah, I was checking it while I was in the bathroom downstairs), so when someone confirms that the monsignor has fallen, I call 911.
Something like 17 questions later, I finally get to tell the dispatcher what happened (can I just tell you that third? First the address, then that I need an ambulance, and then “Hey, this old priest with a history of problematic health just fell down and smacked his head on the ground.” Because that would be faster, and the battery on my phone is pretty low.) I get off the phone and tell everyone that the ambulance is on its way, and then I start talking to Msgr. Armington again because Father Jago is being exactly no help.
Memo to the parish: Father Jago is not the go-to guy in an emergency. He freaks out.
So I ask Msgr. Armington whether he’s feeling dizzy, is he nauseous, what medications he’s on, etc. He pulls a teensy weensy vial out of the inside pocket of his suit jacket and tells me he has “this,” but he can’t think of the name of it right now, and somehow I remember that nitroglycerin is tiny, so I say that word, and he says, “Yes. For my heart.” And he says he’s on Plavix, which, of course, is the blood thinner.
He says he’s not going to the hospital.
“Oh, you have to!” says Father Jago. “You have to! You hit your head! You are bleeding! You could have a bleed inside your head and in 30 minutes—” he whacks at the air with a hand — “you go down!”
Monsignor looks kind of terrified.
Awesome job, Father Jago.
“Well, that probably won’t happen,” I try to say without directly contradicting Father Jago, “But you do have to go. Given your history and the medication you’re on, they’re going to want to check you out.”
The monsignor nods, wide-eyed thanks to Father Jago. We talk a little about exactly how he fell (he lost his balance coming up the three steps to the door, grabbed for the railing and couldn’t get it in time), and I go outside to meet the paramedics.
It’s raining, by the way. Big fat drops plopping on my head and penetrating my dress.
So I give the medics the low-down on the way back into the sacristy, you know, age, heart disease, stroke, he’s on this medication and that medication, this is what happened, this is how he’s acting now, etc., etc. And we get back into the sacristy and like four people (including Father Jago) are asking me whether I’m a nurse while the medics are assessing the monsignor and getting him onto the gurney (he’s pretty shaky when they get him off the bench).
“No, I’m not a nurse,” I kind of laugh. I feel blessed once again in my life that I’m pretty good in emergencies.
“What are you?” Father Jago wants to know.
What AM I? I wonder to myself, because I still haven’t figured out how to answer that in my new job.
“I’m a writer,” I say.
“A writer!” he says.
“Well, I do marketing and PR.”
“Can you write me a song?” Father Jago wants to know. Father Jago likes to sing.
I officially no longer understand what’s happening.
“I can’t write music,” I tell him. “But I can write you lyrics.”
“Write me lyrics!” he says. “I’ll figure out the rest.”
Yep. No idea what’s going on.
The medics have to take the monsignor out through the sanctuary because they can’t maneuver the railing the way they came in while they have him on the gurney, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to say at the introduction of the Mass to tell everyone not to completely freak out about seeing Msgr. Armington getting wheeled through the sanctuary whilst bleeding on the sheet.
You would think that the bleeding would have been some sort of signal to me. But no. They get the monsignor out, It’s 5:20, I go back into the church and down into the organ pit to talk to the accompanist because she’s filling in and has never been here before and needs to back waaaayyyy off the organ volume for this Mass as compared to the 4pm, and then we’re about 15 minutes into the 5:30 Mass when I suddenly realize: Shit. I never grabbed my purse. 
And I am still not wearing underwear.
At the presentation of the gifts, while the substitute accompanist is playing a hymn more quietly on the organ, I slip back into the sacristy and back down to the bathroom for a quick clean-up. So far, so good. But I can’t exactly clench tissue without undies standing in front of literally God and everybody, so I just have to hope (pray?) this Mass gets done before I get hit with a sudden and uncontrollable uptick in the situation.
Five minutes later: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it,” Father Jago is singing at the altar (I’ve never known another priest to sing this part). “This is the cup of my blood…”
I’m kneeling on the envelope with my dress tucked around me. Ummmmm, don’t say “blood.”
I stand up to do the memorial acclamation, the Amen, the Lamb of God… and the whole Liturgy of the Eucharist I’m thinking, There is no time between now and the end of the Mass during which I can get away. 
Also, I cannot subtly stuff my black dress into a potentially helpful position because this infernal dress-like trunk-junk-holding sheath I’m wearing under my actual dress is in the way.
And because that would be super-obvious, since you can’t just stick your hand between your thighs while standing in front of the congregation.
Oh God, our help in ages past…
“The Mass has ended. Go in peace.”
After trying to graciously and unhurriedly thank the substitute accompanist (who is a professor of piano performance at the college where I work, though I hadn’t met her before), I’m heading out the door when Father Jago stops me. “I have a question!”
Holy Mary, Mother of God…
“Do you have an allergy to gnats?”
“The bugs?” I ask, pinching my fingers together in the universal sign for tiny bug. “No. I am not allergic to gnats.” Is anybody allergic to gnats? Why is he asking me this?
“No no— N-U-T-S. Nats.”
“Ohhhhhhh. No. I’m not allergic to nuts,” I say, thinking that this is exactly how Javier says “nuts” and wondering why I couldn’t understand it from Father Jago, even though they don’t speak the same language.
“Okay. Give me—” Father Jago looks around at the altar servers, the sacristan, the guy putting the collection money in the safe. “Give me wan minute.”
“Sure.” I sit on the bench where Monsignor Armington had been and intuitively monitor my vag. Which isn’t awkward at all in a church while waiting for a priest to return from the rectory he’s just rushed out to.
A couple of minutes later, he comes back and hands me a gift bag, folded closed. “From da Philippines,” he tells me. “Check it out.”
Also mango tarts.
And, by the time I get to address the situation, no stains on my dress.
Thanks be to God.

What Women Want

This week I spent a workday at a conference for women leaders. They fed us twice and also gave us wine and goodie bags – and I don’t mean crap, I mean free makeup. We’re going to sort of blow by the fact that never in my previous 16-year-long career would anything like this ever have been encouraged, let alone funded at employer expense, and move straight on to how I pissed myself off.

So I go to this conference, at the invitation of my boss, who’s awesome, and along with several other women from the office. Lovely. We’re all divvied up so nobody is sitting at a table with anyone else from their respective organization/office. Fine. Except I realize very soon after I sit down that I’m judging. Not only am I judging the other women; I’m judging myself in comparison to them. This apparently NEVER ends in life. There was one woman at my table who I hated within two minutes of sitting down, even though she had not yet so much as moved by that point. Otherwise I was looking at clothes and jewelry and feeling frumpy (my wardrobe choice was sub-par even by my own standards) and cheap (said wardrobe came partially from Target – handed up from my sister – and my accessories were plastic).

The first problem, if I’m being honest, was location. The host site was very near Jack’s place. I generally try to avoid that whole area now because it’s an old haunt for me, and his ghost (and corporal being, as far as I know) is there. Gag. So already that’s in my subconscious. Like, as I was driving, I quietly thought that if I saw him running down the road, I might run him over. You know. Accidentally.

In addition, there were two women at my table (of eight) who were engaged and talking weddings. During the first discussion session right before lunch, the discussion leader (a fellow academic admin employee, but from another school) commented to the chick I hated that her being from a tiny town in Montana must have made it hard to find a future husband. WTF. Is that really what we’re talking about here? Wedding plans and lack of potential for mates in freaking high school? At a women’s leadership conference? Have we not evolved AT ALL?

From time to time, I was checking various things via my phone, as were all attendees. At one point I posted something to my Twitter page, which I only use for work-related stuff. While there, I quickly scrolled through the tweets from people I follow to see if anyone else was discussing the event, or anything related to where I work. Somehow, Jack showed up in the list. I don’t follow him; he must have referenced someone I do follow – I didn’t read his tweet, just scrolled quickly past when I saw his face and wondered how he got there. Then I wondered if I could block him from ever showing up again.

However, in my defense, I feel my instincts about the chick I hated were correct. To wit:
1. She was wearing a knit dress with horizontal stripes and didn’t look fat, so I’m pretty sure she was showing off.
2. She emptied the table’s water pitcher so as to fill her own Nalgene bottle from its empty status.
3. Twice.
4. During a presentation by a major player at a Fortune 100 company, she loudly demanded that he show the full Old Spice buff guy commercial instead of just the photo, and then muttered that one of their upcoming ad campaigns “sounds dumb.”
5. When the host started playing a Shakira song and told the room to close our eyes and dance like no one was watching, she did. Unabashedly. Mostly with her ass.
6. She chewed with her mouth open.
7. She reminded me slightly of Gwyneth. In that she was blonde with blue eyes and young.
8. She rolled her eyes a lot.
9. She laughed loudly at weird times.

So I’m completely justified, yes?

It’s frustrating, you know? Ironically, during the wrap-up, as moderators were working their way around the room asking representatives from each table to share what had been discussed between tablemates, my boss stood up and said that they’d talked about how nasty women are to other women. Yet another demonstration of how like-minded my boss and I are: I’ve been saying that for years – that women are who get in the way of women now. Yet I had spent the day judging, hating and feeling emo. And wondering whether any other women were doing the same thing.

I have to believe they were.

Because I’m crazy, but I’m not the only one.

I got a lot out of the conference, actually. Besides the psychological un-fun-ness of being in Jack’s neighborhood sitting at a table with a woman who reminded me of Gwyneth while listening to two other women talk about weddings and seeing Jack pop up randomly in my Twitter feed.

That was just a bonus.


The first thing I did in my house was cup my hands under a running faucet and slurp two mouthfuls of cold water.

In a day that felt like a week, I had gotten up early and met with HMcH and the seller at the house to go over what the seller did and did not want to do after Sandy rained her rain into my… not yet my… house. He would do almost everything I wanted, the seller. He had, already. He and… I don’t know, someone… had gotten up on the roof, found the source of the leak in the flashing around the old chimney erected five generations before I had set foot inside the door. The whole chimney had been re-tarred (suddenly, in my mind, the quick image of Dick VanDyke, sooty and techincolored, cheerful and singing above London). The wall was not ripped out like I wanted out of an abundance of caution. The seller (also the builder) had a perfectly reasonable explanation for why not, and I understood his point.

I debated the virtue of better-than-good-enough versus the ideal of perfection. Weighed it against the value of the deal.

Without question, he added a 12-month builder’s warranty. Top-to-bottom, everything including structural, roof, plumbing, systems and all problems short of fire, violence and volcanic eruption.

(To be clear: volcanic eruption was really listed in the things not covered by the warranty. And no. There are no volcanoes here.)

At 10:00am, HMcH told me that if we closed at 3pm, we would avoid the need to extend the mortgage contract.

Sitting in my car, I knew that the only reason to hold off was my own fear. Fear of the rain. So I called my dad, because all girls need their dads, even at 35. And I called my friend Mickey, who rehabs houses and has been an invaluable resource. Both of them heard the details of the meeting. Both gave the deal the green light.

I went to the chiropractor.

I called HMcH.

“Let’s go,” I said.

Then I went to the therapist. Coincidentally, but not unnecessarily.

To the bank after that, to re-draw the cashier’s check for $200 less than two days before, a difference in pro-rating with fees and closing costs. It got cheaper for me to buy a house. At the teller’s window, I got a text from Joey. “At bank, drawing ridiculously large check,” I replied. “On way to close on house. Will talk to you later,” I said.

The phone beeped “Yay!!”

After, somehow, fewer signatures than I expected, fewer initials and far less tedium and tension… after a lifetime of thinking, years of saving… after months of looking and months of anxiety… after weeks of packing and days of worrying… I bought a house.

My first house.

It’s not a lot. But it’s brickfront and soffit, marble stoop and hardwood floor, granite counters and glowing light.

And it’s mine.

Just mine.

With all the pride, and all the fears, and all the hope, and all the potential.

Packed full with my life, even though there’s not a single thing in it yet.

My house.

And may peace be upon it.

Political Speculum-tion

We all know how it is. Well, all we women, I mean. Unless we’re my grandmother, who just flat-out refused to go, we all know what it’s like to be in that exam room waiting for that doctor to come in and spend some time talking to our crotches. As if it’s not bad enough that it takes forever to even get an appointment, and then we have to wait for 30 minutes, reading a magazine and trying to decide whether crossing our legs is a good idea or not, despite the fact that the receptionist told us the doctor is in a hurry to get to a surgery. (Also? “The doctor is in a hurry to get to surgery” is not what you want to hear as you anticipate cold metal and stabby sticks of plastic in your delicate parts.)

Pretty sure the men have all abandoned this post by now. Sorry fellas. Those of you who brave it will, no doubt, comment below. Not unlike the doc. Hey-oh!

But we go to this doctor and we do this thing because somebody said it was the way not to rot from the inside out or something. So after all that waiting, there I was on Friday, in the exam room. I had been weighed on the scale that lives in the room. The nurse had told me to take everything off, gown opens in the front, and handed me a pink paper thing with no instruction on how to unfold it, leaving me dangerously close to ripping it to tatters as I tried to work it out for myself. Nobody tells you you’re not smart enough to unfold the gown.

Clothes off, gown on, I eye the scale. I wonder. I step back on. Hey! My clothes apparently weigh 1.4 pounds! Fix that on the chart. Fix it.

Freezing in the paper gown, I sit on the exam table, trying not to stare at the stirrups. They have traction treads on them. Seriously? Who slips out of those?

I look around for distraction.

Um… what is that stain on the floor? Wait, you know what? I don’t want to know.

Yes I do. What is that?

Is that…? Why is…? Why is there some sort of wireless modem in the ceiling? I don’t see a laptop in here. Am I on camera? Seriously?

My feet are turning purple. They do that when I sit. I’d better get the blood flowing before the doc comes in and thinks my feet are about to fall off in those no-slip stirrups.

My back hurts from trying to sit like a lady in a paper gown on a table. I’m going to stand up.

I’m standing up and riffling through the magazines in the rack on the wall (all parenting or mom-to-be magazines… where is the stuff for those of us who are not in a family way?) when the doc charges in. He’s about five feet two, maybe 110 pounds soaking wet, somewhere between 65 and 85 years old, Indian, and highly excitable.

It’s the last part that’s bothersome.

“Heeeeeyyyyyy, how are yooo?!” he asks me. We haven’t seen each other in two years (they let me go every two years) but he remembers me.

And then he starts. “Oh, this election,” he says to me intensely as he pushes me back on the table and opens my gown. And so he starts a steady rapid-fire chatter of politics while palpating my abdomen and smacking my breasts around.

“Have you, eh, found anyone?” he asks me. “Marriage, you know, I don’t know. I don’t care who gets married to whom,” he says, laughing, checking for lumps. “All of this ‘they can’t do  this, you can’t do that–‘ Who cares?” A boob flops sideways as he raises a hand to emphasize his point. “I’m married 41 years, and you know what? If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t do it!”

I manage a laugh as he maneuvers down to his wheeled stool. “I hope you don’t tell your wife that,” I say.

“Eh, she probably feels the same,” he says. “But– ” his head pops up, his voice a dramatic stage whisper– “too expensive to get out of it!”

He’s running the speculum under warm water while he’s talking about tax codes. He’s grabbing the bottle of gel when he launches into how to fix health care. I don’t know if I wince more from the exam or the fact that he’s talking to me about “getting scroood with our pants on” in this economy while he’s doing it. I love political talk, but not with my gynecologist, who has absolutely no problem telling me his political leanings on every visit. To which I nod along and make non-committal noises.

The whole exam takes like four minutes. I don’t like to linger at the gyno, nor do I like him to linger at me, but I’d like to know for sure he’s gotten the job done, so I wonder if he really could have found anything while he was down there, and then he’s telling me to get dressed and meet him in his office.

That’s where he continues his litany of ways to fix the health care system. He explains that, back in 1981 when he started practicing, there was no health insurance like it is now. “You pay everything out of pocket,” he says. “You need a sonogram? You write a check. You need a checkup? You write a check. There was none of this $10 copay bullshit, I send to insurance, insurance sends payment to me…. You just pay. And then, when you run out of money, then your catastrophic coverage kicks in.”

I’m thinking about how late he is for surgery.

“You pay for your service and that’s how you become cost-conscious! And then you think. ‘Wait, do I really need a sonogram? Wait, do I really need an MRI?’ You become cost conscious and that reduces cost.”

I’m thinking that might not really work, because cost-consciousness does not cure cancer.

“And the lawsuits!” he fires in his Indian lilt. “Oh, they have to do tort reform. They have to. My lawyer, he says, ‘Oh, we’re the good guys. We’re on your side.’ I say, ‘Oh, shut up. If they couldn’t sue us, you wouldn’t have any business!’ They’re all in it together!” he waves a hand dismissively.

Huh. Not wrong.

After a thorough, if one-sided, discussion of medical malpractice law, I’m out the door. A little uncomfortable in a couple of ways. The doc’s probably out for a smoke (I could smell it on him) before heading to some poor woman’s surgery. I’m still wondering about that modem in the ceiling. But if I don’t get a letter about abnormal cells, all’s well that ends well. I guess that’s how most people feel about elections. We’ll wince, we’ll be uncomfortable, we’ll get scroood with our pants on… and then we’re done for another coupla years before it’s time to schedule that appointment again.

The Gift of Enough

For a long time, I’ve been kicking around the idea of a post about what women are to women. It never completely gelled, which is why I haven’t written it. And I suspect this post won’t be a full gelling of the topic, either, but it seemed a good one to explore on a day when so many other posts would be of the “Roses Are Red” variety. Understand that my thoughts here aren’t meant as blankets. They are noted patterns, and of course there are exceptions.

Of all the struggles women encounter in daily and more broadly-defined life, I think none is as challenging, heart-rending and sometimes crippling as the struggle to know what is best for them and their families when it comes to work. In the “old days,” most women stayed home and raised their children, generally regardless of whether they wanted to or not. It was expected of them. They were greeted at the end of a long day by a husband whose further expectations, be they real or perceived, were only more wearying. Some men did help. Some expectations were merely societal and not personal. And there were fewer single mothers then.

It was nearly unheard-of for a woman to say she wasn’t sure she was cut out for it. Not sure she was doing the best job. Not certain she wasn’t supposed to be doing other things that might enrich her life, make her happier. She felt, well… a little trapped, maybe. A little let down that the “dream life” turned out to be kind of banal and maddening sometimes. And she felt guilty as hell for not being completely pleased to stay home and raise the children she’d always wanted and deeply loved… even when she thought about leaving them in a store for good.

Now, things are different. A lot more moms work. They do it because they need the extra income, or they do it because they’re the only income, or because someone invested in their education and they don’t want to waste it, or because children came later, or because they know they’ll be happier women, and therefore better moms, if they get out of the house and away from their children. They tell each other and themselves that they can handle it, that they can do it all, with help from friends and supportive partners. Or without. But always, they go to bed feeling they’ve fallen short somewhere in the day. And they feel guilty as hell for not staying home all the time, or for not wanting to stay home all the time.

These are stories to which every woman can relate – even those, like me, who don’t have children. Somewhere above is at least one thought that has crossed all of our minds, that has kept us awake at night, whether because it was our reality or our considered possibility. And with all this inner conflict, with all this uncertainty, with all this fear and worry and unspoken aching, what do we women do for one another?

We pretend to support each other while we tear each other apart.

We judge each other. Stay-at-home moms are weak, less bright, less driven, more dependent, more likely to become depressed, less likely to be truly happy with motherhood because they’re not fulfilling themselves intellectually and professionally. Women who work are selfish, arrogant, controlling, unfocused. They don’t love their children enough to make a less self-glorifying choice.

In the absence of those particular judgments, there is jealousy. Those who work and don’t malign stay-at-home moms envy them instead. Those who stay home and don’t malign working moms wish they could go to work, too.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a mother, of any persuasion, age or station in life, who was truly happy with her place. With her choice. With her options. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a mother who didn’t sometimes wonder whether she’d done the right thing.

And then there are those of us who don’t have children. Some of us can’t, and dread the moments when friends or relatives ask when we’re having babies or why we haven’t, carrying in our wombs the ache of that which we want but cannot do. Others of us choose not to have children, whether it be because we don’t feel we would be good mothers, or because we’re not solid in our partnerships, or because we don’t like children, or simply because we’re not sure it’s what’s right for us. Some of us are childless as a matter of timing and a long search for the right partner. We all listen to the clucking of our loved ones musing that time is running out. We hear people accuse us of being too focused on our careers, as if being childless and destitute would be the better option. Or we endure the supposedly inspiring cheerleading of our “empowered” friends who insist that we put aside our “fears” and believe in that which our bodies are designed to do. They urge us on and insist that we can do it, without ever asking us whether we want to do it. And if we don’t want to do it, well… there must be something wrong with us.

All the time, what I hear and read and see is a battle of women against women. I believe, by and large, it is no longer men who hold us back, be it in the workplace or the home. It is the voices of our mothers, our sisters, our friends, our envied counterparts, our own doubting selves, making us believe that whatever we are doing is not enough.

I’ve long wondered why women are so hard on each other. For all that wondering, I have come to believe that the answer is simply that we criticize in others that which we do not like within ourselves. In the end, if we strip everything away, the problem we have is not with that other woman, that other mother, who does the opposite of that which we do. The problem is that we are afraid that, after all our self-convincing, all our preaching, all our liberation, all our choices and all our acceptance of whatever comes… we were wrong.

We are afraid that we are not enough.

That the voices are right.

That she is better.

That we have failed.

Failed our partners.

Failed our children.

Failed our parents.

Failed ourselves.

This Mother’s Day, I ask every woman to shut out the voices that tell her she is not enough and listen to her own. I ask her to ignore what tells her she is not enough, and to decide for herself and her family what is best.

And I ask all the other women who are not her… to mind their own damned business.

If You’ve Got It, When Should You Stop Flaunting It?

What do we think of belly button rings?

I’m not asking because I’m thinking about getting one. I ask because I already have one, and I’m wondering how long that’s going to be acceptable.

I’m 34. I’ve had the ring since I was 26. It went like this: Sister 1, who is two and a half years younger than me, was standing in the upstairs bathroom at my parents’ house on Easter Sunday. I came up the steps and saw her there in front of the mirror, curling her hair, with her shirt riding up and a shiny new piercing exposed. My mouth gaped open and I pointed at it, wide-eyed. She nodded at me excitedly.

“I want one too!” I mouthed, pointing at myself emphatically.

“Okay, I’ll take you to where I got mine!” she mouthed, and then gave me a thumbs-up.

“Where?” I asked with an exaggerated questiony face.

“Warrior!” she lipped at me.

The whole exchange was silent because, despite the fact that we had both been out of the house for a while and she was now married, we did not want to alert our parents to the fact that there were belly buttons belonging to their daughters being pierced.

Mother’s Day happened to be a couple weeks later, so there we were, back at the house for a visit. My sister and I ventured out, secretly, to the place where she had her belly button pierced, so I could get mine done, too.

We arrived at the place and I saw that it declared its name via a sign with a tongue hanging out of a mouth. There was a spike driven through the tongue.

Okay, then.

The place was scary to walk into, but it was clean, and we were the only people there. Us, and the tattooed, pierced guy who worked there and had just opened the shop. Apparently he was early and we didn’t really know that the place wasn’t open yet, since it was 2pm. The guy asked us what we wanted and I told him I was there to get my belly button pierced.

Almost wordlessly, he shuffled over to me, pulled up my shirt, stuck a finger in my navel and grabbed the skin at the top of it.

Oh my!

Um… I sort of liked that!

I did not know that about myself!

“Okay,” he said. “You have a pretty hot stomach.”

Those were two separate thoughts. I think he did the finger thing to make sure I had the right amount of skin for this kind of accessory, but apparently the statement was borne of additional cursory observation.

“Sorry,” he said as he slowly prepped the stuff he needed. “I’m still hung over, and we’re not really open.”

My sister and I exchanged looks. And yet I still got in the chair.

You’re not going to believe this, but I actually watched him do his thing. Needles never bother me, so why wouldn’t I watch him drive a small nail through the skin at the top of my navel and then push a ring through it, bending it into submission with pliers and then closing it?

It looks like this. But this isn't me. (image from

It didn’t even hurt, actually. Though the thought occurs to me now, eight years later, that perhaps the alcohol he swabbed on also contained a numbing agent. Like when a mohel performs a bris.

We went back to my parents’ house and celebrated Mother’s Day with no one the wiser about my newly acquired secret hardware.

Which was crooked.

Because the Hungover Piercing Guy didn’t stick the piercing tool through the skin in a straight line.

For a while, I tried to sort of “train” the ring to be straight. I seriously used to thread dental floss through it and tape it or band-aid onto my stomach so that the ring would line up right. I hoped it would heal up in such a way that everything would be fine.


It’s really not that noticeable if I’m standing up. It’s more noticeable if I lay down, because then it sort of flops over to one side a little bit.

Oh, I should mention that I still have the same little silver ring with which Hungover Piercing Guy pierced my belly button. That’s for two reasons:

  • A) I sort of think that blingy dangly belly rings look silly on a grown-ass woman… and
  •  2) I am terrified of taking out the original ring. My sister says her husband had to use pliers to get hers apart far enough to take it out.

And I think it would be awkward to ask him to do that for me.

(I have also discovered a benefit of having the ring that I think would not be as beneficial if it were just a post or a silly blingy dangly thing, but we’re not going to discuss that here. It would be gauche.)

I should note that, while the moment of the piercing was not painful, the following several weeks hurt like hell. These were still the days of higher-waisted pants… none of the low-rise stuff we wear now (which is much kinder to the navel piercing). A couple weeks after I had it done, I was once again visiting my parents. I got there late at night, parked on the street and got my bag out of the trunk. I was trying to be quiet because it was so late, and I didn’t want to wake anyone up. Lifting the bag out by its shoulder strap, I didn’t think through the physics. The bag swung backward and hit me right in the belly.

Which seemed to catch fire.

I turned into that guy in the Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream.” Silent… but dying. For a really long time.

Eight years later, it’s still crooked, but whatever – most people either don’t notice because they’re not, like, at eye level with it, or they don’t mind because the very few people who have been at eye-level with it were not assessing its placement in any deliberative way, know what I’m sayin’? But now, though my stomach is still in pretty good shape and the ring isn’t getting lost in any flab or anything, I’m wondering how old is too old for this particular adornment.

I guess the reason I got the piercing also figures in. People who know me personally never would have thought I would do such a thing. In fact, a lot of people are shocked – shocked, I tell you – if they find out I have it. As I grew into myself more in my 20s, I started being less “afraid” of the “crazier” sides of myself. I was less “disciplined.” That doesn’t mean I was bad, by any means. It means I lightened up. Mellowed out.

Took the stick out of my ass.

And I wanted to replace it with a small symbol of my lesser-known, more emboldened side. Something that people would only see if they were an intimate acquaintance.

Or a random stranger on a beach.

Or at a pool.

Or on a cruise ship.

Pretty much anywhere I might wear a bathing suit.

Getting my belly button pierced was kind of liberating. I didn’t have to ask permission and I didn’t need to seek validation for it. It was just for me. When my mother saw it at the beach a couple of months later, she sighed, gave me a dirty look and said, “I’m glad you have your own health insurance.”

Now you know where I got the Ass Stick. I was 26, for crying out loud. I wasn’t a kid. But she hated the ring and thought I was going to die of some sort of belly button infection. She also thought it was overly (and overtly) sexual and therefore probably thought I was going to hell’s first circle for getting it.

No, I did not get my navel pierced as a way to rebel against my uber-conservative mother.

Well, maybe a little bit, but not really.

Over the years, I’ve gotten compliments from some who have seen it. My parents’ friend once saw my sister’s at the beach and commented to my dad (thoughtlessly) that he reeaaally liked those things.

“I mean in general. Just, you know, generally,” he said when my father shot him a look.

Yes, it produces a reaction from certain members of the population, and frankly, I like causing a stir. (Not that it happens that often.)

No, mostly it really is for me. It reminds me of the side that’s wilder, less uptight, more game for adventure. I wouldn’t necessarily lose that side of me because I let the piercing close up, but maybe I would have to lose a little of her in order to make that decision.

So… how old is too old to walk around with this thing?

Dirty Old Man

What is it with dirty old men and their fascination with my marital and reproductive status?

Yesterday at work, one of my (six) bosses confessed that he had run out of regular dog food for his bichon frise and, by way of compensation, filled her bowl with treats instead. I remarked that at least he doesn’t have actual children. Within a fraction of a second, a voice came from behind me, to my left: “Your time will come.”

I turned and found Dave standing there, beady eyes fixed on me. Well, some part of me. Dave is exactly what you would picture a dirty old man to be: sloppy, with a desk hinting at tendencies toward hoarding. Large, bald, rumpled, bespectacled, and an avid fan of wearing suspenders and a belt at the same time. (I always thought it was an either/or thing.) He’s built like Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.

Image from, which is somehow not a porn site.

That’s even how he looks when he talks to me. Hand on hip, eyes closed, trap flapping.

So anyway, he’s all “your time will come” over there with his hands on his hips, out of nowhere and frankly apropos of nothing. Because we were talking about a dog. And I do want a dog. But that wasn’t what Dave was referring to.

Half-befuddled and half irritated already, I responded to his unsolicited comment with a professional, “Huh?”

“For children,” he said.

Oh, go away already.

“Dave, I–”

“But you have to find a man first.”

Great. Because this is a discussion that’s appropriate for the workplace post-1965.

This kind of crap makes me bristle just out of reflex. As a matter of fact, if I wanted children, I would, indeed, prefer to “find a man” first. And given my tendency to shirk medical intervention, it would seem I would have “found a man” in order to conceive, even if he promptly wandered into the woods afterward. But that’s just me. Not everyone does it that way. Some people don’t even like men, but still want children. Including, incidentally, one of our co-workers, who is raising a son with her partner and standing about 20 feet away right now. Oh, and by the way, Dave, it’s none of your beeswax and I’m not quite sure why you think you know the faintest thing about me, my biological clock or my love life.

But the polite and controlled response I gave was meant simply to just end the conversation. “Well, that’s not necessarily true, Dave,” I said, laughing falsely. “Not in this day and age.”

Dave closed his eyes and leaned in, Tweedle-like, spittle spraying from his mouth. “Don’t. Put the cart. Before the horse. Trust me.”

Dude, are you kidding me with this conversation right now? What are you, Babydaddy to five? You’re a bitterly divorced father of two, conceived in exactly the way you’re advising me to do it. Assuming I’d want to.

“Dave,” I replied exasperatedly and uncomfortably, because exactly zero co-workers were coming to my aid even though three of them were overhearing this. “There’s no cart. There’s no horse. There’s nothing.”

“Good,” he said.

Then he told me his part of the project was done and asked me to look it over because he’d tweaked a couple of things since we last went through it, and he toddled off.

“I swear to God, I threw up in my mouth,” muttered my friend Andrea, wide-eyed, from her desk across from mine.

This isn’t the first time Dave has spouted off unprompted about his perception of my relationship and reproductive status. A few months ago, again randomly, he intoned that I would never find a man working in a basement, nights and weekends.

I’m not saying he’s wrong about the assertion. But he’s sure as hell clueless about whether I care to hear his opinion.

Dave is known throughout the basement as a dirty old man. Recently, when he needed help with his new iPad, he asked a co-worker, but forgot to clear the web browser history, and um, let’s just say we know what Dave’s doing with his free time, and we’d like him to wash his hands.

When one of our co-workers was pregnant, he noted aloud to her that the Titty Fairy had come.

I did not make that up.

During a project that involved a discussion on bras (yeah, it was odd – stay with me), he wandered around the basement asking every woman we work with, “Do you wear an underwire bra? Do you wear an underwire bra? Does your bra have an underwire?” He claimed it was research.

One time, in a meeting, the subject of physical therapy and massage came up, and Dave openly stated that he has never been a fan of massages if they didn’t have Happy Endings.

I know.

And most of the time, people are somewhat professional and polite and don’t really tell him that he needs to shut his sexist, idiot pie hole. Even when people try, he doesn’t really take the hint. It’s awkward.

Earlier today, he came over to me. I found myself raising my defenses. What will I say? I had been thinking about options, but one never knows what is going to come out of Dave’s mouth (aside from spittle). Faced with uncertainty, I cringed inwardly.

Turned out he just wanted to check a date.

Dodged him for now. But I’ve got to be ready for next time, when he tells me maybe I’m single because of my choice of underwear.
Featured image from

Betty Friedan Would Be So Disappointed

Women have fought for years, decades, centuries, to be considered equal to men. We have struggled mightily for equal pay (still don’t got it) and equal rights (mostly got it unless you count being charged more for health insurance and having funding taken away for women’s health clinics). Ordinarily, people who know me would expect to find me on the front lines of the arguments in favor of women being allowed to do the same things men are allowed to do.

I’m about to disappoint those people. Because aside from stuff I just don’t want to do (mow the lawn, change the oil in the car, take out the trash, etc.,), there are a few things that I have no problem being forbidden from doing. Below, a brief sampling:

Be a Catholic priest…um…-ess
Here’s the thing: the Catholic church is struggling to remain prevalent in its people’s hearts and minds. It is struggling to maintain the number of priests it needs in order to continue running all its parishes. In some places, there is only one priest for two churches. One would think that allowing women to be…-esses would help solve this problem.

Yeah, not interested.

You’re talking about putting me in charge of hundreds, if not thousands of parishioners’ religious education and eternal salvation, and interpreting daily and/or weekly scripture readings to make them faithful to God’s word and relevant for the present day. That’s way too much pressure. And if I’m not allowed to fulfill certain God-given needs and instincts (God-given, people), I’m definitely out.

Be part of an elite group of military members
In the aftermath of the badass invasion of bin Laden’s McMansion in Fuggeddaboudit, Pakistan, I kinda wished I could be a Navy SEAL. For about four seconds. Because as super-cool as it would be to be part of the elite group of incredible amazingness that took down the world’s biggest jerk, I’m pretty sure the whole Oh-Crap-the-Chopper-Went-Down-Now-We-Have-To-Blow-It-Up- But-Wait-First-We-Have-To-Go-In-and-Destroy-the-Most-Evil-Evildoer-Around- (In- the-Dark-By-the-Way) Mission would have made me pee my pants.


Like, before we even got there.

And God forbid I be the person who actually fires the shot that splits his head open and blows his eye out of his skull (which happened, apparently). Because then the most evil evildoer around would be covered in my lunch.

Also, I don’t like guns.


Be President of the United States
Yeah, here’s what about this. It’s not that we’re not allowed, so much as it is that we’re not really invited. I think the campaign of 2008 was astonishing for a lot of reasons, but one of them was that the country elected an African-American who had been a professional politician for two years before they elected a woman, and in this case, a woman who had been a senator for several years after being the First Lady for eight. I think that was a pretty awesome choice the Democrats set up, and I’m not saying we elected the wrong person. I voted for the president and I will again. I’m saying if Hillary Clinton had gotten the nod from the Dems, I would have voted for her, but I’m not sure she would have won. You know who would have won? The guy who has apparently forgotten what he used to stand for, and had a dippy, but hot, woman who later quit her first term as governor of Alaska because it was too hard as his veep.

You know what it is about women and the presidency? I think it’s like this: I think it’s like getting picked last for whatever half-assed athletic endeavor is on the docket for the day in gym class. You don’t necessarily get picked last because you suck at Dodgeball. You get picked last because you’re smarter than everybody else, and that makes them uncomfortable.

Still, I don’t want the job. I’m curious to see what a woman president might do, but I don’t want to be her. Did you see President Obama’s face in that picture from the situation room the night they took down bin Laden?

Photo from cbsnews.comPhoto from


Photo from

Seriously. I never want to have to look like that, or make that call. Who wants to say “Go” when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs says, “Mr./Mme. President, we’re pretty sure Osama bin Laden is in this compound. There are also more than 20 women and children and a couple of other men, all of whom may very well be armed or wearing explosive vests. The compound is surrounded by several thick walls, and razor wire. The property is situated half a mile from the Pakistani Military Academy. In order to complete the mission, we need 25 men to land two choppers in the middle of the night, get over or through the walls, determine who within the compound is a threat and who’s just in the way, capture or kill those who are threats, verify the death of bin Laden, remove his body, sweep the entire property for any useful evidence, and get out without drawing any attention from the Pakistani military. If any of this goes wrong, we lose our men and bin Laden gets away for good. On your command, sir.”

Yeah, no thanks. You guys can handle that stuff.

I’ll make you pie.

...I just don't feel like it.