Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Lottery

Life is like the lottery.  Sometimes you win.  Sometimes it's cruel and twisted like the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.  And sometimes it's really hard to tell the difference.   Most times actually.

It was last Sunday morning when I woke up at the butt crack of dawn, headed downstairs to get myself a cup of coffee and some quiet time, taking a quick detour through the bathroom.  Except, it wasn't quick.  Because my wood floor was a wading pool of toilet water.  "Oh, Shit!"  I started water mitigation completely and utterly uncaffeinated with a full bladder.  By the time my husband came downstairs, the work was already done and cleaned up.  How lucky was he to miss all of it?

I, on the other hand, was lucky enough to escape my family for a couple of hours to go to a class and return mid-day.  During which time, things had gotten worse.  My husband had discovered the water leaked through the floor and it was raining toilet water in the basement.  "Oh. F%&k!"  When the water subsided, he ran out to the hardware store to get the parts for the garage door that also broke that morning.  That's when the water spread to a new part of the ceiling.  And my husband wasn't answering his phone.  This is totally the Shirley Jackson version of the lottery of home ownership.

When my husband got home and starting tearing the drywall off the ceiling, I called the insurance company with extremely low expectations.  After all, about five years ago we discovered the foundation of the house was sinking on one side from an external water mitigation issue and we didn't get jack shit for that.  But, that's not what happened.

They sent someone out right away to assess the damage.  Turns out, the valve on our original, ugly, tan-colored toilet from 1987 was faulty.  And apparently, toilet water is not only a contaminant, but also a breeding ground for mold.  Because it was such a health issue, the damage is covered by our insurance.  COVERED, I SAID!  But wait, what does that coverage cover exactly?

 A new wood floor, vanity and baseboards in the bathroom.  A new carpet downstairs.  Oh, and resanding and varnishing the floors on the main level to match the new wood floor with new baseboards.  Then a paid hotel and boarding for the dogs while the varnish dries, which takes a few days.  The only thing they don't cover is a new toilet.

I have 4 kids and 2 dogs.  Do you have any idea what my floors looked like?  I bet you can imagine.  And then imagine them to look even worse than whatever you initially imagined and that's what they actually looked like.    

It finally happened!
I actually won the lottery! 
Which only means any time now my house will be swallowed up by a big sinkhole.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Directionally Challenged

I freely admit it, I'm severely directionally challenged.  But, I've always managed to find my way somehow.  Even when we lived in Morocco without a map, with street signs I couldn't read, chaotic traffic and adding to the confusion, all the buildings were painted white, making landmark recognition even more difficult.  When we moved back to Colorado almost five years ago, I finally got a car with a GPS.

Even though admittedly Colorado Springs is the easiest place to get around that I've ever lived.  The Rocky Mountains are to the west.  Everything looks flat like Kansas to the east.  Anything trendy lies to the north.  And if the temperature is going up, you're headed south.  Seriously, it's this easy.  And yet, I still plug things into the GPS, especially if I'm going somewhere I haven't been before.  

Between GPS and autocorrect, 
I'm not sure I'm capable of critical thinking anymore.

It's really happened!  I'm an automaton that will do anything a computer tells me to.  The thing is, I'm not even sure it helps that much.

Like on Friday, when I was headed to my daughter's basketball game just 20 minutes east of town out in Kansas. Ok, it really wasn't Kansas because if it was it would've been chock-full of wheat fields and state troopers.  And I definitely would've gotten pulled over for speeding because it was getting dangerously close to tip off and I still wasn't anywhere near the high school gymnasium.  Plus, I'm not even gonna lie, I speed all the time.  ALL THE TIME.

So, I'm speeding when the GPS finally indicates I'm close to my destination.  Phewwwww.  And then it directs me into a neighborhood.  Filled with school buses dropping kids off from school.   Which I guess is a good sign because it means there's a school nearby somewhere.  But, it's bad timing because I have to stop for like three buses with their lights on and stop signs dropping middle schoolers off.  I'm all for stopping for elementary aged kids, but really middle schoolers?  If they can't look both ways before they cross the street by 13, I'm going to chalk it up to natural selection.  I'm in a hurry here people!

After I waste at least 5 minutes waiting for the stopped buses while the driver reprimands a kid for shooting spit balls or something because no one was even crossing the street, I drive a little further into the neighborhood.  Then the GPS announces, "You have arrived at your destination!"  No I haven't.  Because when I look around all I see are cookie cutter houses that are way too close together.  It's 3:30 and the game is starting and I have no idea where I am because everything looks the same.  Personally, I blame the HOA for that.

I'm going to have to do this old school style.  So, I found a middle school kid walking home alone from school.  And I pulled up slowly next to him.  Rolled down the window and wave him over.  Oh man,  I'm a 40 something year old woman and this feels extremely creepy and pedophileish, like the beginning of a bad after school special.  "Can you tell me how to get to the high school?"  I asked.  He looked relieved and gave me directions.  Three times.  Because I wanted to make sure I got it correct.  And I did.  The school was 1.5 to 2 miles from where the GPS said it was.  

Who's directionally challenged now, stupid GPS?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Case of the Stolen Chocolate

I was starving when I went into Whole Foods to pick up some lunch.  Which is obviously why I ended up in the checkout line with lunch and four gourmet chocolate bars.  In my defense,  I could've gotten a cheeseburger.  But, no, I  selected a healthy salmon teriyaki bowl with bok choy and brown rice.  And then, on my way out, that's when I saw the chocolate.  (That's a lie,  I made a special trip to the deep recesses of the store, specifically to scope out the chocolate aisle.)  It just so happens, the chocolate was on sale.  (Which is true, but they were still ridiculously expensive, as most things at Whole Foods are.)  It was for a special occasion after all.  (If your average Friday night of staying in with absolutely no plans is considered a special occasion.)  Anyway, my score was so visually stunning, I took a picture when I got home.

It was Saturday morning when I was cleaning out the cupboard that I realized one of the bars from my super secret stash was gone.  (My super secret stash is no secret.  All of my kids know exactly where it is.  The way I knew where my parents' super secret chocolate stash was, in the high cupboard above the fridge.)  It must be here.  Wait.  Maybe I bought three?  Nope.  I took a photo of four.  And after a thorough investigation of the shelf, I determined it was indeed gone.  Clearly, one of the kids had stolen it.

Right away, I eliminated two suspects, the two kids who aren't very interested in sweets.  Only two remained.  When one of them casually walked into the kitchen, I casually interrogated her.  Based on her non-defensive denial and corresponding oblivious, carefree body language, I knew she wasn't guilty.  Which only left one kid.  The kid who has a long history of being guilty of similar criminal acts of sweets.   The kid who is known to vehemently deny these transgressions when confronted.  Before giving a full teary-eyed confession hours later.   I already had the culprit and I was ready to convict.

So, I searched all the trashcans in the house for evidentiary wrappers.  Then I looked through said child's room.  Then I rummaged the kid's backpack.  (Oh, yes I did.)  Nothing.   I had to give this kid credit, he/she had gotten much better at hiding evidence because I couldn't find anything.  Though that didn't prove anything.  The Black Salt Caramel Bar was still MIA, unless it had already been KIA.  Which was the real question: was there any left to save?  Not whodunit, because that was blatantly obvious.

The guilty kid was "innocently" eating a snack when I began my assault.

"Ok, where's the caramel bar?"  I got right to the point.  Said child's eyes darted directly to the cupboard they were stolen from.
"What caramel bar?"   The kid asked unconvincingly.
"We both know what caramel bar I'm talking about."  There was a pause.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Listen, all I'm saying is please ask before you take any chocolate.  That's all."  (Unsaid:  Don't even think of eating my $6 chocolate bar when we both know a cheapo $1 box of candy from Walgreens would do.) Also, check me out, I'm so calm and understanding after conducting an illegal search of the kid's back pack.
"I didn't take any chocolate!" The kid said emphatically.
I tilt my head to a condescending angle.  "If there's any left make sure it's up away from the dogs so they don't get sick."  I like my condescending head tilts served up with a side of guilt to really get my condemnation across.

The kid was angry with me.  But, you know, in that way where they think they're angry at the person who caught them, but they're really angry at themselves for having committed the crime in the first place.  I was sure of it.  All of it.  Until...

I went back in the same cupboard several hours later and found the stolen chocolate bar, lying on its side.    Where it had slid off the top of the pile of chocolate and wedged itself between the pullout drawer and the shelf.  And I was angry, you know in that way where you think you're angry at the person who committed a crime that never even happened, but you're really just angry at yourself for being a huge, blind, jumping-to-conclusions idiot.  


Monday, February 6, 2017

A Way With Words

The problem with being a writer is people expect you to have a way with words.  The thing is, I really don't.  On many occasions, I'm completely at a loss for words.  Because I want to choose precisely the right words that fit the situation.  Mostly because I find words are paramount, integral and influential, and I don't want to mince or waste them.  And I can't come up with insight on something without lots of time alone reflecting and carefully, hand selecting words.  I much prefer to reserve commentary until I have something substantive to say.

The point is, I really try to express myself thoughtfully. 
With intention. 

But, there's currently a war of words raging.  Between those who believe in thoughtful, artisanal expression and those who believe being authentic is saying the first thing that comes to mind.  And I see the latter more and more in our culture now that we've elected a president who specializes in this  reactionary and often contradictory commentary.   

How did we get here?

I really wish I had the answer to this question.  I wake up every morning wondering. And feeling sick to my stomach.  How did we get to a point where someone who blatantly and consistently exaggerates, distorts and disrespects both people and facts with his words, simply by repeating them loudly over and over could become the voice of our nation?  How did we let this happen?

But, the bigger question is where do we go from here?

In a culture fluent in emoji, but short on words.  Where more people watch the movie version rather than read the book.  Where we confuse reality TV shows for reality when they're really just images spliced together, often scripted, for entertainment.      

We use our words.  

In peaceful protest.  With intention.  In our community.  On the phone.  In print.  On social media.  And most importantly, by being kind and thoughtful to strangers no matter which side of the war on words they're on.  For the love of humanity, let's make having a way with words relevant again.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

White Guilt

It was my sophomore year in college that I transferred from a state school in New York to the University of Alabama.  I had two goals: getting into the business program (which I couldn't do in New York until I was a junior) and moving closer to my then boyfriend (now husband) who lived in Florida.  Being only 19 and having grown up in the North, I had no idea the culture shock that awaited me in the Deep South.

I was so naive and nerdy, I didn't realize I was now attending an infamous party school.  Complete with a nationally ranked football team whose members were treated like royalty. They didn't have to adhere to the academic standards like the rest of the students because the rules didn't apply to them.  In Tuscaloosa, you weren't anyone if you didn't live in one of the opulent plantation style sorority or fraternity houses.  Especially, if you lived on 'Fro row, which was slang for the street next to Frat Row where the meager, black fraternities and sororities resided.  It was 1989.  Segregation had ended 25 years earlier.  Formally, anyhow.

I lived in the dorm and made friends with the other misfits from foreign shores, like Florida, who, like me, pledged to stay GDI (Goddam Independent).  The campus looked like a J. Crew catalog with students clad in a rainbow of polo shirts, pearls and hair ribbons. While I looked like a member of the band Def Leppard in my black t-shirts paired with ripped jeans and my mullet (that I'd finally decided to grow out.)  The parking lots were chock full of BMWs.  With the exception of the faculty lot because professors couldn't afford luxury cars on their salary.  And me?  I didn't have a car at all.  I bummed rides to the Piggly Wiggly in town to stock up on college staples like ramen and peanut butter and jelly.

It took me a while to acclimatize.  First of all, it's hot as hell in Alabama in August.  Then, in the South, gravy isn't brown, it's white.  Coke is a generic term for any soda the way Kleenex is for tissue.  And the expression "Bless your heart" is actually an insult meaning you're a complete idiot.

 I got in a groove of getting up early for my 8 am classes.  Which was a stroke of pure genius, as there's no line for dorm showers at 7am and shitloads of hot water.  I also found the best time to study was during football games when the dorms were completely empty and quiet.  And after going to exactly one fraternity party, I knew I needed an excuse to never go to another one.  Since I also needed money, getting a job was the obvious answer, but getting to the job was the real issue.

Just a mile or so off campus was an Arby's.  I could walk there and work on Friday and Saturday nights until closing, thus missing all the boring, meat market frat parties and earn some money to go to see my boyfriend in Florida over spring break.  It was the perfect plan.

My first day on the job,  I got an icy reception from my co-workers.  I soon came to realize I was the only white person working at the store.  So, I simply put my head down and got to work.  I started in the kitchen slicing roast beef and assembling sandwiches.  Cleaned the bathrooms, learned to disassemble and sanitize the shake machine and swept and mopped the greasy disgusting floors. You know,  the real glory jobs.  After a couple of months, I'd worked my way up the ranks to work in the drive-thru.  Which is a real position of status in the fast food industry, in case you didn't know.  The manager assigned Tamika, who I was pretty sure hated my guts because she did everything possible to avoid me, with training me.

It was fine at first.  Until about 11pm, when the college students started driving up in their Mercedes daddy bought for them. Coming from their frat houses headed out to one of the many clubs surrounding campus that served alcohol to students without carding them.  They were already drunk and completely disrespectful.  The way people are when they think they're better than you.  The luxury cars and the insecure assholes who drove them were all different, but every night was exactly the same. We were harassed.

Now, I don't know what it's like to be African American growing up in the South or anywhere else for that matter.  Just like Tamika didn't know what it was like to be white growing up in the North.  There are so many experiences that shape how we see and react to the world.  But, working together, our Venn diagrams overlapped and gave us a small sliver of a shared experience.  And that's how we bonded, over our mutual hatred of white, privileged kids who came through that drive-thru late at night.

The last night I worked there before I moved back to New York, she bought me dinner: a Giant roast beef sandwich, fries, with a jamocha shake and a cherry pie.  "Your skinny white ass can't possibly eat all that", she said.  "Oh yeah? Watch me!"  I said, with no guilt whatsoever.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Discomfort Zone

The older I get, the more I'm acutely aware of my own discomfort.  Looking back now, I know it was there all along.  I just wasn't paying attention because I was too busy forcing myself to do what I thought I was supposed to do rather than paying attention to how I felt doing it.  But, that's the thing about getting older, you start not giving a shit about what you're supposed to do and focus more on seeking contentment.  Except, comfort is difficult to come by as you get older.

Like the ultimate comfort: sleep.  (I'm writing this at 6am on Sunday morning.)  Why would I get up that early on a weekend morning when I don't need to be?  Because my body won't let me sleep in.  My legs get restless and my mind races.  Also, I really need to pee.  Even if I got up in the middle of the night to pee, which is happening more frequently now.  Especially, when I wake up in the middle of the night in a hot sweat, worrying about the state of the world and need to come downstairs to get a juice box to quench my thirst.  I think I'm the only one who even drinks juice boxes in my house anymore.  It's like I'm Benjamin Button, reverting back to a child, or something.

As, I sit here on my old wooden chair, writing in the dark, lit only by the glow of my computer screen wearing my third favorite pair of reading glasses because I couldn't find my favorite, nor its runner-up,  I haven't stopped moving.  I literally cannot sit still.  Because when I do my legs ache and/or they fall asleep.  Granted, this old wooden chair isn't exactly cozy.  But, the thing is, it doesn't even matter.      If I'm on the couch watching TV, it's the same thing.  I can't get comfortable even on a couch that's actually comfortable.  Up until the point that I fall asleep that is.  And if I start to watch a movie, that's exactly what will happen.  Oh, I'll promise my husband that this time it'll be different and I'll see the whole thing so he doesn't have to explain the parts I missed.  But, I'm a huge liar, apparently.

You know what's worse than sitting for long periods of time?  Standing for long periods of time.  Which I did this past week when I had to fulfill my mandatory volunteer hours working at the concession stand for my daughter's basketball team.  Which was combined with by far, my most substantial discomfort, social interaction.  So, I was slinging hot dogs and nachos with a woman I'd never met before trying to make small talk (which I abhor) trying to steer clear of controversial subjects.  Which these days, is pretty much everything.  Also, the elephant in the room is the one chair provided for the two of us.  And all I know, is I'm not going to be the selfish asshole who sits my ass in the chair.  Then the standoff began: we both stood for hours.  I leaned on the counter to get some relief for my sore back.  Checked on the snowfall out the window or the scoreboard during lulls to walk it off.

I admit, I finally did use the chair, standing behind it placing my arms on the back to stretch out like a cat.  But, hell if I was sitting in that thing.  Besides, I would've only been comfortable for 30 seconds, until I opened my damn mouth complaining about the lack of ethnic diversity in my neighborhood here in Conservativille.  Opening the door to a whole conversation on politics.  Again.  Oh Marie, shut up!  Why can't you talk about things like the weather?  But, that's only going to come back the environment.  Which, of course, is a whole other political topic.

So, that night, I went home, got in my pj's, snuggled up on the couch with my Restless Leg Syndrome and fell asleep there.  Again.  In the most comfortable of discomfort zones.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Laundry List

My life is filled with lots of things.  Nagging, whining, arguing, complaining, disappointment and laundry.  Lots and lots of dirty laundry.  Doing the laundry itself, I don't mind too much.  I mean it's not as though I have to trek down to a mountain stream with homemade lye soap and spend the whole afternoon beating it on a rock while contracting pneumonia or anything.  But, it's all the things surrounding getting clothes into the washing machine and out of the dryer that are a huge pain in the ass.

The only place you won't find clothes in my house is the hamper.  

I could actually start hiding Christmas presents in the kids' hamper.  Or my chocolate stash.  It is probably the safest and the cleanest place in my entire house.  Even though I nag my kids incessantly about picking up their clothes to put them in there.  And I know I shouldn't pick up their clothes for them and wash them.  I know I should simply step over their disgusting smelly socks and make them responsible for doing their own laundry.  Oh, trust me, I have tried tough love!  But, I just can't do it.  For the sake of my sanity and the environment, I must run, at least, a full load of laundry every day.  But, I refuse to be a slave to my kids, which is why I draw the line at checking for personal items in pants pockets.

Which is why I have washed wallets, pens, pencils, paperclips, notes, wrappers (sometimes empty, sometimes not) and money. It's like I've started my own money laundering business.  I've washed dollar bills, sometimes even quarters and dimes, but mostly pennies. Where does it come from?  I mean who even uses cash anymore?  Do they still accept it at stores?  Especially pennies.  Really, I don't think you can even use the phrase penny for your thoughts anymore.  Cause with inflation I think it's at least a quarter, but even more realistically, probably a dollar.  Plus, are you sure you really want to know what someone else is thinking?  In these divisive times?  Probably not.  I know I'd pay some people at least $10 to keep their thoughts to themselves. 

But, I digress.  Once I've pocketed the money, then I fold the laundry.  Carefully trying to determine whose socks are whose and then stacking each kid's clothes in neat piles on the kitchen table for them to take up to their room and put it away.  With the expectation that it will be done in time for the table to be set for dinner.  Now, we do this every day and it's pretty damn straightforward.  How hard can it be?  And yet, I still have to nag them to move their clothes so I can serve them a dinner they'll hate and complain about. With the long laundry list of annoying things my kids do (or don't, rather), I should have earned a doctorate in nagging at this point.  And when they do finally take their clothes upstairs, one of them consistently drops them on the dog fur laden carpet on the floor in his bedroom.

I can't wait until they all leave home
 and bring their laundry home to mom when they visit.  
The day they appreciate me.  


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