Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What You're Writing

The newest Urbanite is out and "What You're Writing" this month is "Hard Lesson." Other upcoming deadlines:

Broke Oct 13, 2009 Dec 2009
Fresh Start Nov 9, 2009 Jan 2010

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Flipping Through the Garbage

I've about had it with reality TV shows and the losers that have inundated the media as of late. I mean, are these producers scraping the bottom of the barrel with their auditions? Finding the biggest hot mess in the crowd and calling it a day? I don't get it!



There are a plethora of untalented reality stars out there, but the one that takes the cake—Jon Gosselin. He grosses me out, and that's putting it nicely. I don't think that there is anybody less deserving of fame and fortune than loserface Jon. He should be at home raising the eight kids that need him instead of whoring himself around NYC, Las Vegas, and my beautiful home state of PA.



While I, myself, am guilty of watching many reality shows out there, I can't help but think that this growing trend is taking away from the talented people that deserve to be recognized. Where is the next Julia Roberts or Johnny Depp? Are potentially talented starlets being jeopardized because market demand now calls for reality instead of sitcom? Sure there are those crazy Hollywood types (Lohan, Hilton, etc.), but imagine a world where Tila Tequila and Jon Gosselin are making movies, starring in lead roles, and walking the red carpet? I guess we're not too far from that happening when people like Dipshit-Father-of-the-Year is already being asked to host Vegas parties, model ugly t-shirts, and be followed by the paparazzi. And people like Kate (his soon-to-be ex wife)? She is also now appearing on talk shows, and get this, my favorite—writing books! And why? Because she is now a celebrity, what a joke. How should that make a grad student who loves writing and is actually getting their Master’s in the subject supposed to feel? Like she doesn’t deserve it, that’s how. Should I go get knocked up with multiples now to make it big as a writer?


I was never really bothered by any of this until Jon Gosselin came along. Bottom line—I think “celebrity” has taken a turn for the worse. I am starting to miss shows like Friends more and more, and hope that this reality phase that everyone is fixated on fizzles out.


I have been thinking a lot about purpose lately, specifically one's sense of purpose. Truthfully, my sense of purpose. I think it is obvious to most that work dominates life. This can be work in the sense of the old 9-5 or something a bit less structured. Either way, this "job" dominates not only time, but also thoughts, finances, conversation, and general sense of self. I, unfortunately, need to work in order to make a living. So, with this in mind as a college student, I threw myself into preparation and pursuit, graduated top of my class, studied abroad, engaged in multiple internships, and had a position lined up before graduation. After 3+ years, I recently left that job because on the way to work one day I couldn't stop crying. Which brings me to life today.

I was lucky enough to have been shown interest by a multi-million dollar corporation and not for one of those "work your way up it's okay I know I have to pay my dues" type jobs. I am part of the executive staff and my management and financial potential is endless. I truthfully enjoy what I do and I'm good at it, yet I stare at the clock all day keeping a tally of the hours until I can go home. On Sundays, the knot in my stomach grows because I know I have a 5-day workweek ahead of me.

I don't think it's the jobs themselves, I think it is the way they take over. Maybe I just need to be free. Or maybe I just need to be doing what I am passionate about and the sense of "job" will melt away. I thrive on the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a task, but I need to find a task that matters to me instead one that delivers only a paycheck. Yet, in the real world, does that ever really work out?

A Decade Older

Lately, several people I know are turning either the big “30” or “40” or even more significantly the bigger “50” and “60.” To each of these persons, turning a particular decade older is a major “life” marker. Each decade affects us differently. When we were children, you might think age was not significant. No so. That’s your adult mind thinking. Put on your memory cap. As children, we viewed age quite seriously. Don’t you remember when you couldn’t wait to turn five? For me, it meant I was now old enough to go to school. Another was turning ten. When I was eight, my hospital roommate was ten. She seemed so much older than I and so much more knowing. I couldn’t wait to turn ten, to be so sophisticated, although then I’m sure I didn’t even know the meaning of the word. To read about another’s perspective, go to Lizza’s blog at http://my-noypi-mind.blogspot.com/2009/05/first-decade.html/, where she shares her memory of turning ten and compares it with that of her own daughter who just turned ten.

The junior high, high school, and early college years were not much different. We were never satisfied with what made us what we were: our age, our place, our things, our family. It was our “me” time. We wished our lives away, not walking but running into the future, not even looking back. Some of us were running from the past, others were seeking greener pastures, while many were just riding the wave toward the unknown. We focused only ahead. Don’t get me wrong—no matter what decade you happen to be living now, everyone should be looking to the future. Otherwise, we’d be wandering in circles, only looking at what we did and not what we need to do. Our goals should be a culmination of our past, present, and future. In retrospect, I wish I could have enjoyed my younger years—savored them, so to speak. But I wasn’t allowed. I was pushed into the future and am glad of it actually.

Then suddenly we wake up and it’s our 25th birthday, yet another life marker that smacks many of us in the face. We no longer wish to be older. This is the defining moment that we reverse our way of thinking and start wishing we were younger. What is it about this age that sets us off? I believe it’s suddenly realizing, “Oh my God, I’m a quarter of a century old!” At least, that’s what did it for me. My daughter, on the other hand, is an exception to the rule. She is about to turn 25 but can pass for 15. She fortunately inherited her father’s genes, not mine.

Moving from the 20th decade into the 30th can be a rude wake-up call for many. At least at the age of 29, they could still say they’re still in their twenties, but at 30—this is the age 18-year olds consider “old.” Nevertheless, it’s a time to stop hitting that snooze button, get serious, and leave the party dream nights behind. There are even books out there written especially for this decade of so-called age defiers, for example, Turning 30: How to Get the Life You Really Want by Sheila Panchal. What do you have to lose? Only, possibly more than you can imagine.

Between 30 and 40 years of age, most people get their act together, improving their lives in aspects such as work, family, finances, religion, etc. During this time, my husband finished one career and started another. I finished college, began a new career, and excelled. We moved into our 40s with ease. As a woman, I even secretly looked forward to turning 40. I wanted to find out if women really do reach their sexual peak in their 40s. All I’m willing to admit is that it depends on the woman and I’ll leave it at that. So back to the big 40—I conclude that this decade is the easiest for both men and women to accept. They are concentrating more on living then on age and ageing.

I’ve heard that turning 50 is the new 40. There is even a Web site dedicated to this claim: http://www.fiftyisthenewforty.net/. I’m not sure if I agree, although I suppose I would have had to be 50 years old 20 or 40 years ago to accurately dispute this finding. One reason I find this claim flawed is that the majority of women experience menopause during these years and we know what menopause brings: hot flashes, hair loss, hair growth, more fat, less muscle—need I go on? It’s not a pretty sight. Don’t let me forget the men. They suddenly become delirious and believe that they’re 25 again, buying motorcycles, sports cars, and other gadgets. They too face much of what women face, except in some instances even more so (hair loss). Most men are purely in denial.

What about those 60 and over? They are our baby boomers and they are the first to turn 60 (http://ezinearticles.com/?Can-You-Believe-It?---Baby-Boomers-Are-Turning-60&id=2836792). With today’s economy in such a ramshackle state, 60 brings us much concern. The number of baby boomers over the age of 50 is increasing. According to AARP http://www.bbhq.com/whatsabm.htm, “by 2015, those aged 50 and older will represent 45% of the U.S. population.” The boomers who once planned to retire between the ages of 60 and 65 are now being forced to work longer. Social Security monies, which were meant to supplement many of these workers’ retirement, are running out. Healthcare is another concern. People are now living longer, particularly women. The bigger 60 life marker is the most important marker of our lives. Turning 60 is not a matter of vanity as in the earlier decades but of quality of life. So what will the future hold for the baby boomers turning 70 in the next decade? I cannot say, but wherever we are in time, however each decade has affected us, let’s just savor our moments.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Roof

I am 23 years old, and I still live under my parents’ roof, though sometimes I feel as if I live on top of it. You see, the roof is where I go to soak in the sun, to seek out inspiration, to surround myself with nature, and of course, to see the people who saunter below.

Now this may sound odd or quite dangerous rather, being on the roof, but I can assure you, it’s relaxing and fairly safe. At its highest point, the point on which I perch, which is not so much a point at all, is slightly slanted, though very much a flat surface. I’d say it’s about 15 by 20 feet, and no one has fallen off of it yet.

It’s only 4:30, but the sun, which is hiding behind a light film of clouds, has started to fall behind an oak tree. The roof, which appears to have been recently pelted by acorns, has a large shadow creeping across it towards me. Today is the first official day of autumn, and with the exception of the pumpkin on the stoop across the street, it seems like any late summer afternoon in humid Maryland.

The cat has come to visit. She is one of few visitors and has escaped from the house through the bathroom window, which I left open for her. I do not arrive here in that way. You certainly would not catch me squeezing through the bathroom windowsill, maneuvering around a balcony, and crawling on hands and hind legs up the side of the house on asphalt shingles about one and a half feet wide to get up here. That would be far too complicated. Instead, I arrive through the skylight via the green wooden ladder.

The leaves are still clinging to the trees, unchanged in color and filled with birds that sound like laughing hyenas, and the last of the pink Crate Myrtles remain in bloom, though they are nearly beyond their days. Luckily for me, I can relax here on cooler days as the roof maintains the heat of the sun, which seeps through my blanket and warms me.

For the most part, I am never really bothered up here, nor do I bother anyone below. Though there was one time a few years ago when workmen appeared on the roof next door and without hesitation, I quickly dove down the skylight or “hole” as I sometimes call it. It is rare that I am ever seen. And it wouldn’t matter if someone did spot me, but it’s almost a game for me to try to remain hidden.

The mailman has arrived – on the porch, not on the roof. He wandered up our path unknowingly seen, and is now filling our box with tuition bills. He has slammed the screen door in that obnoxious way and is cutting across our yard, taking the easy way out. Perhaps he would not care if he knew I saw him do so. Perhaps he’s seen me before up here…

No. I can’t even say the stink bugs that have flown into me, accidentally I assume, four times already today have seen me. If I knew any better, I’d say they were blind. Why else would they have thrown themselves so violently at me? And every time they did, I was as stunned as the time before.

Perhaps I will descend into the hole now.

Salvaging The Past

          On most main streets in any given historic town, you are guaranteed to stumble upon consignment, or second-hand shop. 

            If you’re an antique enthusiast or a museum curator, you have probably referred to the yellow pages or googled “antique” shops with the sole intention of traveling to one to seek out good deals for your house collection or exhibit.

            If you are more like myself, you wander, with no intentions, into a small nook and cranny of your local historic Main Street.  The woman who works in the store is eager to have you as a customer and asks, 'Have you ever been here before?'

            You reply an honest ‘no, never.’ 

            Then she takes the opportunity to inform you that you’ve walked into a shop in which every single item has been salvaged from a dilapidated building or wreckage site.  Suddenly what was once a room of old junk or trash from the ruins becomes a pharoah’s tomb of recovered artifacts.  The store exists because some one made the decision to rescue items from complete destruction.

            You are suddenly reminded of Wall-E’s little abode in the Disney Pixar film as you browse the smorgasborg of items from late 19th century all the way to the 1980s or 1990s.  You will probably not find a late 1984 Macintosh computer here.  You will not find a mobile phone from 1992.  However, a detached payphone from the late 20th century rests comfortably in the corner, with two or three spiral corded phones sitting on a nearby table.

            A pile of seemingly useless doorknobs sit on a small oak table.  Not far away sits an arrangement of Great Depression Era glassware, clear green teacups, similar in weight to a plastic tea cup in a child’s play set. An old cigar machine stands in the center perpendicular to a bench with a row of old Nancy Drew novels with old fringes that tell you, ‘I am tattered, therefore I am antique.”  On a polished pale brown mantelpiece sits a collection of some one’s old pill bottles with various labels (not the old Civil War era Ipecac bottles, mind you, just your average run of the mill bottles with the sheer orange tint).

            In the recession era, I would imagine that the majority of people would not rank antique buying high on their budget, but something of value still remains, something left to be discovered rests, on the main streets of historic Ellicott City, Chestnut Hill, Manayunk, and beyond.  The antique shop becomes a safe haven or shelter for some small tea cup that begs not to disappear beneath the ruins.  Even old 1995 payphones seem worthy of being saved, even though they’re not completely extinct. 

            How old does something have to be to be considered an antique?  Does the term antique refer to appearance or age?  Who had to own those orange pill bottles in order to increase their value?

            Whatever the purpose or value, antique stores, offer you the passerby or tourist the opportunity to become Indiana Jones for a brief fifteen minutes or a longer three hours depending on your attention span and find that salvaged item, that item some one chose to take from the ruins, to preserve.


O'Mighty Advice Weaver

September 22, 2009
I’m an award-winning therapist. No book deals, no alignments with Oprah. Embossed ivy league degrees or hourly state certifications are not hammered onto the crown-molded walls of my office. I don’t even have an office. (My office consists of the floor of my bedroom layered with throw pillows to leverage my laptop.) But in place of academia honor, my credibility stands as the trust of my girlfriends.

I’ve always valued my friendships with that girl who’s over there, sniffing a glass of chard while stealing a drag from a menthol, that girl who’s lip-synching to the latest Broadway plays and sampling the trendiest bites in Manhattan, that girl who’s pushing through the back door of the seedy, local comedy club. So what’s the common thread of them all?


My closest girlfriends all have men or, rather, a man in her life. And they always turn to me. You know, for those choking phone calls during the thesis of my thirty page essay, for those yes-I’ll-help-you-move-out-of-your-fiance’s-house-note-I-can’t-physically-move-a-four-post-bed-but-I’ll-be-by-your-side-Saturday-morning-to-glare-at-that-mother-fucker.

Take today, for example. I have been giving that girl, after hundreds of texts, calls, and BlackBerry messengers advice that he is not the one. He is not the one if he still won’t commit (even after you’ve begun to put out after the second and a half date). He’s not the one if he doesn’t invite you to that Europe backpacking trip with his friends of both sexes. He’s not the one if he openly tells you that he’s having sex with other women and that Aqua Net under the sink is not yours. And what do you know via multiple texts and voicemails received in an hour’s time, today? After seven months of dating, he is definitely not the one.

Through their tears and discarded tissues, maybe the subject of my stagnant dating life really isn’t a homerun from the conversation ballpark.

But sometimes.
Sometimes I require sofa sessions, too.

Just Words

We had a little conversation in our household about civilized language, because one of our members has developed a taste for salt in his sentences.

“They’re just words,” said my offspring. “They don’t have magic powers.”

I didn’t even try the time-tested rejoinder about how people who curse have limited vocabularies; his surpasses most people’s twice his age. The best I could come up with is that if words don’t have power, why don’t we order Chilean sea bass by its real name, “Patagonian toothfish”?

Offspring’s retort: “I don’t eat fish.”

In truth, I have been known to say a few words shaded blue. Years passed in the company of brothers and Marines assure that I’m no Victorian. A damn here or a hell there is like the tiny steam vent on a pressure cooker. But there seems to be a hierarchy of foul language which draws its users ever upward, the relatively harmless terms leading inevitably to the Queen Mother of all curse words (take your pick) and beyond. Teenagers comprise a bunch especially susceptible to the lure of this forbidden fruit. (Quick adolescent confession: High school French class, days we had a substitute, we were directed to play French Scrabble, but we found Naughty Word Scrabble was more entertaining and didn’t require actual knowledge of a foreign language. I missed a Triple Word Score on purpose so I wouldn’t reveal my own extensive vocabulaire vilain).

With a literary and linguistic anecdote, I will illustrate my theory of the crude language hierarchy. This story demonstrates just how early kids grasp the concept that some words are worse than others, and will further suggest that children are compelled to use those worse words simply because they are forbidden.

When Offspring was just a couple of years into the world, I could tell he was going to need some firm limits. I took a preemptive stance and I banned anything that would boost him toward the first rung of the ladder of vulgarity. I knew if I gave him too much freedom, he would push against my generosity and croak out something mortifying in front of my grandmother.

“We don’t say ‘butt,’” I told him. “It’s ‘hinder.’”

“But I hear other people say it.”

“I know, but we’re different. Don’t say ‘butt.’”

Part of my problem was that he wanted to read books that were beyond his maturity level, and sometimes I relented. When he was five, I let him read James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl – a chapter book meant for older children. I knew Dahl appealed to kids who wanted to stick it to adults in a symbolic way, so I figured it would be just edgy enough. When he finished, I asked him how he’d liked it.

“It was good. It had some bad words in it, though.”

“Like what? Like d-a-m-n?”

“No, like a-s-s.”

“Oh,” I said, graver than the situation warranted.

And then he said it: “Good thing we’ve got words like ‘butt’ around here.”

Oh, they know!

All I wanted to do was tone down the language. What I’ve really done is create a euphemism, a lovely assistant on the language stage who tries to distract her audience. She tells them that they should try the Orange Roughy (not the “Slimehead”), that their company is “rightsizing,” and that, oops, she’s just had a “wardrobe malfunction.”

As he makes his way in the world, Offspring will watch this act. Will he be more disquieted by crude words or by the ironic term “adult language” that serves to cover for them? What will he believe it means to be an adult, to be invited to use their language? Will he gather that the ratings term “mature” conceals a slew of meanings, from locker room humor to graphic violence, but in no way represents the type of maturity I hope he achieves? Yes, I want him to stop participating in the coarsening of our language, but I also hope he learns to watch the magician’s sleeve, which carries the very real power of making truth disappear.

I'm Going Back...to Volunteering

The gorgeous grins on those middle school kids’ faces last Saturday on the Today show did the trick—pushed that devil off my other shoulder. The kids weren’t mugging for the camera or being sentimental. They were having a good time scrubbing the primary colored walls of their school, picking up trash, and packaging food for people down on their luck. They were volunteering—in response to Obama’s call—doing for others, giving of themselves, and feeling good about it. I felt myself wanting to go back.

These last few months I’ve been fighting myself: Should I go back to volunteering? I miss it. Am I refreshed enough? It’s the right thing to do. Is my attitude right yet? The work needs to get done. What’s my motive for going back?

Even though the work needs to get done, my motive matters to me.

I was a model volunteer. Over decades of volunteering, even as I worked full time and raised two kids, you could count on me to volunteer. I actively volunteered for everything—from cemetery weeding and synagogue lawn mowing to fundraising and newsletter writing. I served as secretary, committee chair, scout leader, and group organizer. I worked for nonprofits, charities, schools, and religious organizations; for diabetes, heart disease, leukemia, and Alzheimer’s. Exhausted, often disappointed, I couldn’t stop; I was a martyr volunteer.

I wasn’t having fun anymore. And, I was way past caring to make a difference. Why was my need to volunteer so desperate? One Sunday afternoon, as I frantically chased around Columbia looking to buy 25 backpacks for a Silver Spring middle school, the answer struck me like a fist in the solar plexus: I did volunteer work to earn my life on the planet and a seat in a heaven that I wasn’t sure I even believed in.

Whoa. That motive scared me. It wasn’t even realistic. Right after I delivered the backpacks, I started a break from volunteering, along with a little therapy.

Three plus years later, I feel better about my place in the world. The kids are grown, and my long work commute allows me time to think. I’m choosing my activities with affection, not desperation or need, and making sure they fit into my schedule; this would include any volunteering. My motives for volunteering have changed: Now, I want to volunteer because I want to help out people who aren’t as strong as I am right now and because I want to feel that sense of accomplishment and warmth of working with others that fueled my volunteer work when I was a kid.

Seeing those kids’ angelic grins on the Today show ended my late inner conflict. I am ready to go back. I’ll start small—maybe I’ll stuff envelopes for the synagogue or cook a couple of casseroles for the Grassroots shelter.

See Obama’s call for volunteering:

No Flash Photography

This past weekend my close friend, Joy, from Atlanta came to visit. She hadn’t been to the area in years and wanted to see the monuments and museums in Washington. So, on Friday we took a day trip into D.C.

The last time I went to the Mall was about six years ago, so I was eager to see the sites. We took the Metro into town. A straight shot on the orange line to our destination, The Smithsonian. Upon ascending the escalator to the Mall, I noticed every third person had a camera.

Our first stop: Smithsonian Institute Building – The Castle. It provided information on all D.C. area Smithsonian museums, a history lesson on James Smithson and a clean bathroom.

Me: We need a game plan so we don’t wander around aimlessly and waste time. I’m getting a map.

Joy: Do you know who James Smithson is?

Me: No.

Joy: He started all of this, right? So, does the Smithsonian Institute consist of all the museums or just this one?

Me: I think all of them. It tells you over there. I have to go to the bathroom.

Joy: I’m going to take some pictures.

Next on the list: The National Archives. The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights among others are housed in this distinguished building. A steady stream of people flowed through security and up the stairs to the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. Cameras flashed at every turn.

Joy: I can’t believe the nerve of some people. There are signs on every corner saying No Flash Photography.

Me: I guess they don’t care.

Joy: But it ruins the documents.

Me: I know. It’s wrong.

Joy: It’s bull shit! All the flashes over time will damage their integrity. It’s the Declaration of Independence for Christ’s sake.

Me: I know. I agree with you.

Joy: Well, I’m just saying, if they don’t know how to turn off their flashes then they shouldn’t take a picture. That’s why I’m not taking one.

Me: Are you ready to move on now? We still have a lot to see.

Joy: Yeah, let’s go.

Final destination: National Gallery of Art. After five minutes of feeling overwhelmed from our initial attempt to walk around the museum, we rented an audio tour. It is a genius idea to learn about the history of the museum and art and provide direction without the annoying tour guide. I highly recommend it. The only downside is the size and weight of the audio device. Think cordless phone circa 1995 with a five pound battery and a strap to put around your arm or neck. I advise against hanging it around your neck unless you want a crick that lasts the rest of the day and well into the next with three Motrin every six hours as the only remedy.

We made our way through the different galleries enjoying the permanent collection until we came upon one of the current exhibits.

Joy: It’s huge.

Me: It’s Edouard Manet’s masterpiece Ragpicker. It’s one of the current exhibits and on loan from the Norton Simon Foundation in California. It says it’s from a series of figural compositions that Manet painted in… What’s wrong?

Joy: That man wouldn’t get outta my way so I could take a picture. What an ass! He gave me a dirty look and just stood there. Jerk! I don’t know what’s wrong with people. Anyway, I wiggled my way in and got the picture.

Me: Ok. It was painted in the 1860’s and inspired by… Now what?

Joy: It’s that man again. He just whispered something to that woman and pointed at me.

Me: I don’t know what his problem is. My neck is starting to hurt.

Joy: Screw him.

Me: Are you ready to move on now? We still have a lot to hear.

Joy: Yeah, let’s go.

Me: Oh my God Joy, look (as we exited the area I pointed to a small sign on the door frame of the gallery that read: No Flash Photography).

Joy: Shit! Are you kidding?

Me: You know flashes ruin the integrity of the paintings.

Joy: I know! Crap, crap, crap. Do you think anyone noticed?


Joy: Do you?

Me: No.

Joy: Neither do I.

Joy: Oh, look it’s a Renoir let’s go listen.

Me: Do you have any Motrin?

The Curious Event of the Three

In January of 1754, The Honorable Horace Walpole, man of letters, wrote to a friend:

It was once when I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a camel blind of the right eye had traveled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity?

This is the first documented use of the term. It is this discovery by accident that is life’s tendency, for do we ever really find what we set out to?

* * *

Three is the magic number...

The words from a Rhetoric professor popped into my head recently, and I was reminded of what my friend and I refer to as “The Curious Event of the Three.”

It was on the third of October of last year that I went to the P.O., and while waiting in line, this little girl of about seven walks up and stands next to me, facing me. She wasn't particularly cute, just plain-looking. She says quietly, with a startlingly southern accent, "somebody stole... my... quarter," stretching out the final three words for emphasis. She didn't say it to me, so much as in my general direction, and glanced at me to see if I picked up on it. "Oh no," I responded, "That’s terrible." This must have been the reaction she wanted, so she said, "you got a quarter?"

This brought me back to earlier in the day, when at work, someone asked if I had a quarter they could borrow. I rummaged through my bag to see if I did, but I couldn't find any change at all. So, turning to the little girl, I responded, "I'm sorry, I don't." Realizing I was of no use to her, she ran back over to ogle the candy machines. Another little girl, this one cuter and younger, presumably the first girl's sister, walks right up to me, smiling, and says "you got a quarter?" "Nope, sorry," I said, and with that, she laughed and walked away. At that point her sister walks back over to what I assumed to be their Grandmother, in front of me in line, and repeats her line, "somebody stole... my... quarter."

I finished up my business at the P.O. and walked outside, thinking to call my friend Jane, since that whole scenario was just so... dream-like. As I drove away, my phone rang; it was Jane. She was coming over to eat Cincinnati Chili with me in a bit.
About an hour later, Jane shows up, and we take our bowls of spaghetti noodles and spoon some of the chili over top. I show her that in accordance with Cincinnati style, you then put your toppings on: kidney beans, cheddar, and raw onions.

We sit down to eat, and Jane gets up from the table for a soda. On her way back, she kicks a bowl of cat food, which spills everywhere. "Dammit! Something's going on," she said. "Earlier, there was a bowl of water sitting on the counter in my kitchen, and of course, I knocked it over. 'Figures,' I said to myself." She proceeded, "I was outside, a little after that, cleaning my car, and I knocked over a whole bucket of soapy water. 'Figures.' And now this... 'figures'."

At that point, I realized something strange was going on that day. "Maybe Mercury's in retrograde," I said, laughing. We finished up our chili, and then went to clean up the spilled cat food. Jane grabs the bowl and I peer into it – three puffs of cat food are still in it. "You’re not going to believe this," I said, and Jane peered into the bowl hesitantly, only to have her suspicions confirmed. "Oh no…"

We sat around for a while, went to the grocery, took a walk, and watched some TV. Jane made some tea, and I brought her a mug. "This looks like the Serendipity 3 Web site," she said, referring to the NYC restaurant, Serendipity, which we went to a few months prior. "That's funny, that's where I got it from" I responded. Jane finished her tea and said, "I'm going home now." I looked at the clock: 10:33.

Jane goes home to find her house full of wafting garlic and her Mom's Korean friends. She texted me to tell me so. I texted her back, and, closing my cell phone, noted the date: October 3rd. The time? 11:03.

Three people asked me for a quarter yesterday.

Stole…my…quarter (three words)

Jane knocked over three containers, too.

Three pieces of cat food left in the bowl.

Three toppings on the Cincinnati Chili.

Serendipity 3 mug.

October 3rd.

I went to bed, because, frankly, I was having a hard time maintaining my sanity. I turned off the light. Looked at the clock: 11:33.

A Step Behind

Over the past few years, I’ve had a few leg injuries that have prevented me from running the Annapolis 10 miler, my favorite summer race. So this year, I spent all summer training properly so I’d be in good shape for the run. But, when my alarm clock screeched at 6 a.m. on race day a few weeks ago, I hit the snooze. Twenty minutes later, I jumped out of bed. My fiancĂ©, Alex, and I loaded up on carbs and electrolytes and hit the road. On Route 50, the road hit back with traffic. A long line of cars crept onto the Rowe Blvd. exit. As we inched toward the Naval Academy stadium and the start line, passenger runners were jumping out of their cars and sprinting to the stadium. I briefly considered doing the same thing, but remembered it was my fault we were late.

Sitting at a traffic light a block away as the clock ticked closer toward the 7:45 start time, I tried to reassure myself and Alex by saying, “They’ll start late with this many people on the road.”

As we wound around the stadium in a long line of cars toward the entrance to the parking lot, I thought I heard a horn blast, but told myself it was just my imagination. Our adrenaline was pumping and we’d already resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d have no time to stretch our muscles and would have to sprint to the start line and join the end of the pack. There was one car left in front of us to make the left hand turn into the stadium lot. The driver wasn’t paying attention and missed the signal of the attendant to hurry into the lot. Just then a police siren blared coming in the opposite direction. I suddenly felt sick.

The police escort led the way for a herd of runners. We were on the course and stuck in the middle of the stampede along with all the other late comers. As we sat, feet pounded the pavement around us. Like wild horses, runners streamed past our cars, dashing between them in a chaotic mess to find their own personal space and a chance to move ahead in the pack.

It was the first time I’d ever wished for tinted car windows. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. It was like a bad dream, the race bib pinned to the front of my shirt making me feel naked.

“She’s wearing a number. She’s a runner,” I heard one guy shout. That alerted everyone, and opened the flood gates for a steady flow of remarks and insults. I pulled my knees up to my chin and hugged my legs, trying to hide the evidence. “You better get comfortable” someone yelled. The looks were just as damaging as the comments and I began to worry that we’d be recognized later, on the course. By this point, we’d been seen and scorned by at least 8,000 of the 10,000 runners. After about 10 minutes, which felt more like 30, we got a small break and the attendant screamed for us to turn. We peeled into the parking lot, jumped out and ran toward the stadium.

The start line had already been disassembled and the finish line was being hoisted. Wearing sheepish grins, we sprinted by the workers. As we rounded the corner down onto the street and turned onto the same stretch we had just been parked on, we caught sight of the police car escorting the tail end of the runners. We were sprinting at a heavy pace, but it felt as if our feet were stuck in cement, our adrenaline and panic throwing off our momentum. Though the car was probably moving at less than five miles per hour, we didn’t catch up and overtake it until at least the third mile marker. We sped past walkers, and against our better judgment passed up the holy water the church was giving out at the first water stop. Any cheering at this point from the crowd was more of an embarrassment than encouragement.

Back in the pack, we were finally able to blend in and enjoy the sprinklers residents sat out and the water they hosed us down with as we ran past their perfectly manicured lawns, the orange slices that they offered up, the Gatorade the Naval Academy cadets passed out at water stops, the music blaring from boom boxes on the lawns of supporters, and we all raised our arms in surrender for a squirt from children with Super Soaker water guns along the course.

By the 5th mile we had already passed some of the people who had jeered at us in our car earlier. They didn’t seem to remember except for one runner who ran the whole race juggling. He asked if we’d gotten stuck in traffic and said he remembered us from earlier. Since he already had five balls up in the air, I figured he didn’t need anything more to contend with so we held our tongues and quietly jogged past.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

How a jigsaw puzzle led to a memoir

In case you missed it, Margaret Drabble published an interesting piece in The Washington Post regarding her new memoir and how she came to write it. As sometimes happens, she meant to write something else. Her story is part of the Post's coverage of the National Book Festival, scheduled for the National Mall on Sept. 26.