My Soul’s Voice

It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and much has happened since my last entry. I honestly haven’t been too inspired to write as nothing really felt worth writing about in my life since I moved to the Bay Area. I love it here and it feels like home, but personally, my life was just kind of meandering as I tried to figure out what my next chapter in life would look like. I can see that next chapter now, and I am bursting with inspiration and energy. My friend Kirsten once said when she picked up a flute after years of not playing, “my soul has a voice again.”  I love that she said this because I completely understand it. It’s how I feel right now.

Many moons ago, I had a very bad experience with audio engineering in college. It left me with many demons holding me in their grip. I had a “mentor” who had a bit of a sadistic glee in cutting people down. He would give me an “A” or “B” on a paper but mock my writing style on the margins like, “Gee, can you use that word one more time?” He would write after a series of put downs, “see me after class” and when I’d see him, he’d get mad that I approached him and point to the nearest exit without a word to tell me get me the fuck out of his sight. He basically told me I was an idiot who had no business doing engineering. What made everything such a mindfuck is he’d pretend to like you and believe in you one minute and then destroy you the next.  In short, he was a damaged performer and not a teacher – everyone loved him until the curtain came down. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until fairly recently, despite other students telling me as much at the time.

To be fair, I was not the best student. I was certainly not the worst and I did muddle through and get my degree, but I can see why a teacher would have been dismissive of me at that point in my life. I was fighting against severe depression and anxiety, and just getting out of bed was a challenge. I didn’t have the energy to be a Hermione or a cheerleader, and I certainly didn’t have the energy to study or practice daily for hours on end. I want to be clear that my failure is 100% MY failure; it’s not on my asshole instructor. All I can say is he gave a living, breathing voice to the doubts and fears I already had in my head. When that happens, it’s a lot easier to believe that they are true.

So that is the background. From that point until about 8 or so months ago, I absolutely believed I had no aptitude for engineering. Okay – maybe I didn’t absolutely believe it, because 8 months ago I saw that Chabot College offered an Audio Recording class and something stirred within me. I felt a need to right the wrongs of the past and truly test myself. I deserved a real shot at this thing, and bonus! unlike my original experience, you actually got to work in a studio and touch shit. It wasn’t “write on a white board and memorize these frequencies”, it was actual hands-on stuff. I promised myself that I would take everything one day and one challenge at a time. I didn’t dare to dream, I just wanted to try my best and see what happened.

As last semester went on, the voice in my head started morphing. This is basically a sampling of thoughts through the course these past two semesters:

  • “This console is huge and intimidating; if I can learn even half of it, that will be amazing.”
  • “This makes sense.”
  • “This is fun.”
  • “Maybe I don’t suck at this.”
  • “I could do this all day.”
  • “I’m like Kirsten – my soul has a voice again.”
  • “I think I’m actually pretty good at this, but the real test will be next semester.”
  • “I can’t believe how much I’ve learned”
  • “I have so much to learn, but this is amazing.”
  • “I hope I’m in charge of the console on this upcoming session.”
  • “I am in a zone.”
  • “I have to do this for a living.”
  • “I may be the best student in class.”
  • Finally, after this past Friday, “maybe I’m not the best student in class, but I have a lot going for me and I am damn close to being at the top. Time to get to work.”

Of course, I’m not perfect no matter how much I want to be. There have been a few hiccups, and sometimes it takes me a minute to latch on to a concept. But? That’s okay. Why is it okay? BECAUSE THIS IS FREAKING AMAZING AND FUN! I have not been this happy or inspired in a very long time. As you know, I love writing music, but this is even better; where songwriting is mostly subjective, engineering is objective and subjective. It’s both science and magic. One part of you is reaching up to the heavens, the other part of you is reaching into the earth and you become a conduit for something that can be exceptionally beautiful. How amazing is that? I am so grateful I am experiencing this. And I’m pretty good! Holy shit.

This is pure joy. I hope to god after this class I’m able to intern and find work so I can keep doing this and feeding my soul.

I always close out these posts with a “moral of the story” thing, don’t I? This one is pretty obvious: what have you failed at? What eats away at you a little because it feels like unfinished business? It is there waiting for you. It’s a wall that says, “I dare you to try and climb me again. Here’s a rope: you can hang yourself with it or you can use it to pull yourself up, but for god’s sake, do something. I dare you.

Screw the rope; it’s time to blow that wall the hell up.

 

**Note: I have no idea how often I will be posting, so I’ve simplified the format of the blog and I’m probably going to rearrange my posts so my favorites and the most popular ones in the archives are the most accessible.

I Hate You, Michael Landon

[Originally posted on November 11, 2011. Surprisingly, this is the most viewed and shared post I have ever written. The internet is mesmerized by Pa Landon's apple-cheeked death gaze.]

An essential part of growing up for any virgin to life is to have your spirits lifted, then promptly trampled on by Michael Landon.

Growing up, I was a Little House on the Prairie nut.  From episode one, I cared about the Ingalls family and their trials and tribulations.  I ignored the fact that Pa had a perm; I ignored the tire tracks appearing on prairie shots, or how the Midwest looked like a California desert.  At 5 p.m. every weekday, I turned on WPIX to become a part of the syndicated Little House world.  I cheered for the characters when they triumphed and wept when they struggled.

And Lord, how they struggled.  You see, everyone views Michael Landon as this great guy who created wonderful family shows to inspire us and give us hope.  Let’s be honest – Michael Landon used his magical powers of story-telling to rip out our hearts with his mangled claw-hand, leaving black rot to form and kill off the remaining niblets of innocence and whimsy hiding deep in the recesses of our souls.

…Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration; but the man was a grim reaper.  I present to you, my lovely reader, exhibits A-Z4 in My Childhood Innocence v. Pa Landon – a list of the actual trials and tribulations that occurred on this show:

- When the Ingalls wheat crop failed, Pa went to work in mining.  He befriended a man.  The man was funny and nice.  The man was blown up by dynamite.  The camera showed a close up of Pa doing his typical heart-wrenching, apple-cheeked quiverface, telling all actors that if you are kind enough to be a guest star on a Michael Landon show, he will reward you with death.  On the plus side?  Emmy reel!

- Ma had a baby; Laura was jealous of the baby.  The baby died, and Laura thought she caused it due to having Pa Death in her genes.  She ran away to live on a mountain that miraculously appeared in the middle of the prairie.  On Miracle Mountain, she met a Special Guest Star Angel.  Pa couldn’t kill the angel, because an angel by definition isn’t alive.  Pa was disappointed.

- Ma cut her leg on a wire.  Pa and the kids conveniently travelled somewhere without her for the only time EVER on this God-forsaken show.  She developed a staph infection and slowly rotted away in the Ingalls house.  To further tease us, people would check on her by knocking on the door.  We the viewers would think, “She’s saved!”  But no; her neighbors wondered why she wasn’t answering and they’d just take off.  As their carriage clippity-clopped off into the sunset, we’d see Ma’s ashen sweaty hand desperately reach up to the door knob to catch their attention.  Of course they acted like they didn’t see her.  But watch closely: Doc Baker totally hit the horsey gas pedal when that door opened.  He’s like, “So long, bitches!  Call me when penicillin’s invented!”  She almost died, but Pa figured she’d be more useful to him alive.

- Mary gave Laura a pet raccoon.  How could this end well?  Of course, the raccoon had rabies, bit Laura, so Pa shot and killed it.

- Laura had a horse named Bunny.  She sold it to Nellie Oleson to buy Christmas gifts for the family.  Once she won the horse back, she was showing her grandfather her riding skills, and ran Bunny into a barbed wire fence.  Grandpa shot Bunny.  She died.  Laura hated Grandpa and wished him dead.  Pa gave his apple-cheeked Quiverface, but reveled inside, for this was the Grand Slam of Anguish for Pa.

- Laura had a terrier named Jack.  The dog was annoying her and she wanted it to go away.  Pa realized this was the perfect moment to further torment Laura, so he killed Jack and claimed it was old age.

- Mary went blind.  Now, in actual history, Mary went blind when she had scarlet fever.  On the show, Mary had scarlet fever long ago, and went blind as some weird aftereffect.  I had scarlet fever twice as a child.  Thanks for keeping me up at night, Pa.

- After going blind, Mary kept her childhood reading glasses in her pocket at all times as a reminder of what Pa Ingalls does to people who have hopes and dreams.

- Mary fell in love with her dreamy blind teacher Adam Kendall, and when they got married, a surprise dust storm struck and almost took out the entire wedding party.  No one saw it coming.

- Mary got pregnant.  She miscarried.

- Mary and her dreamy blind husband had to take a stagecoach ride somewhere.  The stagecoach flipped.  The driver died.  Dreamy Adam got pinned under the stagecoach.  Mary went for help and almost burned to death in a brush fire caused by her childhood reading glasses.  Pa found her just in time to save the day.  HOW CONVENIENT, PA.

- Mary thought she was regaining her sight.  It was just Michael Landon fucking with us.  She remained blind and was devastated.

- Mary and her dreamy blind husband had a baby.  They were finally happy.  Then their school for the blind burned to the ground in the dead of night, thanks to no-good Albert smoking a pipe in the basement.  Pa’s message: Smoking kills, kids.  NO PA – YOU KILL, YOU SICK APPLE-CHEEKED BASTARD.

- In said fire, Mrs. Garvey realized Mary’s baby was still in their bedroom.  Because like, EVERYONE FORGOT ABOUT THE BABY.  Like, really.  Mary and her dreamy blind husband spent like, 20 minutes on the lawn eating cold fried chicken and playing blind man’s bluff AND HAVING A MERRY LITTLE FREAKING TIME WITH 10 RANDOM BLIND KIDS, ONLY TO REALIZE ALL TOO LATE THAT UH, YEAH, BABY IS STILL CHILLIN’ IN THAT FIREY WARM BLOB ON STAGE LEFT.  Ahem.  So anyway, Mrs. Garvey went to get the baby.  Since the baby had the Pa Death in his genes, he used his rudimentary Pa Death powers to cause Mrs. Garvey to freeze like a deer, stare at him for too damn long, and they both got trapped in the room.  As the students and staff stood outside in horror, Mrs. Garvey used the Kendall baby as a battering ram* to bust through a window to try and escape.  She didn’t.  They died.  That little baby was a Pa Death Kamikazee. (*that description is courtesy of the fine people who brought us the now-defunct jumptheshark.com)

- Mary became catatonic and lost her everlovin’ mind for like, three episodes.  Seriously.  She held her dead baby and creepily hummed a lullabye.  Of course, no-good Albert wussed out while Mary lost said mind.

- Dreamy Adam Kendall regained his sight, but Michael Landon only did that to screw with Mary’s head.  After this, dreamy Adam went on to create shows like “Malcolm in the Middle,” so he did well for himself.  Poor Mary landed B-rate horror movies, like “Happy Birthday to Me,” where she would slaughter people on her birthday in a rampage.

- No-good Albert shacked up with a girl named Sylvia.  They were in love.  She was raped by a mime.  The mime got her pregnant.  Albert told her they’d get married and he’d raise the baby as his own.  When the mime attacked her again, she tried to escape from him and fell off a ladder (a real ladder, not a mimed ladder, which is kind of a letdown to be honest with you).  The mime died.  Sylvia and her fetal-mime died.

- James (played by a young Jason Bateman) and Cassandra were the children of a wonderful couple who needed help moving, so Pa “helped” them.  They came across a steep road on a mountain.  Pa went down first with the kids.  The parents then went down on their covered wagon.  Pa decided the show needed more young children so he sabotaged the brakes on the wagon.  The couple’s wagon tumbled down the mountain as James and Cassandra watched their parents die a bloody, gruesome death.  Cassandra became a mute.  Greedy Pa gobbled up the children like Saturn and they became a part of his clan.

- More kids means more trauma!  So naturally, James was shot by a bank robber.  Pa took him up to Miracle Mountain, where James got all clammy and dead-like.  Another Guest Star Angel appeared and to Pa’s dismay, saved little clammy James by feeding him something from a bowl.  I think it was Pa Death Antivenom.

- Mr. Edwards married and they adopted three kids.  Note: EVERYONE ADOPTS AN ORPHAN ON THIS DAMN SHOW.  IT’S LIKE THE JOLIE-PITT/MIA FARROW ACTION HOUR, BUT WITH MORE DAMN KIDS.  You guessed it; the oldest kid became a reporter and was murdered.

- Mr. Edwards was devastated that his oldest son died, so he went back to drinking.  His wife and two remaining kids left him, so he only had Pa to turn to.

- Mrs. Whipple had a son we’ve never seen before, and he served in the Civil War.  He had PTSD and was a drug addict.  In typical Little House fashion, the only purpose to have this person on the show was to kill him.  He died.

- No-good Albert became addicted to morphine.  He didn’t die from that. Instead, he got leukemia.  Thankfully, the show didn’t last long enough to watch him die, because you totally knew where that was going.

- Shannon Doherty was on the show and almost drowned to death.  How did she get on the show?  Oh yeah.  Her parents died.  She was an orphan.

- On the final episode, the townspeople rebelled against Pa and blew up the town [Note: Husband who never watched Pa Landon’s Little House of Horrors read this and asked me, “Really??”  My response: “Yes.  Really.”].

I could go on and on, but you get the message.  The evidence is overwhelming.  I was thoroughly traumatized by Pa Landon and his moral anvils.  I mean, sure, I could stop watching… but…but then I wouldn’t see town party vs. country party!  I wouldn’t see when Percival melts Nellie’s mean girl heart.  I wouldn’t see Laura become a woman, damn it (and a real woman, not a girl who stuffed her bra with apples), and I sure as hell wouldn’t have seen my dreamy blue-eyed Adam Kendall waving romantically (sniff!) to Mary as her carriage rode away.  Sigh…dreamy, 70s-hair, hydrophobic Adam Kendall…(swoons).  Yeah, okay, if taking away my Little House takes away all that, I suppose I’ll exchange my innocence for your paella of death, despair, and inexplicable wholesome and timeless charm.  {{shakes fist}} Curse you, Landon and your ability to reach into my soul!!

Let Go. Make Something.

The Menacing Kitten: We stand against pegacorn discrimination.

[Originally posted on July 29, 2012. This post was very popular thanks to the amazing group of creatives known collectively as OK Go. They were kind enough to tweet and Facebook this to their fans, and they completely made my day. Okay, they made my month. I  credit a lot of good in my life to the power of their music. Also? they are very, very good to their fans. BUY THEIR ALBUMS, SEE THEM ON TOUR! They are good people.]

About a year and a half ago, I went on an OK Go video-watching binge on YouTube because I really, really love them and their stuff makes me happy.  On this particular night, I watched “A Million Ways” and “Here it Goes Again.” I have watched both of these videos many times without incident, but on this particular occasion I developed an itch in my brain.  It occurred to me that wonderful things are created when you allow your mind to wander outside of the expectations and the “shoulds” that are imposed on you.  Rock bands don’t dance;  they definitely aren’t supposed to incorporate West Side Story moves or twirl each other around in their videos. OK Go made these fun videos despite all the shoulds and shouldn’ts, and you can argue their success is found in their commitment to defying convention and following crazy ideas down the rabbit hole.  After watching these videos on this night, I finally got it:  Let go.  Make something. Just start with one thing.

At the time, I struggled with my first love, music.  Over the years, I made it mean too much to me and the piano became a stranger.  Art? I felt so out of practice, and was afraid to see what years of typing did to my ability to draw.  I decided to give writing a shot, so I tried writing a novel.  31,846 words later, I realized my story sucked.  On the positive side, the story allowed me to dive into a really weird and dark part of my personality and I got to handcuff myself to a chair in the name of research.

On the negative side, once again, Anne-Marie started a project she couldn’t finish.  It was like that Origami kit stuffed in my office closet, or paper quilling, or trying to learn the cello, or the million songs I have in Garage Band I just can’t figure out an ending to.  I wanted to actually finish something for once.  I also wanted to brush up my writing skills.  That itch still needed to be scratched.  So? I created The Menacing Kitten.

One year later, I am still here and I confirmed what I suspected about the Itch: once you let go and try, wonderful things start happening all over the place.  In the year I started this site, I:

  • Bought a guitar and wrote a couple of songs
  • Bought a graphics tablet and drew a pegacorn (as seen above, and yes, I’m re-posting it just to see the disgruntled look on my husband’s face)
  • Made an afghan

  • Made a bunch of hats and scarves that I donated to a homeless shelter (I kept a couple for myself so I could look all hipster chic on the three nights a year it isn’t sweltering hot in the desert)
  • Made an ass of myself promoting my site by singing a song on a phone line set up by OK Go for one of their band member’s birthdays. On the plus side, as a result of my mortification, I created Business Rule Number One for The Menacing Kitten: “If it feels dirty, it’s not worth it.”
  • Got something published on one of my favorite web sites (and I heard from a bunch of amazing people as a result)
  • Started to write about stuff I never had the courage to write about before
  • Started playing piano again
  • Wrote more songs
  • Wrote over 70 posts for this web site (and kept a set schedule!)
  • Began another novel and it might suck less than the other one
  • Finished my Woman Cave

This is where the magic happens. And by “magic,” I mean fumbling through “Maple Leaf Rag” whilst giving a Drunken History of Scott Joplin to guests.

  • Started an international cooking club (and discovered I make a killer ribollita and chicken mole)
  • Opened my site up to submissions
  • Joined Instagram with the goal of taking at least one photo a day with my iPhone of something I think is beautiful (@themenacingkitten, if you’re nasty)

  • Did all this while being promoted to senior management at my full-time job

 

So one year later, thanks to a video of four guys who aren’t afraid to do this:

I don’t think you’ll ever see Maroon 5 do the Cowboy-Horsie in a video.

I’m getting back in touch with a part of me I thought died years ago in the dusty corner of an office cubicle.  To date, I have made $0 from my site (I haven’t crossed the Amazon threshold for cutting a check yet, but I guarantee you I’ll post a picture of my first deposit), I have a modest number of people visiting my site (and I love every single one of you – even you, Person Who Found My Site by Searching “how does a virgin poussy look like” [sic and, sick]), yet because of this site, I have so many ideas swirling around in my head.  I’ve learned to let go and make things.  My hope is to one day create something so beautiful it will bring you to tears.  Maybe that’s for next year’s post.

And to the person who found my site searching for “peak elevation of the hike between monterosso and vernazza?”  I am so sorry you found a story about me taking a massive poop in a quaint Italian village.

The Reach Out Project

[Originally posted on May 5, 2013]

Death does strange things to a person.

My father passed away right before the 4th of July in 2009. We were never close, but we didn’t have a strained relationship either. Years prior, I realized what our relationship was, and I was fine with that. Yet his death changed me. It came at a time when I was growing apathetic to my faith. It also came at a time when all of the walls I put up around me over the years left me with few people in my life. I had no problem moving on and not keeping in touch; it was easy.

After he died, I went through what Chris and I jokingly called “The Existential Crisis.” It was the first time in my life I really confronted the idea that when we die, That’s It. Prior to my father’s death, the thought would briefly enter my mind in the darkest part of night and I’d quickly push it out. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit. After he died, the idea consumed every “quiet” moment of my life. I’d lie in bed at night and look outside the window, nearly panicking at the prospect of ceasing to exist. I’d think about the science of it all; how my previous view of the afterlife made no sense, but I believed it like a kid believes in Santa Claus. If there was an afterlife, what would it be like, really? Would we just be this floating soul in the breeze, unable to touch velvet, hear Schumann, or watch the sun set ever again? Unable to interact with the world we’re trapped in? It all seemed so dismal to me, and yet it consumed me for months.

I wanted to fill my mind with other things, so I began doing little 30 day experimentations to challenge myself. One of them was as simple as watching no more than five hours of TV a week (basically, watching the Daily Show and Colbert, plus an hour for Sunday news shows). Another was using no electronics (TV, laptop, phone, etc) from 7:30pm until bedtime.

As I did these experiments, my previous decisions began to look different. I began to see the walls I put up around me as a faulty time capsule. Those imaginary walls were a way for me to act like I could preserve My World, protecting myself and everyone in it. Yeah, that doesn’t work. The walls now looked like a crutch and I began to desire to step out of that time capsule and enjoy the gifts of the Present. From this desire came the most important change in my life: The Reach Out Project.

Despite my social anxiety and natural tendency towards introversion, I decided that every day for 30 days, I was going to reach out to someone in my life. Whether it was emailing or calling an old friend, sending a meaningful message on Facebook to someone I didn’t normally chat with, asking a co-worker out to lunch, or inviting people over to the house, each day I had to do one thing to reach out to someone. See, part of what made those walls was my taking a passive approach to friendship. I assumed people didn’t ask me out to lunch, or didn’t email me because they didn’t like me or just didn’t have room in their life for me. Rather than my typical wallowing in self-pity/self-loathing, believing I was completely unlikeable, I instead gave a good, hearty, “oh what the fuck?”, threw caution to the wind and started reaching out to people.

I emailed, called and invited people to things and I accepted invitations to things – even things I didn’t want to do – with my heart open. Sure, I missed a couple days here and there, and sure, initially I still felt that nervousness and discomfort that accompanies my shyness and insecurity. But I persisted, and gradually I made new close friends and reconnected. I began to see that I had an incredible group of people around me. Inspiring, funny, quirky, caring…the people I allowed into my life lifted me out of my Existential Crisis (which is now in the current and likely permanent state of Existential Conundrum). Through them I realized that a lot of adults take a passive approach to friendship – we feel uncomfortable taking that initial step or we don’t allow ourselves to take the lead in setting things up with people. But someone’s got to do it – why not me? And why not you?

Fast forward a couple of years. This past March, a few of my friends put together a “Girls’ Night Sleepover” as a sendoff to me before I left for California. Girls’ Night was one of my later Reach Out ideas: once a month, invite the ladies in my life to a restaurant for a night of drinks, food and conversation. No boyfriends or husbands allowed (with the one-time exception of my friend Steven, who is the kind of friend you can count on when you need a chaperone and let’s face it – sometimes you do). For Girls’ Night Sleepover, my friend Jennie made a killer butternut squash risotto and we all brought wine and an insane amount of booze and snacks. Before we devoured the risotto, my friends toasted me. In summary, they thanked me for organizing things that brought people together – Girls’ night, Le Nom…and said Chris and I created quite the network of friends in our time in Arizona. I looked around the table and smiled at these wonderful people I was so grateful to have in my life. We proceeded to eat, drink and laugh so hard at each other’s stories our faces hurt. That’s what I live for.

I can point to the moment my Existential Crisis lifted. It was in a dream: I looked outside my bedroom window at night, watching helicopters flying overhead, shining spotlights on the ground in search of a Dangerous Man. I looked over to my pool and my heart stopped – the Dangerous Man was lying on one of my lounge chairs. Rather than retreat, I knew I had to talk to him. I walked through the wall and approached him. As I got closer, I saw that the Dangerous Man was an old man. He looked at me as if he knew what I was going to ask.  I asked anyway.

“What happens when we die?”

“I know the answer, but I can’t tell you.”

“They’re looking for you…” I pointed to the helicopters.

“I know.”

We talked about death and the importance of living for the moment. I wasn’t afraid of the Dangerous Man. He got up and looked at the back wall of my property. “It’s time for me to go now.”  As he walked towards the wall, I remembered the most important thing I wanted to know.

“Wait! I don’t know if there is a god or not. If I live my life the way I know in my heart I should live it, and it turns out there really is a god, does it matter if I have doubt?”

The man turned around and he was a beautiful young Spanish woman with long dark hair. She laughed as if my question had an obvious answer. “He won’t care.”

She hopped the wall, and I woke up. No, I don’t think it was God speaking to me. That doesn’t matter – what matters is the common sense presented in the dream: be the person you know you should be, surround yourself with goodness, and experience love wherever you can. Nothing else matters beyond that, does it?

Image courtesy of twobee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Kid in a Candy Store

[Originally posted on Sept 3, 2012. Wow, I've come a long way since this...]

“Yeah, man, we’ve got the M-Audio stuff over here.”

Salesdude A walked us past rooms of instruments to an electronic area.  It had been years since I stepped in a music store – for years, my journey was too painful to even think about playing.  I felt like a fraud.  Still, I walked past the instruments with a sense of reverence – these instruments were relics of the gods to me.  In my recent adventures in novel-writing, I am exploring the idea that we are all scientists in search of magic.  To vainly quote from this potential novel: “In our heart of hearts, we know there is an explanation for every mystery in the universe, but we want to find that one thing that cannot be explained; we want to walk amongst the gods and experience a divine beauty that separates us from mushrooms and protozoa…We want to explore that final frontier that takes us beyond truth and illusions, where magic is real.”

To me, the arts are magical.  To be able to hold an instrument – to connect to that universe of theory and space and sound, to string together a series of notes and create a beautiful, tangible representation of who you are, where you’e been and what you hope for, is a divine experience.  That is something I didn’t realize until I couldn’t do it anymore.  So in that moment, walking by the glossy shapes displayed along the walls – the Warlocks, Flying Vs and Stratocasters, I thought of the homes they would find, the magic that could be created on them, and the people who made those models famous.  Not all created a divine experience, but that’s just the bitchy music critic in me talking.

“Hey, we’ve got some nice guitars, huh?”

My reverence was broken by Salesdude A.  I was staring at the guitars as he pulled the M-Audio device out of a glass case for us.  “Yeah…” I was dismissive.  Guitar Center salespeople can get really pushy if they smell a purchase.  I also didn’t want to show what a fraud I was – I didn’t want to even touch the guitars, let alone play them.

“You play?”

“I used to.” I smiled and looked away.

“Bass was her instrument,” my husband offered. No, don’t go there…

“Yeah? Cool.  Did you check out our basses? I could go over there and pull one off the -”

“No, no. I’m good, thanks. I don’t play anymore.”  Please don’t talk about this.  My mind recalled chucking my bass into a landfill.  I didn’t even open the case to take one last look at it, as if it could establish some psychic connection with me.  I always think of that case as a closed casket.

“She stopped playing a few years ago, but we just got Garage Band, so she’s looking to get back into playing and writing,” Chris again filled in the blanks.

“Okay, cool.”

Fraud.

As Chris talked hardware geekstuff to Salesdude A, I looked around the store a little more.  To anyone who ever grew up wanting to be a rock star, music stores fill you with nostalgic memories.  I think everyone in that category has a memory of going to the local music store over and over and staring at that one guitar or piece of equipment you know you couldn’t afford.  You’d go in the store to buy something mundane like guitar picks or strings or something, and you’d check up to see if That One Guitar was still there.  It was, and if the guys in the store knew you well, they’d offer to take it down and let you tinker with it.  I accepted the offer only once.  The bass felt amazing in my hands – it was like putting your hands on the steering wheel of a Bentley.  I played the opening notes to “No Me Esqueca,” and my hands moved with ease over the strings.  It was a work of art, that bass;  at least is was when compared to my shitty Lyon bass at home that gave everyone else carpal tunnel when they played it.  The bass was under $1000, but there was no way I could ever afford it.  I wasn’t allowed to work, and saving my $1 a day of lunch money could only go so far.  I handed it back to them after only a few moments of playing.  Someday.

That little music store, Connecticut Music, almost felt like a home away from home to me.  It was family-owned and was in a little house across from a strip mall.  I still dream about looking in their store window to see what they had on display.  The family probably didn’t know me by name, but they knew me.  I was in there at least once a week.  Every major gift my parents got for me was purchased there – my Fostex X-26 (Christmas, 1989), my shitty Lyon bass (Christmas, 1990), a Crate amp (Birthday, 1991), the DR-550 drum machine (Birthday, 1992). I bought a few things on my own – a used cheapie Fender with one of those little beginner’s amps, and inexplicably, a florescent-colored tambourine.  The family was friendly to me and very supportive of the local artists – one time, they saw me walk in with the latest issue of Metal Edge (Don’t.Judge.), they opened it up to a picture of Steelheart, and told me to buy their album because they were from Stamford and we needed to support our local bands.  I secretly hoped one day they would do that with my picture.  Whenever my parents went in the store to buy one of those gifts, they would tell my family how much they could tell I loved music.

Looking at Guitar Center, I wanted to laugh.  I was never a fan of these places.  Sure, the selection is incredible – you could fit all of Connecticut Music in just the guitar room – but…the experience.  I watched Salesdude B do his pitch to a customer.  “Yeah, man, check this one out…” he took a guitar off its display rack, plugged it in, and did his best “I’m an awesome roadie tuning The Master’s guitar in front of the crowd at New Haven Colosseum” WHEEEEEEEE-bleezo-ble-ble-ble-ble-blittoblittoblitto-SQWEEeeeeeee-WOOOOOOWWWW thing on the guitar.  He looked at the slightly bored consumer – expecting approval, awe, and of course, sweet, sweet commission.  “Wanna try?”

I rolled my eyes a little.

We got what we needed and headed back up to the front of the store.  It was like that scene in Airplane! where all the solicitors are harassing the guy while the guy he walks through the terminal.  If Chris stopped at an instrument, someone would jump on us.  “Hey, hon check out this keybo-”

Salesdude jumps out.  “You like this keyboard? It’s really great! Check it out!” Plunk-plunk-plunk

No thank you and keep walking.

But Chris isn’t used to music stores, and there were a bunch of shiny new things for him to look at.  “That’s a big drum set…”

Salesdude.  “Yeah, great drum set! You play? You should!” Bow-rat-tatt-pow, splusshhh!

Chris, don’t feed the geese.  Keep walking.  Faster.

We bought our gear and I practically ran to the car.  I made a quiet promise to myself to avoid Guitar Center at all cost in the future.

In time, I let go a little and allowed myself to enter other music stores, attempting to leave the feeling of Fraud behind.  A couple of years later, I entered a family-owned music store to rent a cello.  I was admittedly a little terrified, but I got through it and rented my cello.  This past year, I went into a Music & Arts store to buy an acoustic guitar – I liked the environment.  The salespeople were really nice and helpful.  I told Chris that the place reminded me a little of Connecticut Music, even though I knew the store was a chain.  We returned a few months later to check out keyboards.  They knew we were just looking and wouldn’t buy on that day, and they still took time to talk to us.  No pressure.

Towards the end, we had a nice chat with the store manager.  “We can get things in, but we keep a limited stock here.  If you’re looking for a bigger selection, our parent store, Guitar Center, has a lot of options for you…”

I grimaced and heard Chris stifle a snicker.  We finished up looking at keyboards, thanked them for their time and walked out the door.  Chris smiled at me.  “You just died a little inside, didn’t you?”

“Yup.”

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Choose Your Own Adventure: The F’ed up Predestination Edition

[Originally posted on April 2, 2012]

Even though I didn’t go to church until I was in high school, I was always very spiritual and religious.  I wanted to know the right path to follow and do the right thing.  I read my bible, I read about other religions; I tried to make sense of all of it.  I figured the answer wasn’t found in any one religion, but in a commonality amongst all of them.  I searched for the commonality, and tried to live my life in the best way possible.

Around junior high, I experienced some difficulties in life – beyond social anxiety or your typical bullying.  A little voice in my head tried to reason with me – this is your lot in life, for now.  God will reward you later.  You are meant to suffer.  I developed a sort of nonsensical theory that life was a combination of both free will and fate.  Maybe reading about all of those different churches caused my brain to short out a bit, but I believed this.  I saw life as a tree with many branches, and with each choice you make, you’re following one of a few predestined paths laid out for you.

When I was in elementary school, I had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book featuring Supergirl.  It contained four stories, each with a few different endings, depending on what decisions you made for Supergirl.  My favorite story involved her being trapped in some Wizard of Oz concoction Lex Luthor designed.  Until I had the book memorized, I kept on making choices that led Supergirl to die in the poppy fields.  Thanks to my own screwed up religious constructs, I turned my life into a freaking “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.  When you’re a kid, you know on some level you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you can fix your mistakes fairly easily.  When you start to become an adult?  Well, it’s off to the poppies for you:

Battle social anxiety with therapy (go to page 83) or without therapy (go to page 94)?

Page 94 (of course): That’s right.  Therapy creates an excuse.  Pills mean Supergirl can’t deal with life and she’s weak.  God wants Supergirl to endure!  She needs to jump right in to social situations and use brute force to make herself less anxious.  Oh, here’s a social situation!  Two perfectly nice people are trying to talk to her.

“Hey, are you really the quietest person in the world?”

“Umm…” her throat tightens, her mind goes blank.  “…No?” (go to page 53)

Page 53: Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Does Supergirl leave (page 30) or stay (page 32) in a semi-abusive relationship? 

Page 32:  The guy really wants to love Supergirl, she’s just being horrible.  If she wasn’t so needy and awful (and slightly overweight), he would treat her better.  And he wouldn’t leave her, either.  Because that just happened.  Supergirl? You are one unloveable, fat fuck. (go to page 53, and a gym)

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

The head of Music Composition is a closed-minded dick.  Does Supergirl switch to General Music (page 112), or Jazz Studies? (go to page 24)

Page 24: Supergirl stumbles through her improv class, mentally and physically freezing up in the middle of “Watermelon Man,” her final.  She hears someone stifle a laugh in the classroom, because her improve sounds like a toddler on a toy piano.  Plus? A professor she looked up to just told her she got the worst grade in the class on her Music Engineering quiz, and looked way too pleased to inform her of that little nugget. (Go to Page 53. [Fuck! Not again! Ugh, fine…])

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Thanks to severe depression and untreated extreme anxiety, Supergirl can’t even sing in the shower without crying, because she hates the sound of her own voice and none of her melodies are good enough anymore.  Does she pursue a career in music and flog herself with self-hatred for all eternity (turn to page 53) or does she get a regular job with clear, objective accomplishments to assimilate into Normalville (turn to page 99)?

[Okay, not page 53 again. So…]Page 99:  Ha, ha! Fooled you! In Supergirl’s mind, God gave her a gift and she just pissed it away, so she’s only going to see opportunities as punishments for not following her dreams.  She only looks for low-paying work because deep down she knows she doesn’t deserve any better.  See, Supergirl always knew she was “less than” everyone else, so she had to be Supergirl and be perfect to deserve what anyone else had.  Did you really think by not turning to page 53 there would be a better ending?  There is no good ending in this book – either Supergirl dies in a poppy field, or the story simply ends, with her existence suspended on a single moment in time.  So, screw you.  THE END.

What happens after the words “The End?”  Do characters just hang in limbo, frozen in the final act?  Never dying, just existing in that single moment, knowing their only other alternative was death?  See, that’s the problem with any form of predestination.  We live from page to page, not realizing there is an existence that is beyond that stupid book with the limited endings.

A couple of years ago, it seemed no matter what path I chose, I wound up perilously close to falling in the poppies.  My dad died.  My best friend for over 30 years almost died.  My other best friend “dumped” me because she perceived my anger and misery as something against her personally.  Was my life awful because my Adventure had nothing but predetermined crappy endings?  No, my life was awful because a) I didn’t like myself and closed myself off from accepting good things or good people and b) Shit happens sometimes.

I realized that life isn’t “follow this path and you will die!” or “follow this path and you will win!”  It’s a little more like this:  hate yourself, and you can’t be happy.  Love yourself, forgive yourself, invite good people into your life (like, invite that funny chick at work to lunch, or email someone you haven’t talked to in a long time), and no matter the shitstorm, you’ll at least have good company to share it with.  As an added bonus, there’s a lot of mutual healing in said company.  And beer.

Somehow, opportunities open up, too.  When you realize you’re not destined to fail or destined to do That Thing You Were Born to Do, you start seeing all the other things you can do, and some of them are kind of fun.  Like, I don’t know, writing a blog and knowing there’s this one person in Malta that reads it on a semi-regular basis.  Or playing piano again and realizing it’s a lot more fun when you stop attaching any level of importance to every note you pound out.  You simply play because it’s beautiful and it warms your heart in a way you forgot.

So if you’re reading this and relate to any of my Supergirl Fails?  Close the book and look up.  It’s time to really choose your own adventure and be open to see the people who are ready to share it with you.

Learning How to Sleep With Someone

[Originally posted on Mar 11, 2012]

There is something we all must learn as we gingerly step into adulthood, and that is how to sleep with someone.  I’m not talking about anything sexual, I am simply talking about learning how to share a bed with another human being.  It’s a tricky thing, this sleeping together, because it begins when you are feeling happy and cuddly and the world is your snuggly little oyster.  Over time, your Snugglebunny morphs into a snoring, cover-hogging, throat-clicking, night-terrorized, farting in the spoon position, squirmy, sweaty beast who robs you of your precious minutes of sleep every night.  For the record? You are that beast, too.

Let’s take this back to the beginning:


The College Dorm Room Snugglebunny
College is that cool time where you experiment with grown up things, and one of those things is sleeping with someone.  It’s really exciting when you have your first partner-sleepover; spooning in that little twin bed is cozy, and just knowing you can do whatever you want without your parents finding out makes it even better.

My husband first told me he loved me in one of those snugglebunny moments.  We were cuddled up on my dorm room bed watching television, and I was mostly asleep.  He told me, “I think I’m falling in love with you.” I responded, “snurgggltoo” and drooled on his wrist.  Our romance was a page out of The Notebook.  He later revealed he wanted to tell me at that moment because if I freaked out, he’d just say I dreamt it.


The “Our First Apartment” Crackhouse Mattress
When I was 21, Chris and I made the decision to move in together.  I called my mom to tell her, thinking this would be old hat since one of my sisters lived with a boyfriend when she was around my age.  I don’t remember my sales pitch to her on the idea, but I remember the response:

Awkward, scary pause.  “Use a condom.”

Mom!!!

Once the family awkwardness passed, Chris and I commenced Living in Sin stage.  Oh, we had grand plans for our apartment – our vision:  We could have dinner parties with little hors-d’oeuvres trays! We could cook! Like, rice and chicken, not ramen and Maria’s burritos! We’d have art on the walls!

Our Reality: We were slobs and our apartment looked like a tweaked-out meth lab.

Like many young couples, we relied on the kindness of family members to furnish our home.  Your “First Apartment” mattress is usually a mattress your family wants to unload, and is often a lumpy, stained heirloom.  “Oh that?  Your Uncle Rob was quite the nose-bleeder as a teen…”  “That? Remember that mean cat Gramma Edith had?  That cat would pee on everything.”  It’s the kind of mattress CSI people define as “contaminated” when they try to lift DNA off it.  At this point in your adulthood, none of that matters – you get to share a full-sized bed with your snugglebunny.  You both can lie on your backs at the same time now – yeah!

We were somewhat lucky – we were offered Chris’ full-sized waterbed from high school.  Waterbeds are the type of bed you always wanted as a kid before you realize how horrible they are for two people.  Prelude to sexytime in a waterbed essentially goes like this:

SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH “Let me just try and…”

“Ow! My hair!” SWOOSHSWOOSH

“Sorry… I just… let me…” SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH

“My foot keeps slipping…” SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH

“Damn it! The sides are caving, I…” SWOOOOSH

“If I try to…” SWOOSHSWOOSH

“My back! Oh, that’s not good…” SWOOSHSWOOSH

“Hold on I think…” SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH

“ARRAGHHHHH!!!! GET OFF ME!!!!”

Then he angrily rolls over to his side of the bed, and you are catapulted across the room.


The Young Urban Professionals’ Queen-Sized Mattress
When we got to a point where we could do better than a waterbed in a meth lab, we purchased a Queen-sized mattress.  We couldn’t agree on a headboard for years, so the bed and box mattress lay in a simple frame – after lying on the floor for two years.

By this point in time, our sleeping relationship deteriorated greatly.  I for one, snore so loud I wake myself up.   My loving little Stranglebunny would asphyxiate me on a nightly basis in the hopes of shutting me up.  I would wake abruptly, wonder what caused me to jerk awake, yet see nothing but a sleeping hump next to me.

I’d lie awake listening to him.  Chris does not snore.  He makes weird noises, the most common of which can only be described as “SSNNNARRRGLE…poooh.” After studying this sound closely many times in the darkest part of the night, I believe it is achieved by Chris inhaling his own nose then gently spitting it out.  I allow a few SNNARRGLEpoohs before I nudge him.  It doesn’t work.

Gentle nudge.

“sssnnnarrgle…pooh.”

Nudge nudge.

“ssnnnnarrgle…pooh.”

Grab his torso, shake violently.

“SSSSNNNAARRRGLE…pooh.”

Put hands on his side, shove as hard as possible.

Silence.

Quickly flip over and pretend I’m sleeping.

I get a groggy “huhhh?” but say nothing in return.

I fall asleep.

Chris falls back asleep.

Peace….

…tranquility

…rest

Five minutes later…

“AAAHHHH!!! AHHHH!!!! GET IT OFF ME! GET IT OFF ME!”

…I get night terrors.  I rarely have them at this point, but years ago, they were a weekly if not nightly occurrence.    I’d wake up screaming and flailing because I was convinced there was something evil at the foot of the bed or on my pillow.  After scaring the shit out of Chris the first ten or so times, he became accustomed to them.  He’d hold me down to keep me from flailing.  “What did you see this time?”

This is a smart question, because making me talk forces me to think, which causes me to wake up and calm down.  Sometimes I’d answer, “a bunch of spiders,” “a creepy man,” or “a lobster.”  One time I answered, “a kitten.”

“…a…kitten.”

“Yes.”

“A kitten.”  The disbelief in his voice was palpable. “Not a lion or a panther, but…a kitten.”

“Yes.”

“Why were you screaming in terror over…a kitten?”

I sighed.  “…it was menacing.”

I flipped over and fell back asleep.

After my night terrorizing, I’d wake up a few hours later, shivering.  I’d look over to find Chris as a human flauta, blankets and comforter completely rolled around his body several times.  I’d try and pull the blankets from him, but had little success.  Ultimately, I’d manage to tug a tiny little corner out from under him, and curl up in a little ball to get as much of myself under the corner as I could.

Our cuddly little spoon days on the twin bed were long gone.  In fact, any time we had to share a full-sized bed, it was torture.  “Bahh! Your feet are freezing!”

“Your arm is digging into my back!”

If this marriage were to last in one bed, changes needed to be made.

The “Save the Marriage” King Size Tempurpedic
As the rest of our house looked like a dwelling for responsible adults, our bedroom upgraded from meth lab to halfway house.  We had a nice headboard and our bedroom furniture was a lovely old art deco set that didn’t match the bed at all.  We decided to have two separate blankets.  My night terrors receded.

Despite these improvements, our bedroom was missing something.  It wasn’t romantic or luxurious.  This was the room where we shared our most intimate space – it needed to be beautiful and reflect our love and respect for one another!

We upgraded our furniture to a Japanese-inspired bed set, and determined we deserved a good mattress. Realizing how much we annoy each other with our constant tossing and turning, we settled on a king-sized Tempurpedic mattress.  This glorious invention allowed us to move around without the other one feeling it.  The pillows we bought at the same time reduced some of our snoring (he bought a Tempurpedic, I bought one made of latex – no lie, it kicks ass).

Each night we’d lie on our respective sides of the bed, with our own blankets, calling out good night to the other, who seemed so very far away.

At last, we had our perfect bed.

Our perfect, squirm-resistant bed.

Our lonely mile-wide bed.

The snoring, squirming and snargling wasn’t so bad, really.  It was even kind of endearing.  We’ve got two blankets, so we can both be warm…and who would talk me out of my torture by menacing kittens?

Learning how to share a bed is an analogy for learning how to be married – it is not perfect all the time, sometimes your loved one can be frustrating, stubborn and do gross things, but your palette would be filled with nothing but grays without them in your life.

I rolled over to his side of the bed and nestled under his arm.  It felt comforting and reassuring.  I smiled.  “I love you.”

“SNNARGLEpooh.”

Indeed.

Makin’ it Rain Plastic

[Originally posted on Aug 5, 2012]

“Do you want to save 15% today and sign up for our JC Penney card?”

Little did I know at the time, my answer to this question would adversely change the year that lay ahead of me.

“Sure.”

I filled out the little application and low and behold, I was now on the credit grid.  Leading up to college, my mother would often warn me about the perils of credit cards and charge cards.  I heeded her advice, until I realized everyone around campus was having a lot of fun thanks to their credit line.  Cute clothing, good food – they were living the good life! I wanted a piece of that pie.  Minimum payments were reasonably low – I could figure out a way to make a monthly payment, right?

I loved that shiny little JC Penney card; following classes, I would head up to Our Lady Queen of Shopping, buy adorable outfits, and show them off to fellow Believer Emily.  It was a ritual we relished.

Alas, my JC Penney card felt lonely in my wallet – I mean, it’s not like there was any cash in there to keep it company.  So, I did what any logical person would do – I signed up for another credit card.  Besides, it’s not like you can buy food at JC Penney.  A girl’s gotta eat!  The good times kept coming, so I kept the credit flowin’.

It occurred to me as I watched my savings disappear that this was not a wise path to be on.  After a particularly intense bender where I bought a 24-piece knife set – for my dorm room – I realized I needed help.  I took the bus to Emily’s apartment, clutching the knife set in my arms as I knocked on her door.  She opened her door, took a look at the shopping bags at my feet and shook her head.  She understood these things.  I walked inside. She may have wrapped a blanket around me.

“I need to do it, Emily.  I need to cut the card.”

We walked over to her kitchen and I took out the shears that were included in my knife set.  It was like a Greek Tragedy – I was killing my card with the very thing it gave me.  Emily stared at me as I held the scissors over the card.  “Hold on,” Emily made us pause.  “I feel like this is a moment for you…Okay.”

I cut a diagonal line through the plastic, and we both gasped.  A relic to our place of worship and I just destroyed it.  It needed to be done.

Unfortunately, credit cards have a way of haunting you long past their destruction.  My minimum payments depleted my savings and I began to miss payments on the JC Penney card.  I continued to pay my regular credit card bill, knowing that I couldn’t afford to lose that line of credit.  All semester long, I tried to find a job, but thanks to a spread out class schedule and a lack of reliable transportation, no one wanted to hire me.  I turned to the lowest job a college student could have and arguably the worst one for someone with social anxiety: telemarketing.  Oh, and not just any telemarketing – alumni fundraising for the college.

I sat on the phone reading a script to Fine Arts graduates, espousing the importance of donating $1000 to the College of Broke People Fine Arts.  Everyone I called was poor and bitter, yet I had to go down the script and ask them for $500, then $250, then $250 with a mention of a matching gift by their employer, then $125, then $125 and what about our payment plan? Then $100.  $100, to improve the value of your degree? You don’t need to laugh in my ear, sir. And I don’t appreciate being called a – hello?  When we initially called, we had to lie and say the university wanted to receive feedback from alumni on how it could improve, then we’d go in for the kill and ask for the donations.  It sucked so hard.  I became so nervous making calls, my voice cracked and my hands shook.  At one point, I spent 20 minutes talking to a nice man in Seattle and never asked for a dime because he sounded so happy just to talk to someone without being asked to give something.

While working at the telemarketing gig, my finances got worse.  JC Penney sent me to a collection agency, and my credit card company got wind of it.  I called in just to find out my PIN, and they cancelled my card on the spot.  I literally started sobbing and my sort-of boyfriend at the time tried talking to them on my behalf to get them to reconsider.  Obviously, they did not, and just like that I had no money.  All but $20 a month of my money from the telemarketing place went to paying down my cards and getting the collection agency off my back.  Since UofA didn’t do meal plans, that $20 was used for my food budget for the month.  Tired of Top Ramen, I stocked up on bulk spaghetti and a jar of Ragu.  I literally ate about 200 calories a day to ensure I had something every day until the next paycheck came in.  I actually felt like this system worked for me.

The telemarketing place had a snafu in their check-cutting one week, and told us on payday we had to wait an extra two days for our checks.  I literally ran out of food the night before and I panicked.  I was somewhat on the outs with that sort-of boyfriend and didn’t feel comfortable asking him to buy me a sandwich.  The idea of semi-prostituting myself for food felt kind of wrong.  Everyone else I knew had money problems, and I couldn’t dream of asking for their help.

I woke up the next morning starving.  I did the unthinkable – I went down to the community refrigerator, and decided I was going to steal someone else’s food.  Just as I began to reach for a freezer-burned Van de Kamp, someone walked into the kitchen, and I tried to play off my crime by doing the worst acting job ever.  “Oh, someone…um…stole my food.  Damn it!”

Suspicious glare.

“See ya!”  I ran off, never to return to the dorm kitchen ever again.

I walked down Fraternity Row to head to the Music building, wondering how I was going find food.  Before me, a familiar sight took on new meaning to me – the Holsum Bread Truck was delivering bread to one of the frat houses.  I saw it every day, with its plentiful loaves of bread, unguarded and a few mere steps away from my thieving paws.  My eyes rested on one particular loaf of bread.  I’d have to hop on the truck to reach it, but it wasn’t too far in… oh bread, I could make several meals of you…

I looked around.  There were a few people walking further down the street.  Would they notice? Would they do anything?  How long is the bread guy away from this vehicle? Why did I never make note of that before, damn it? What would my classmates think if I carried around a loaf of bread all day?  Because I am apt to spend more time ruminating than actually doing, I pictured getting caught by the bread guy.  I imagined the campus police cuffing me as I protested, “I was only trying to steal a loaf of bread! I’m trying to pay off my JC Penney card! My company didn’t pay me when they were supposed to…Noooooo!” Then I’d get reported in the campus Police Blotter, and I’d be forever known as Jean Valjean Girl or some bullshit.  As if my social anxiety didn’t make me weird enough to people, Bread Thief just seemed that much weirder.

I looked again at that bread.  My stomach growled.  The loaves looked so fluffy and soft; I wanted to dive into the lot of them and roll around, loaves squishing underneath me as I double fisted hot dog buns. Ahh, the life. But? Jean Valjean Girl.  I just couldn’t do it.  I continued on to class, watching people snack on candy bars and eegee’s, taking every bite for granted.  This must be how my labrador retriever felt when we made him “stay” until he drooled.  Sorry, Dunder; that was a shitty thing to do.

I returned to my dorm room, knowing I had one final option to hold me over. I opened my little fridge and looked at the only item holding residence: a half-empty bottle of blue cheese dressing.  Well, there are chunks in it; that’s kind of like food…

I held the bottle up to my lips, toasting to no one: I am never fucking owning a credit card ever again…

It would have gone great with bread.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Five Lands, One Dumbo Drop

[Originally posted May 27, 2012. Sorry, it still makes me laugh at how gross and ridiculous it is.]

This is a travelogue concerning poop.  Consider yourself warned.

Back in 2006, I was on an uber-fitness kick.  I not only ran 30 miles a week, I was on a strict diet – every gram of fat, protein and fiber was calculated and accounted for.  A result of this – and forgive me for the TMI – is you could synchronize a shuttle launch to my bowel movements. Enter my first trip overseas.

Chris and I went to Italy for the first time, and knew we would have to postpone the diet while we were out there.  When in the land of pasta, pizza and gelato, it seemed we’d be missing out on a key experience if we didn’t enjoy the food.  Enjoy it, we did – every hotel where we stayed included a free continental breakfast.  We expected this to be a couple of muffins, coffee and juice.  Oh, no; every hotel had a feast awaiting its guests in the morning: fresh pulled mozzarella, thin slices of prosciutto and pancetta, eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh tomatoes and basil, many kinds of bread, jams, butter, Nutella, juice and of course, cappuccino.  Lunches were made of delicious paninis, small pasta dishes and pizza, with an occasional snack of gelato.  Dinners? We generally went for places that had a prix-fixe menu, so we could try as many different types of food as possible.  One of our favorite spots in Florence was a coffee and pastry shop along the Arno – we’d get a little pastry treat, I’d get cappuccino served in a china cup, and Chris enjoyed drinking chocolate. One thing missing in all of this? Fiber.

This food was all delicious and delightful, but after a few days in Italy I felt a disturbance in the force; this radical change in diet left my digestive system in disarray.  After months of knowing exactly when I’d be in a bathroom each day, my lack of bathroom time began to scare me.  Oh, I didn’t think I’d need hospitalization or anything; I was fearful of what exactly would come out of me and when it would happen.  See, bad things always happen when you’re far from a bathroom.  This is the Poop Provision of Murphy’s Law.  Every day on our trip was well-planned and I wasn’t about to make an adjustment to our tight schedule to ensure I was within 50 feet of a public restroom.  I simply crossed my fingers and hoped.

While we were in Florence, there was one day trip I designated as a must-do – hiking the famed Cinque Terre.  Cinque Terre, literally translated, means five lands.  The region consists of five oceanside towns along the Italian Riviera – the outer two towns, Monterosso el Mare and Riomaggiore  are reasonably accessible, however the inner three towns, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola, can only be accessed by train, foot, or by boat*.  Because of the remote nature of these five towns,  they are old, beautiful, and almost undisturbed (I say “almost” because this is a hot spot for tourism).  While you can take a train ride from town to town, you have the option of hiking the entire thing, which is 11 km long, and a total elevation change of 3200 feet.  Needless to say, you need to have an intimate relationship with an incline treadmill or a Stairmaster to be able to do this hike.

We took the train to La Spezia, and grabbed the connecting train to drop us off at Monterosso el Mare.  I read that the stretch between Monterosso and Vernazza was the longest and most intense, so we decided it would be best to start on that end and get the hardest part out of the way first.  We bought our passes to hike, ate lunch, grabbed a couple of water bottles and went on our way.

Before long, we were climbing, climbing, climbing up stone stairs on the trail, ascending the mountainside and leaving Monterosso behind.  When we looked ahead at vista points, we saw vineyards meticulously carved into the mountainside.  When we looked to our right, we had the constant companionship of the Mediterranean alongside us, its waves crashing peacefully far below.

And then it started.

I felt something in my lower abdomen that told me this long leg was going to be even longer.  Oh no.  Curse you, delicious, fiberless pasta!  Because Chris and I have been together forever and were long past that point of reserve in our relationship, I looked at him and said simply, “it’s time.”

His eyes widened with concern, and he shook his head.  The Poop Provision of Murphy’s Law – we were too far along and too high up to turn around, and still had a ways to go before Vernazza.  “Can you make it?”

I looked around.  Definitely no bathrooms nearby, and I’m a strict believer in the “pack it in, pack it out” rule of hiking.  I had nothing on me to pack it out other than the plastic bag we needed to carry our waters, so clearly that wasn’t an option.  I sighed.  “I hope so.”

Chris took in a deep breath of air and looked out to the ocean with a sarcastic smile on his face, as if he were cursing the piece of the universe that controls Murphy’s Law. “Yup; this isn’t going to end well.”

Thanks.

We continued on, and I became briefly distracted from my discomfort.  A flute? I heard a beautiful melody carrying over the breeze to us.  As we hiked, the melody got louder and louder until we turned a corner and came to its source.

An old man with a long, salt-and-pepper beard sat atop a boulder on the edge of the trail, playing a carved wooden flute.  He seemed in his own world, if not for the table of unlabeled bottled wines beside him. The golden nectar of the wine shimmered against the sunlight as we approached him.  The romantic and the realist argued in my mind:

The Romantic: What a story it would be if I bought a bottle of wine from this man!
The Realist: It’s insanely expensive and a tourist trap.
The Romantic: But how often do you get to purchase wine in the middle of a hike – on the side of a mountain?
The Realist: Never, because it’s probably illegal.
The Romantic:  It may be, but it has a story! I need to put aside your reservations and purchase this mysterious bottle of wine!
The Realist: …And carry it how, exactly? You only have a plastic bag.  You’re going to carry a bottle of wine along with your bottles of water in a plastic bag for 9 km?  Seriously?
The Romantic: Come on.  Have a little sense of adventure! There’s no label on the bottle – how mysterious! How unique and pure!
The Realist: How do you even know it’s wine, let alone a good wine? He could have peed in the bottle for all you know.
The Romantic: It does look a little like pee…I…oh…{{shakes fist}} It’s you, Asshole Brain! I should have known! You ruin everything.
Asshole Brain: Ha, ha! Oh, and… snotty mustache!
The Romantic:  I hate you.
Asshole Brain: I love me.  And you need to take a shit right now.  Badly. Hahhahahahhahaa {{skips off to a hidden part of my imagination to contemplate destroying other pieces of whimsy and joy}}

“Well? Are you going to buy it?”

I looked at Chris, whose slightly exasperated at yet another example of my inability to make a simple decision.  My stomache ached.  I sighed.  “No.  Let’s keep going.”

Damn you, Asshole Brain.

We finally saw a view of our next town – the town with a public restroom! Vernazza.  It was a stunning little town filled with wonder, old things and fat, stray cats, but ohmigodIneedtofindabathroom.  I was smart enough to read about where the bathrooms were located ahead of time, and we rushed towards the train tracks.  There was a sign for the bathroom.  Yes! There was one stall door, a white, wooden door with a single latch.  Wow, no privacy.  IdontcareIneedtogo.  I opened the door and Chris and I looked inside.  My heart fell a little.  Chris nodded his head.  Murphy’s Law.  “It’s a squatter.”

The little bathroom stall contained a white fiberglass square on the ground, like the base to a shower.  There was a chain pull for the flushing mechanism.  No sink, no toilet paper.  Was this even meant for people to take a poop?  “Do you want to find something else?”

I shook my head, slightly dejected.  “This is it.  This is all they’ve got.” I looked at him like we may never see each other again.  “I’m going in.”

He nodded sympathetically.  “I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

I closed the door behind me and latched it shut.  Logistics.  How am I going to do this?  I thanked my co-workers who told me I had to have a Charmin-To-Go roll on me at all times along with a bottle of Purel.  I opened my Charmin-To-Go and laid out squares where my hands needed to be.  Due to the size of the base, I realized I’d have to remove my pants off of one leg to properly straddle the base.  As I was preparing, I heard a few people begin to approach outside.

“Is this the bathroom?” A British female voice asked.

As I carefully hopped on one foot trying to remove a pant leg over my hiking boot, I heard the newly self-appointed Cinque Terre Tourism Bureau chief and Stall Guard – my husband, respond.  “Yup…my wife is in there.  It’s a squatter.”

Dude.

They carried on a conversation as I carefully placed my palms on my Charmin squares.  They were sliding and crumpling under my hands, and my feet began to slip.  Shit! I tried squirming to steady myself.  More people came up to the stall, different languages chatting and asking questions.  I heard someone shake the door.  Oh please, Jesus, let that latch hold.  I don’t want to experience the international embarrassment of people seeing me reinact the pose from the Exorcist where Linda Blair became a reversed spider and crawled the stairs.  Behind my fear and panic, I heard one reassuring voice inform people over and over.

“It’s a squatter.”

Really, Chris?!? If only one could facepalm in the spider position…

The pressure of hearing all these people gather outside the stall made me nervous and further complicated my expulsion process.  Focus. Focus.  Come on!

My thoughts were broken by an angry German man who stormed up to the door and started knocking furiously on it.  “BEEIL DICH! Ich muss scheissen!”

Chris calmly told the man that I was in there, and I’d be out as soon as possible.  I’m pretty sure he ended the conversation by informing the man that it’s a squatter.

GAHHHHH!!! Stop telling everyone I’m taking a shit!

Finally, relief came to me, and I swear to God it was like the heavens parted and I experienced perfection, mercy and all that was beautiful in the universe for one brief moment.

Now for the dismount.

I slid my hands towards my feet to get up.  I slipped for a brief moment, almost sending my back into the base. Luckily, I caught myself in time, grateful for the little things.  I took care of business, put my pants back on and grabbed the chain.  Please, please flush.  I pulled it, and heard a satisfactory disposal mechanism.  It didn’t sound like a traditional toilet flush, but it got the job done.  I Pureled like there was no tomorrow and unlatched the door.  The entire freaking G8 summit was waiting outside, legs crossed, doubled over and angry.  I didn’t make eye contact with anyone, and simply found Chris in the crowd.  The look on his face was about 20% sympathy and 80% amusement.  “Feel better?”

I furrowed my brow.  “Let’s go.”

He bid adieu to his new friends, giving up his post to the next husband willing to accept the job of Stall Guard.  As we walked away, I could have sworn I heard a pleasant male British voice inform a newcomer, “It’s a squattah…”

We leave our mark everywhere, he and I…

 

Thanks to Sandra for the translation skills!

*This is what I read at the time, however when reading for this story, I discovered that there was a small road that went into Vernazza at the time we hiked it.  There were pretty nasty mudslides in the region in 2011, which closed off this road.

I Gave a Great Happy Ending

[Originally posted on Mar 28, 2012. This is the last entry of my most popular/favorite posts. Everything after this point is in actual posting chronology.]

[Note: * indicates a name change]

“…And we welcome you to the Friendly’s family!”

Upbeat Piano Music faded as the Friendly’s logo proudly remained, its image flickering oh-so-slightly due to VHS over-usage.  Do I just sit here and wait?  The screen went to snow.  I looked around at the break area where I was placed.  My first job.  Well, my first real job after being the world’s worst papergirl…up until this point, I was forbidden from working.  Due to a change of events and a change of heart by my parents, I was allowed to get a job and I desperately needed to save up money for college fast.  Friendly’s was the only place in walking distance from my house that would take a chance on an inexperienced teenager, and I gladly accepted the job.  Eventually, this is going to be a familiar place.  I pictured myself sitting in the back room during breaks, drinking a cup of coffee and chatting with a co-worker.  I pictured reading the memos and notes on the bulletin board, nodding knowingly at their message.  I was going to be The Best.  I was going to be the Tom Cruise Top Gun/Days of Thunder of waitressing.

As I looked at the bulletin board, one memo stood out.  It talked about a per store statistic on the amount of food and supplies brought in versus the money the store brought in.  Apparently our store was listed as the worst of all Friendly’s stores.  Using indirect corporate-speak, the memo basically accused our store of stealing a bunch of shit.  I looked around suspiciously.  Thieves!  Not on my watch, Mr. Friendly President.

“Ah, the video is all done!”

I turned around.  My boss, John Thirkus* had a warm smile that balanced that fine line between James Stewart and To Catch a Predator.  He was a man no younger than 50, balding, and he lived alone with his mother.  I liked him.

He handed me a menu.  “I’d like you to shadow Pete tonight.  He’s really great with the customers and he’s been with us for a long time.”

“Great!”  I was a little nervous.  As I shadowed Pete and learned the ropes of Friendly’s waitressing, I was surprised at how much the waitress had to make for her customers: salads, Belgian fucking waffles (Wafflefest was a long month, dude), drinks (including milkshakes and Fribbles), and every single ice cream concoction on the menu.  Making thier sundaes as designed was usually not so bad, but there are people on this earth who love to over-customize.  For example, the Friendly’s Reeses Pieces Sunday consisted of 5 scoops of vanilla ice cream, ladles of chocolate, marshmallow, and uber-addictive peanut butter sauces, whipped cream, and a handful of Reeses for garnish.  And yes, I believe I still know how to make all of the sundaes after all these years.  Despite the perfect harmony achieved by the flavors carefully selected for this sundae, customers would often order like this: “can I get a Reeses Pieces Sundae with chocolate, cookie dough…um…peanut butter fudge…butter pecan…and…let’s see;  I haven’t had black raspberry in a while, let’s go for that!  Oh! And for the sauces, can I do peanut butter, pineapple and caramel?”

“Sure!”

“And don’t cheap me out on Reeses Pieces like that waitress over there.”

“You got it.”

One of the first things I learned from Friendly’s was you must learn how to answer to multiple bosses and cater to their idiosyncrasies.  For example, take cash handling.  Thirkus instructed me to merely ring up, take the money, and give the customer their change.  Frau Margaret*, the assistant manager, took issue with that.  Frau Margaret was a German immigrant who had been in her 60s for the past 23 years.  She was demanding and spoke in a thick German accent, so naturally, many of our culturally-sensitive customers and line staff referred to her as a nazi.  Frau Margaret was a good person, she just was a royal pain in the keister.  When she saw me handling a customer’s money at the register, she walked up and took the money from my hands.  “No, no, no.  Ven a customer geeves you ten, you leave it out on top of the cash box like thees, and geeve his change.  If you don’t do thees, they vill lie and say they gave you a tventy.  So you can say, ‘no, no! You gave me a ten!  I have eet right here!  Don’t try to pull a vast one, sir!’”

“Oh, okay!”  I smiled as I gave the change to the fellow who was just told he was likely a con artist.

He grabbed the money from me and huffed.  “Nazi…”

Of course, five minutes later, our other assistant manager, Josef*, watched my cash handling and shook his head.  “What are you doing?”

I explained Frau Margaret’s con-busting technique.  He sighed.  “Don’t do that; it’s stupid and insulting.  Besides, the money could blow away.” ?? We weren’t near a window.

About twenty minutes later, Frau Margaret saw me employing Josef’s technique.  She took the cash out of my hands again.  “What deed I tell you?  Put the ten here.”

For sanity’s sake, future transactions were handled whatever way the nearest manager wanted.  Of course, in less than a week, I discovered I had one less manager telling me what to do.

I came in to work on a Sunday to find the entire restaurant in shambles.  Our ice cream window guy, a young man every Friendly’s patron in 90s-era Stamford accurately nicknamed “Urkel,” pulled me aside to explain.  “Did you hear what happened to Mr. Thirkus?”

“His mom died, right?”

“No!  Well, yeah, that happened too, but you won’t believe this!  Apparently, the Friendly’s truck driver made his delivery early this morning, Mr. Thirkus signed off on it, and he – and all of our food – are nowhere to be found!”

I raised an eyebrow.  Well, everyone grieves in their own way, I guess… “He stole an entire truck of food?  How did that even fit in his car?”

Urkel raised his gangly arms above his head, as if a puppeteer tightened the strings.  “I don’t know!  But we are almost out of everything.  No cookie dough!”

Oh, shit. No cookie dough ice cream?  That’s like the scene in Airplane! where they say there’s no coffee.  What a long damn day that was.  We each fought each other to get the last scraps of everything for our tables and received extra-crappy tips.  That night, I imagined Thirkus speeding down I-95 in his Caprice Classic, digging into a giant tub of half-melted cookie dough buckled into the passenger seat, blasting Cat Stevens while honking and screaming at passing semis, hamburger patties and hot dogs flying out of his windows at 68 miles per hour.  Really, my day wasn’t all that bad…

Friendly’s corporate briefly sent in an emergency manager named Tina to help us.  Tina was awesome and didn’t put up with anyone’s shit.  It figures she was temporary.  Our next manager was a beady-eyed go-getter squirrel named Phil Goldblum*.  For Phil’s first week, he preferred to assist the line cook.  He pulled a ticket off the carousel and groaned.  “WHO is employee 742?”

My muscles tensed.  “That’s me.”

He looked at my ticket.  “Can you tell me what ‘K-HD’ is?”

A quick lesson in Friendly’s shorthand – each menu item had a designated shorthand we were expected to memorize, and if you have ever been in a Friendly’s, you’ll know that means we had about 845 menu items to learn.  The “K” indicates a kid’s menu option.  Thankfully, we only had four – Mac N Cheese (K-MAC), Hamburger (K-HAM), Grilled Cheese (K-CHEESE), and…

“Hot.Dog.”  I made sure to emphasize each word so he got it.

He tossed the ticket on the counter.  “It’s FRANK.  Get it right next time.”

What an asshole.

In addition to constantly riding my ass for my Captain Obvious shorthand that everyone behind the counter understood except for him, Phil was a bit of a creeper.  One day I was assigned hostessing duties for my shift.  He smiled at me.  “Why do you have your hair up?”

“Because Frau Margaret told me it’s unsanitary to wear your hair down in a dining establishment.”  Really, dude?

He flipped my ponytail.  “Forget her.  Wear it down, it looks really pretty.”

Ugh.  But, money.  “Okay.”

Of course, five minutes later:  “Fraulein! Vy is your hair down?  Vee don’t vant blond locks een our patty melts!”

Jesus.  Needless to say, I agreed with Frau and held my ground on any future ponytail debate.

Keep in mind, I was a very plain-looking high school senior.  Yet, any eating establishment has its share of sex-crazed sleazers.  I was known by several names: Babe, Honey, Cutie, Sexy, That Stupid White Girl…it was my first experience with that sort of thing, but I knew that’s how it was in the food industry.  And, money.  I’d usually just blow it off and act like a naive bumpkin.  It worked sometimes.  Other times?

Enter Sean Mulligan*.  Unlike the other guys, who just liked referring to me with cutesy misogynist nicknames, Sean wanted a date.  I was 18 and had no interest in a guy in his late 20s.  I was really bad at saying “no” to people, and I’ll admit, it was wrong of me to not be direct.  I wound up making a couple of high-octane bitch moves in my life because of this problem, but those stories are for another day.

On this day, Sean came up to me while I was making Happy Ending Sundaes for a table.  “So, we should go to a movie together some time.  It would be fun.  What do you say?”

I smiled at him.  “No, thank you; I don’t watch movies.”

He laughed.  “You don’t?  Everyone watches movies!”

“I don’t.”

“Why not?”

“I like reading.  Alone.”

We went about our sundae-making although he later cornered me near the kitchen.  “Hey, since you don’t like movies, how about I pick you up and make dinner for you at my apartment.  A couple of candles, some soft music…”

As sure as the sun is hot, my asshole brain inserted a mental image.  Tiny apartment using cinder blocks for makeshift shelves and bookcases…two candles lit on a tiny table…food that’s a cross between marsala and Hungry-Man…a boom box, quietly playing “Is this Love” from Whitesnake…Sean in a button-down shirt, half unbuttoned to show a mildly hairless chest (hurrff!)…I panicked.  “I…I don’t eat.”

Yes, I really said that.  And no, he didn’t take the hint.  I think I ultimately told him I just wasn’t into dating and it’s not you it’s me, and blah blah blah you’re 10 fucking years older than me, and please kindly leave me alone and let me talk to Urkel in peace, thanksmuch.  But more giggly and evasive.

This was happening around the same time I realized Phil wasn’t paying me my credit card tips, and good ol’ Mark the Sunday Waiter was grabbing my lower hips every time he “brushed” by me.  When you think Friendly’s you just don’t think Sausagefest, do you?  Unless Sausagefest was a monthly promotion that came with a Happy Ending Sundae for just .99! What a deal!

After just a few months, I knew that I wanted a Happy Ending for myself.  Not that kind, you sicko.  And not the ice cream sundae kind (although I do love a Happy Ending with chocolate ice cream and that peanut butter sauce – yummers!).  For one thing, I was leaving for college in a short amount of time.  For another thing, I didn’t want to be like some of the good people I met there, who were so beaten down by the hard work and disrespect they encountered they forgot what it was like to expect more out of life.  Sure, some people enjoyed it there.  All of Sausagefest did, I’m pretty sure.  A few waitresses liked it, too.  But some people belonged in a better place, and I’m not sure they realized they deserved better.  That’s what happens when you settle for too long – you give up a little bit each day.  I didn’t want that for me – at least not at that point in my life.

I found a job paying less doing data entry and I put my two week notice in, although Phil wouldn’t accept the resignation.  By that time, I stopped hating him (a few experiences where he was forced to work the floor miraculously made him tolerable), but he was still a little bit of a creeper.  I agreed to stay on, and did my thing.

What was my “thing,” exactly?

I grabbed two gallons of peanut butter fudge ice cream on my way out and never stepped in that Friendly’s ever again.  It was no Thirkus-style exit, but it was my little way of saying, “so long, you frank-eating, sausage-festing, Whitesnake-playing mother fuckers!”  That? Was an acceptable happy ending for me.

 

 

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net