Little Tiger

“Never start a fight; but if someone hits you, hit them back.”

This was the sage advice of my dad.  My father – teacher, coach, former athlete and protector of his scrawnier friends, understood something about bullying and the way kids are: people are always going to try to walk all over you, and they’ll only go as far as you let them.  The one message dad got through to me loud and clear was that few things are more important than standing up for yourself.  As an adult, I can attest that my life can be divided in two categories: the times I stood up for myself, and the times I should have stood up for myself.  When I stood my ground, it didn’t always work out as planned, but when I didn’t, the problems always seemed to grow exponentially.

Dad was a big fan of boxing.  When I was a little girl, he would teach me how to box.  He’d hold up his hands and tell me to make two short punches with my left hand and one big punch with my right.  He’d make a sound to emulate what he wanted me to do: “bip.bip.POW!” I would respond enthusiastically.  Bip.bip.POW! Bip.bip.POW!  I’d get really into the POW, and dad would play along and act like I was beating him up.  I had the form down and everything.  I looked like a little Sugar Ray Leonard, pouncing around with my fists up.

When I was in 5th grade, I was in P.E., and we were running heats where two kids would pair off and run 50 yards.  I was a pretty good runner, and always enjoyed doing the heats.  One girl in particular, My Elementary School Nemesis*, was one hell of a runner – easily the fastest runner in the school, never mind the grade.  On this particular day, the PE teacher decided to challenge her for fun, and they ran the heat together.  As they set up, the rest of us picked partners to run against.  I picked my friend Irene – we were pretty close in ability with running, so I figured it would be a good race.   As Nemesis and the gym teacher took off, Irene and I waited in line to race.

Greg Jasperson* walked up to me and stuck his chin up.  “Let me race Irene.”

I heard my dad’s voice in my head.  I looked Greg in the eyes.  “No.”

Greg looked at me, surprised.  The skinny beanpole just told him no – unthinkable! Look, I was lanky, shy and awkward – an easy target to many.  Kids like me just don’t say “no” to the tough kids.  That’s not the way the world works.

“What did you say?” He stuck his face in mine.  I felt my heart race.  Oh no.  I don’t want to fight.  But I’m not going to let him tell me what to do.  I kept eye contact with him.  “I said no.  I’m racing her.  Wait your turn.”

In retrospect this seems like some Old Western where two people fight for someone’s honor, which is kind of hilarious.  Especially since Irene could have easily kicked either of our asses if she wanted to.  Me on the other hand?  I was low-hanging gangly fruit and we both knew it.  “You’re gonna let me race her.”  He got even closer to me.  The kids formed a wagon circle around us.  I had no idea what they were saying or how they were reacting – my blood was pounding in my ears, and I could hear nothing other than Greg’s words.  I could see nothing other than his eyes.  I was petrified, because I knew neither of us would back down.  I really didn’t want to fight.  Where the hell is the teacher? “Wait your turn,” I repeated in a meek voice.

“Do you want to fight?”

By now I was completely shaking.  I didn’t want anyone to see me shake, and I was angry with myself.  I kept on thinking about my boxing lessons with my dad.  Just imagine that I’m practicing with dad.  Bip.bip.POW! Except instead of dad’s hands, I’m using this kid’s face.  That’s all.  You can do it.  “Yeah.”  Wait…what? Did I just say, “yeah” as in “yeah I want to fight?” What the hell is wrong with me? Then again, dad never taught me Fight Club etiquette beyond not talking about Fight Club.  There are Rules of Engagement for these things, and I didn’t know what I was doing.  I clenched my fists, and held them up to my face – Sugar Ray, bitches.

Greg swung at me and missed.  Whew!  I swung at him and missed.  Gee maybe this fighting thing isn’t so ba-POW! He got me clear on the nose.  It didn’t really hurt, but made my face feel fuzzy.  I took a step back, and swayed a little, like one of those clown punching bags you can’t knock over. I got my bearings, swung again and landed a punch on his jaw.  There was no strength behind it.  Damn you, noodle arms!  Finally, the gym teacher got to us and broke us up.  He started yelling at us and pulled us aside.  He sounded angry and panicked.  “What happened?  Can anyone tell me what happened?”

I scanned my classmates.  They looked around in every direction except for the teacher.  They all remained silent, even though they knew what happened.  Yeah, I know, no one likes a rat, but damn it, I was pissed that no one would say anything.  My emotions got the best of me, and my face got hot.  I knew I was going to start crying.  Damn! No!  I had a bad habit of crying whenever my emotions hit an extreme, and it was embarrassing.  I used to lie and say it was allergies, but no one ever believed that and they certainly wouldn’t believe it now.  I really didn’t want to cry at that moment – I couldn’t show my weakness; I knew how these things went.  I felt the tears stream down my face.  The teacher pulled us away from the kids and asked us again what happened.  I looked at Greg.  Well, shit, I don’t want to be a rat either… we were both elusive.  “I’m going to tell Mrs. Veruca* what happened, and Greg, you need to go to the Office right now.”

Being sent to the Office in elementary school was no different than being sent to the Ministry of Love, and it evoked the same reaction.  After all, your Elementary School Principal is the Big Brother of your childhood.

I continued to cry. Oh, God, how embarrassing… I started thinking about what would happen next.  I had been sent to the Principal’s office only once before, but it was standard protocol – she’ll talk to Greg, she’ll talk to me, she’ll talk to us together, then she’ll talk to our parents and we’ll both be in deep shit at home.  The combined image of Dr. Savage (yes, that was her real name) and my mom made me start to heave-cry.  The class started walking up to where we were to return to class.  No! Give me a minute! Damn it!

It didn’t even matter.  I could hear the chatter – I was the hot topic amongst my classmates.  “Did you see how Greg beat up Anne-Marie?” “Anne-Marie got beat up!” “Greg beat her up and she cried!”

Jesus Christ, people, he only landed one punch, and my nose didn’t even bleed.  See what crying does? Crying + Lanky Awkward kid = Beat up.  It was totally not fair, and I cried even harder out of embarrassment and for not landing a better punch.  The teacher snapped at me, telling me to calm down.  That didn’t help things.

I headed back to class, listening to everyone talk about me as if I wasn’t there.  In reality, my mind was elsewhere.  I was waiting for my turn to be called into the principal’s office.

Oddly, it never came.

I suppose the gym teacher knew us for the last 6 years and recognized that one of us got into trouble often, and the other seldom got into trouble.  Regardless, I was confused.  I realized two things – it wasn’t fair to Greg that I didn’t get called into the office, and all that crying really made me look like a victim.  I didn’t like how either felt.

When I walked home from school that day, I remained on edge.  I assumed that the principal or someone would call my parents.  My dad was a teacher and knew everyone, it seemed.  Surely he would find out.  It was far better for me to tell him right away.  When he got home, I lowered my head.  “Dad, I got into a fight today.”

He looked at me somewhat amused.  “What happened?”

I told him the entire story concluding solemnly,  “…I think the principal is going to call you.”

Dad looked at the terror on my face.  He laughed and ruffled my hair.  “Little Tiger!” He left the room.

What?

Well, mom is really more of the disciplinarian.  When she got home, dad relayed the story to her.  He closed up the story by referring to me as Little Tiger again.  She looked at me.  “Good for you.  Do you want Chinese for dinner?”

Wait…what???  Everything I thought I knew about parental discipline was thrown out the window.  Chinese?  Little Tiger?  I’m getting rewarded for punching someone?

We went to Hunan Garden and I devoured a Pupu Platter all by myself – while I didn’t understand what was going on, I wasn’t about to let it affect my appetite.  Besides, Little Tiger’s gotta eat and put some meat on those noodles!  My mom puffed on her cigarette and laid it all out for me.  “You know what your father says – never start a fight; but if someone ever starts a fight with you, you have to defend yourself.”

I see.

“Besides…” she mashed out the cigarette, “this probably isn’t the last time someone picks a fight with you; you’re probably going to get into a lot of fights when you get older. ”

I paused mid-chew, a piece of fried shrimp hung out of my mouth.  Huh?

I pictured a bigger version of me clawing, punching and pulling people’s hair in high school (at this point, my only reference for lady-fighting was soap operas).  Eek.  Well, at least I knew what to expect next time, I suppose…

I grabbed a spare rib off the pupu platter and gnawed away as I reflected on my day.  I wondered what would have happened if I just let Greg race Irene.  I wouldn’t have cried, I wouldn’t have been yelled at by the teacher, and I definitely wouldn’t have been teased by my classmates – well, not for that incident at least.  At 5’5 and 70 pounds, they had quite an arsenal on me.  And yet, as I sat and pondered at the Hunan Garden, I knew I would never have changed my decision.  I couldn’t have.  I realized at that moment if I hadn’t stood up for myself, I would have lost far more than a fistfight.  My only regret was not clocking Greg a good one on the face.  Now I proved everyone’s suspicions that I was a class-A weakling.

The pupus were devoured and the waiter gave us our fortune cookies with the check.  I watched my dad, eagerly anticipating his go-to Chinese restaurant joke.  He had the same schtick every time, and honestly?  It never got old: he opened his fortune cookie and squinted down at the fortune.  “Huh.  It’s written in Chinese…” pause.  “Oh! It’s upside down!” He flipped the fortune over and read it to us.  Dad’s go-to fortune cookie joke was reassuring, letting me know these people were really my parents and I was not in some alternate reality where pod-parents were okay with Fight Club.  I defended myself, and it was good that I did so – I just needed to be ready for next time.

When we arrived at home I went to my room and looked at myself in the mirror.  Tomorrow seemed scary.  Would the kids at school still insist I got beat up?  Would Greg want to fight me again, now that we were sworn, fightin’ enemies?

I clenched my fists and held them up to my face.  Bip.bip.POW! Bip.bip.POW!

Sugar Ray, bitches.

watch?v=VgSMxY6asoE

Arizona Restaurant Week: It’s Over, and I’m Stuffed.

Gluttony, thy name is Restaurant Week.

In 1992, a New Yorker had a brilliant promotional idea – for one week, have the hottest restaurants offer inexpensive lunch menus to encourage people to try out different restaurants throughout the city.  The concept was such a hit, it soon evolved to include fixed price dinner menus and inspired cities across the country and the world to incorporate their own restaurant week.

Four years ago, Arizona jumped on the restaurant week bandwagon, offering three course meals at a large variety of restaurants for as low as $20 a person and no higher than $40 a person (excluding beverages and gratuity).  Known as a tourist and resort destination, Arizona has a surprisingly high number of fine dining options.  Although it currently only has one five diamond restaurant in the state (the excellent Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort), Arizona boasts countless four diamond restaurants across the state as well as many innovative, independently-owned casual dining restaurants that are more than fit for foodies.  Fortunate for the residents and visitors of Arizona, many of these excellent restaurants participate in Arizona Restaurant Week, an event that took place this past week.

In the past, we have discovered many fine restaurants in town thanks to Restaurant Week: Bourbon Steak, Different Pointe of View, NoRTH, and Zinc Bistro are among our favorite Restaurant Week “discoveries.”  This year, after reviewing the menu options on the Arizona Restaurant Week site, we settled on three restaurants: Bloom (located at Scottsdale and Doubletree), Ko’Sin (located at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort), and Talavera (located at Four Seasons at Pinnacle Peak).  As always, the week was filled with many surprises and fantastic dishes.

We kicked off Restaurant Week on Wednesday evening by heading up to Bloom.  The warm, cozy atmosphere of Bloom coupled with an inexpensive happy hour cocktail set us up for what would be the best experience we had for Restaurant Week.  With a name like Bloom, you’d expect light and leafy dishes presented artfully on oddly-shaped plates.  What you really get are big-portion, comfort food dishes – crispy chicken with sage stuffing, perfectly-cooked skirt steak with carmelized onions and melted blue cheese, and cheesy, baked shrimp tagliatelle.  Wow.  To top it off, we had a creamy butterscotch pot de crème with salted caramel and a brownie on the side topped with ice cream.  A bit much, but it all exceeded our expectations.  Bloom?  We will be returning to split a plate or two once our stomachs settle.

Friday night, we went to the Sheraton Wild Horse’s other restaurant, Ko’Sin.  Although Kai does not participate in Restaurant Week, diners can get a taste of the beautiful grounds at the Sheraton and experience a few moments of Kai-like culinary inspiration.  While Ko’Sin’s service was less than attentive, the food more than made up for it.  To start, we had a delicious buckwheat tart with mozzarella, basil foam and white balsamic over heirloom tomatoes with a gazpacho “shot.”  Following the tart, we had my favorite meal of restaurant week – lobster mac n cheese: lobster, pasta, pancetta, peas and corn, all covered in a rich gruyere sauce.  This was an amazing dish, loaded with big chunks of fresh lobster.  Every single bite was delicious, and those of us at the table who chose the dish didn’t leave a bite behind.  It this isn’t a regular dish at Ko’Sin, it needs to be.  As part of a $40 three-course meal, it was a steal.

Finally, Saturday night, we went to Talavera at the Four Seasons.  You can always count on Talavera to provide top-notch service and beautiful views of the valley.  Normally, you can also count on great dishes at Talavera; however, we found the food on this trip to be largely forgettable.  We had a lobster corn bisque, bacon wrapped steak and salmon, but none of these dishes really stood out in either presentation or flavor.  The one exception was an unusual dessert we ordered – a raspberry cheesecake “slider” with funnel cake fries.  It was a whimsical dish sure to satisfy anyone with a massive sweet tooth.  We have faith in Talavera, but they seemed to be off their game on Saturday.

If you missed Arizona Restaurant Week this time around, have no fear – they are likely to have another Restaurant Week in the late winter or early spring.  Besides, many of the delicious dishes mentioned in this article are regular menu items.  If you are from outside of Arizona, below I have posted a few links to Restaurant Weeks across the country, and updates to regional Restaurant Weeks will be posted on our Facebook Fan Page.  Check them out and support your local eateries!  If you would like The Menacing Kitten to provide information on a Restaurant Week near you not listed below, please comment below or on Facebook, and I’ll do my best to oblige.

Did you go anywhere for Restaurant Week? Are you attending a Restaurant Week in your town? Share your experience with us below!

Other Restaurant Weeks across the country:

Connecticut: http://www.connecticutrestaurantweek.com/ Their restaurant week is coming up in October.

Los Angeles: http://discoverlosangeles.com/restaurantweekv2/index.html This restaurant week is also coming up in October.

Boston: http://www.bostonusa.com/visit/restaurantweek/

Washington D.C.: https://www.restaurantweekmetrodc.org/

New York City: http://www.nycgo.com/restaurantweek/

Lean N’ Tasteless

Here at Menacing Kitten Headquarters, when we are not rolling around in money or laughing maniacally, we are taking lunch breaks.  To offset all of the Chocotinis consumed on Martini Mondays, we eat processed, frozen veganballs in fibersauce brought to you by companies with Healthy, Lean, Lite or Right in their names.

These are the kind of meals that look like this on the box:

NomNomNom Veganballs in Fibersauce! **drool**

But really look like this after cooking:

"Contagion" in a box! **hurff**

In an absolutely unscientific poll, we’ve determined that 80% of all frozen meals are eaten at lunch.  Why then, are the cooking instructions on these meals as office-unfriendly as humanly possible?  They basically go something like this:

1.  Stab film several times with a fork / peel back the corner / cut Wolverine-like slits.

2.  Place meal in the microwave at 33% power for 25 minutes.

3.  Turn it even though it is on a rotating plate.

4.  Give a guilty look to co-workers who think you are done hogging the microwave.

5.  Peel back film and stir.

6.  We are going to tell you to reseal the film, even though there is no way the meal can be resealed, and your fibersauce will vomit all over the roof of the microwave.

7.  Place it back in the microwave at 3.14159% power for 14 minutes.

8.  Head back to your desk, because you can’t handle the glaring of hungry co-workers.

9.  At 9 minutes remaining, wafting hints of fish or garlic will transform into a thick stench of ass-fog that consumes the entire third floor.  Co-workers passive-aggressively groan, “what IS that?!?”

10.  At 5 minutes remaining, chew on your mouse pad to stave off starvation and prepare your mouth for the texture and taste of veganballs.

11.  At three minutes in, answer your phone.

12.  Talk to chatty, complainy human for 10 minutes.

13.  Realize you forgot about your veganballs and run back to office kitchen, only to be greeted by angry glares and cooked fibersauce ass-fog.

14.  Grab the post-Apocalyptic heap that was your food and return to your desk, again guiltily avoiding eye contact with co-workers.

15.  Eat meal, which is completely atomized on the outer crust, but manages to be 0 Kelvin in the center.

16.  Be hungry again 15 minutes later.

Gimme Some Lovin’!

When I first think of the British Invasion, I think of the bubblebum girly stuff that emerged in the early 60s: “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Glad All Over,” “I’m Telling You Now,” etc., etc.  It’s not to say those aren’t good songs, but at the same time, there was so much more to the British Invasion as it evolved.  Because the internet doesn’t have enough “Top 5” lists, I compiled my 5 favorite songs from the British Invasion:

5. She’s Not There (1964)
I love The Zombies.  Their music was kind of dark, sexy and smooth.  My favorite from them is “Time of the Season,” but that doesn’t technically fall in the “British Invasion” era, which ended in 1967.  “She’s Not There” is a contemporary of the bubblegum songs mentioned above, yet it sounds a few years ahead of its time.  The Beatles were dreamy in 1964; The Zombies were brooding.  What girl isn’t attracted to the brooding guy?

For other great Zombies songs, check out their album “Odyssey and Oracle”- released in 1968, I feel it is the pinnacle of their creativity and musicianship, and holds up remarkably well over the years.

4. Paint it, Black (1966)
[Note from much later: Forgive the imagery here; at the time I had just watched a horrible Brian Wilson made-for-TV movie and much of it was pretty much as described below…]

When I hear “Paint it, Black” I picture the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Brian Wilson all hanging out, getting high, dropping acid, and exchanging crazy ideas for songs.  I imagine the conversation turning to how awesome it would be to combine a Phil Spector-style percussion with a sitar.  In a moment that is both serendipitous and reminiscent of Walk Hard/Dewy Cox, Mick starts rambling about dead girls and black doors, Keith mutters a bunch of f-bombs in that drunken British way that makes it sound like “ffffahk” or “fffaahking,” and Brian Jones is off in a corner simultaneously playing with George Harrison’s sitar and impregnating a young woman.  Somewhere in that 60s drugged-haze lovefest, this song is born and the rest is history.

I’m pretty sure that’s not quite how it happened, but I have no doubt they were high – who the hell writes a song for a sitar, anyway?  Regardless, it is a great song and contains some of my favorite Stones lyrics.  I’m more of fan of the late 70s-era Stones, but as far as their 60s stuff goes, this is as good as it gets.

3. I Can See for Miles (1967)
Like the Stones, I am more of a fan of The Who’s music in the 70s, but I still love their music in the 60s.  Even from early on, in songs like “Substitute” or “My Generation,” you could tell that The Who was offering something different.  They are an introduction to Pete Townsend’s gift for crafting memorable riffs and intelligent lyrics.

As the British Invasion neared its end, “I Can See for Miles” song came out, and let the world know that The Who had only just begun.  Their music was approaching another level – not far off on the horizon, “Tommy” would be born, and further down the road, “Baba O’Reilly” and “Who Are You?”  Even though I regard The Beatles as being the best British Invasion act, The Who are my favorite.  Their music and sound doesn’t age.

2.Gimme Some Lovin’
To my generation, Steve Winwood was this older dude who had hits like “Higher Love” and “Valerie,” and was the kind of artist that you could listen to with dad.  To the current generation, if they are reading this, they are probably thinking, “who the hell is Steve Winwood?” This, is Steve Winwood, my friends.  In the video above, he has a voice that doesn’t seem like it could possibly come from a lanky teenager.  After all these years, he still blows me away.

I rated this at number two because although The Spencer Davis Group was considered a British Invasion band, they seemed to “get” American rock and roll more than their contemporaries.  This song could have easily come out of early Motown and has a perfect balance of soul, energy and a solid British Invasion-defining backbeat.  Love it.

1.Eleanor Rigby
What, you think I could do a British Invasion list and not include The Beatles?  I wanted to place only one Beatles song on this list, and it was hard.  I took to Facebook to ask for suggestions, and everyone had great selections – “Paperback Writer,” “We Can Work it Out,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Day Tripper,” “A Day in the Life”… The Beatles are to 60s music what Wilt Chamberlain was to 60s basketball – they were such a cut above everyone else; you almost can’t put them in the same category.

I settled on “Eleanor Rigby,” because I think it really marks a departure for their music – while you have the trademark McCartney lyrical melody, you have beautiful orchestration backing him, yet it doesn’t distract from the vivid imagery of the lyrics.  I picture Father Mackenzie’s calloused hands wiping away the dirt every time I hear this song.

So what are your favorite British Invasion songs? Share with me below!

Coal Burger

While In-N-Out and Five Guys are duking it out to be America’s favorite fast food chain, Coal Burger, a new “fast casual dining” concept, is quietly making its own statement in the latest Burger Wars.  Although they currently have three locations, I suspect their success will follow in the footsteps of their founder’s other restaurant chain, Grimaldi’s.

When Chris and I entered their Chandler location, we immediately loved the clean and natural look of the restaurant – keeping with their “Eat Green, Live Green” image, all of the chairs and tables are PVC-free and made from bamboo.  Their napkins and towels are made from post-recycled materials (from nearby Flagstaff), and their cups are compostable.  They have cute little grass centerpieces on each table, which seem eco-friendly, until you look at them more closely and realize that they are plastic.  Huh?  I’m not sure of the reasoning on that one…

Their menu is fairly simple, but has many delicious options.  In addition to their six pasture-raised, grass-fed (hopefully not plastic grass-fed) burger offerings, they also have two chicken sandwiches, a vegetarian burger, and five salads to choose from.  Their menu options clearly consider many dietary considerations, so if you are looking for healthier items, or have an intolerance to gluten, you will still be able to find something satisfactory on the menu.  Being the burger fiends that we are, we both decided to go with their coal-fired burgers.  I had difficulty deciding – would I try the Bacon Blue Burger, a burger topped with smoked bacon and blue cheese?  Would I try their Green Chile Burger, which has roasted green chilies, jalapeños and provolone?  The Steak House Burger ultimately won out – mushrooms, grilled onions and Swiss cheese tend to get me every time.  The burger also came with a horseradish sauce, which sounded interesting.  Chris went with their Bacon Cheeseburger, but opted to go with their chipotle barbeque sauce instead of the Coal Burger sauce that came with it.  We ordered their sweet potato fries, and I chose their horseradish dipping sauce to go with it.

To drink, we ordered one of their gelato milk shakes – Chris chose a Peaches-and-Cream shake with toasted coconut whipped cream.  Their shakes are so thick, they serve them with an extra-wide straw.  Although their hazelnut-chocolate shake sounded delicious, I was intrigued by their soda fountain – made by a company called Boylan’s, the sodas are made with actual cane sugar.  In the high-fructose world of Arizona fast food, this is not something you see everyday.  I had to try their root beer, which rivals that of Joe’s BBQ in Gilbert.  I also tried their China Mist Unsweetened Pineapple Iced Tea, which was also delicious and refreshing.  At some other point, we may try their alcohol selection, which consists of organic beers and biodynamic wines.

Our food arrived on bamboo trays, and we quickly dug in.  The horseradish sauce complimented the sweetness of the onions and Swiss, and their bun was incredibly fresh and soft.  The sweet potato fries were out of this world – fried in rice bran oil, they are perfectly crispy without being the slightest bit greasy.  My horseradish dipping sauce made a perfect accompaniment.  Cooking the beef over coal fire adds a nice flavor to the meat.  Why sit around for twenty minutes waiting for someone to slop your double-double and blando fries on a tray when you can have something this tasty in the same amount of time?  I mean, sure, stick with In-N-Out if you don’t want to spend a few extra bucks on a meal and you enjoy talking in a secret language to get a damn side of mayonnaise; however if you want a little something more for your lunch experience, or if you want something that tastes great and feels a little more – dare I say – mature?  Coal Burger, baby.

Coal Burger  currently has two locations in Arizona – one at Scottsdale Quarter in Scottsdale, and one at Casa Paloma (the AJ’s shopping Center) in Chandler.  They also have a location at Towncenter in The Woodlands, TX.  I suspect if you have a Grimaldi’s in your town, you have a good chance of having a Coal Burger pop up next door at some point in the future.  Check them out and enjoy!

Fashion Intervention Team!

Towards the end of spring semester of my freshman year at college, I learned an important lesson: when your life is falling apart, you need something simple and superficial to yank you out of your funk, even if it’s for only a day.

Now realistically, life wasn’t really falling apart; my psyche was merely experiencing an ongoing war between severe depression and extreme anxiety.  Each side had an ample supply of weapons to toss.  I had an unclean break from my first serious relationship and I gained 20 pounds through its course – that’s two offensive strikes for depression.  My grades were taking a nosedive and I was terrified of communicating with people; even making eye contact made my throat tighten and my hands shake – powerful weapons for the anxiety side.

At the height of this internal battle, I returned to my dorm room one night.  Upon opening the door, I was greeted by my roommate Emily and our friend Shemeka.  They were sitting on Emily’s bed, staring at me gravely.  Shemeka spoke first.  “We need to talk to you about something.”

Uh-Oh.  Was it my messiness?  Was it my pathetic issues with my ex?  Emily rested her hands on her lap.  “Anne-Marie, it’s your clothes.”

I looked down at my Marvin the Martian T-shirt.  “Huh?”

“You are a cute girl, and you have great features, but you don’t wear things that complement that.”

I looked at them, perplexed.  “I don’t?”

Shemeka shook her head.  “Like those blue shorts you wear; the ones that are really short?  You shouldn’t wear them, because when you bend over, it shows your butt.”

“What??  It does?”  I intuitively grabbed my rear end.

Emily continued.  “And those tight leggings you wear with the swirls…”

Shemeka knew exactly what pants Emily was talking about and finished her sentence for her.  “…they don’t match with anything you own.”

I sat down on my bed and pondered for a moment.  I thought I had some fun, indie-artist-y chaotic sense of style; that I marched to my own drummer, as they say.  My friends were blowing my mind.  “But…I shop at the mall…”  You can never go wrong with the mall, right?  I mean…the clothing is pricey, and they would never sell something out of fashion… they have Merry Go Round, and Wet Seal.  Wet Seal!  I put my hands on my shorts.  “I got these at Wet Seal…”

Shemeka smiled sympathetically, and Emily shook her head.  “See, this is what we need to teach you; things at Wet Seal look really good on the rack, but you have to inspect them.  They aren’t made as well as other clothing, and that’s why they aren’t as expensive.  You’re not getting as much value or quality as you would get at say, The Gap.”

My eyes widened.  “The Gap?  They are so expensive!”

Emily stood up, exasperated.  She pointed to her shirt.  “Ten dollars!  I got this for ten dollars at The Gap!”

I looked at her in amazement.  Where was this magical place she could find such inexpensive quality items?  I wanted to see the magical cheap clothes place!  I wanted to wear shorts that didn’t expose my ass!  I thought about the bad turn my life was taking.  Perhaps this one thing could set forth a series of events that would move my life in the right direction.  I looked at them like a lost kitten.  “Can…can you guys take me shopping?”

Their faces lit up and they squealed with glee.  “Yes!”  I knew by looking at them that I was going to be their dress-up doll for a day, and I was totally okay with that.  My life needed a makeover, why not start with my closet?

“Let’s go tomorrow afternoon!”

All three of us had classes in the afternoon, but what the hell – we skipped a bunch all ready, and this was an emergency.  I need this – I don’t need Anthropology.

The next day, we went on a pilgrimage to a haven from school and reality: Our Lady Queen of Shopping, hallowed be thy name, O home of clothing, Sbarros, and overpriced smelly soaps!  So yeah: we took the bus to the Tucson Mall.  From this point forward, I’m going to refer to Shemeka and Emily as Fashion Intervention Team (FIT), because they spoke as One – they were like two copies of the same Cylon model, but their Plan was to properly outfit every last human in the universe.  FIT’s first stop was “The Limited.”  We walked in and I eyed a shirt near the front.  They grabbed me and made a beeline to the back of the store.

Fashion Intervention Team’s First and Most Cardinal Rule of Shopping:   “Never pay full price for anything.  Never!  It will all go on sale eventually.  Oh and by sale?  We don’t mean 10% off.”  We arrived at the back of the store, and they introduced me to the magical place they spoke of the previous night – the Clearance Section.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Second Rule of Shopping:  “Always start at the back of the store.  That’s where the clearance items are.”  I looked at the items skeptically.  “I thought this was the stuff that was going out of season…”

FIT shook their head.  “We live in the desert – you can easily wear these for another month before it gets uncomfortable.”   They waded through racks and checked seams and price tags.  “Besides, when you find something that looks good on you, it will never go out of style.  Try this on!”  I was handed an off-white T-shirt with some girly prose and a rose on it.  I squinted to read the writing on the shirt.  “I can’t read what it says…”

FIT sighed.  “It doesn’t matter!  You’re not getting it for the saying – it’s a cute print and it’s feminine, unlike your Van Halen concert shirt!”…Which I wore with the swirly pants.  Yeah, maybe that was a bad fashion choice…

I tried on and ultimately purchased the Illegible Girl Shirt, and we moved on to the next store – The Gap.  I walked to the back of the store, and FIT nodded in approval.  They instantly grabbed a plain white oversized shirt and dark blue leggings and handed them to me.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Third and Fourth Rules of Shopping:  “Oversized shirts are great with leggings, because the shirt hides your trouble areas (a.k.a. my pronounced ass, brought to you by the deep fried offerings at the UofA Student Union).  Combined with the leggings you get to show off your skinny legs!  Also, you want a plain white shirt, because you can mix and match with different bottoms.  The more combinations you can get with one piece, the better it is!”

We purchased the shirt and the leggings.  True confession time – FIT would show dismay at this, but I kept that shirt for 15 years.  I stopped wearing it out several years ago, but wore it around the house until the collar completely ripped off and Chris pleaded with me to throw it away.

Anne-Marie’s Anti-Fashion Tip #1:  Shirts are more comfortable and feel extra homey when they are loaded with holes and have a ripped collar.  I may have tossed that shirt, but I still have my tattered UofA Alumni shirt from 1999, and you will pry it from my cold, dead, unfashionable hands.

We continued on.  I pointed to a Merry Go Round and FIT grumbled.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Fifth Rule of Shopping: Don’t shop at Merry-Go-Round, unless you want to look like a Bon Jovi Groupie.

“Hey; my Junior year prom dress was from Merry-Go-Round!”

“Sigh.”

FIT was prescient – when the 80s groupie style completely left the universe in its pink lame spaceship powered by Aqua Net bottles and C.C. Deville tears, it took Merry-Go-Round with it.  I believe Hot Topic is essentially its replacement, replacing 80s whore with Emo-Avril Cul-de-Sac Disenchantment; take your pick as to which is worse.

FIT wasn’t impressed with the other boutique stores.  We hit the big anchors, the best of which being Dillards.  To split the Collective for but a moment, I need to point one thing out.  Dillards was THE store for Emily.  Emily worked at the mall for a while a few moons after this intervention, and I am convinced that she began her day by kneeling before a Dillards sale rack, arms outstretched in exaltation, praying and praising the God of Dillards for His Righteous Sales and Brand Name Goodness.  I will admit that if this were Scientology, I would have so been Will Smith to her Jada Pinkett.  She sold me on Dillards Sale-vation, and I too worshipped their sale rack altar many times during college.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Sixth Rule of Shopping: For name brands, the department stores are better than the brand stores (like Guess), because you’ll find more items on the clearance rack, and the clearance price will be rock-bottom.

At Dillards, FIT presented me with the Clearance Rack to end all Clearance Racks – the “66% off already marked down items” rack.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Was I reading it correctly?  I looked at the price tag on a cute pair of shorts – the shorts were originally $40, and on the price tag, it stated that they were marked down to $30.  “So…I can get this for… under $15?”

FIT nodded.  We then turned to the rack and devoured the clothing like starved Coyotes on a fresh, meaty carcass.  A Guess shirt for $10; an Esprit tank for $5!  I felt like I was sharing this moment with my inner 13 year-old who was rejected by her peers for never wearing these brands.

We finished up our shopping, and got on the bus to head back to the dorms – the neighboring bus seats towered with our full shopping bags.  Emily’s boyfriend came over to the dorm, and she made him sit through a brief fashion show of some of the items we purchased.  He showed as much enthusiasm as a guy could muster for such a thing, particularly approving of a nice sleeveless pantsuit Emily picked out for me.

Now truthfully, my lovely new wardrobe and hair color of the week didn’t change my life.  I was still horribly depressed, had a hard time with my bad break up, and my social anxiety kept me from responding to the compliments I got for my new “look.”  I was still me, unfortunately, but if nothing else, I now at least had shopping as an outlet for my angst.  For a few minutes, I could look in the mirror at my cute clothes and feel good about something.

Shortly after returning to Tucson for my Sophomore year, I visited Emily at her apartment to show her all of the clothing I bought without her assistance.    Naturally, we did a little “fashion show,” and at the end of it, she had a little tear in her eye and exclaimed, “I knew you could do it!  I’m so proud of you!”  I admired myself in the mirror – a fitted white blouse covered with a cute print vest over faded blue jeans, brown suede boots on my feet.  I looked good.  Well, 90s-era good.  I earned my FIT diploma that day.

Unfortunate teen photo of yours truly is copyright 1992-2012 by Douang Athitang

Dig If U Will

Lately I’ve been thinking about that rare moment of genius and beauty in a song.  There is something either delightful or tragically unexpected in its delivery, and it evokes an intense emotional response.  I’ve decided to compile a list of a 5 songs I believe achieve that level of genius and/or beauty in their own unique way.  I’m not going to be pretentious and analyze them.  Instead, I’ll just give you the songs and my random thoughts on them:

 “Hey Jude” by The Beatles

“Hey Jude” is my earliest memory of music.  I remember being three years old and sitting on the floor in my family’s house in Bristol, CT.  My dad asked if we wanted to hear my mom’s “song,” and he pulled out a record with a big green apple on the label.  The needle was placed on the record, and I was instantly mesmerized.  When the song climaxes with the “na na nas,” I remember hoping the song wouldn’t end any time soon.  I asked my dad if we could listen to it again.  McCartney’s melody is magical.

 “When Doves Cry” by Prince
[Note: Prince hates the internet, so it’s difficult to find anything on You Tube of his that isn’t promptly removed]

When I think of “When Doves Cry,” my mind immediately goes to the opening – the wild guitar virtuoso accompanied by smooth drum beats; 10 seconds in and the song is already dripping in sexuality.  In my mind, I can still see the video: the double doors open, and Prince is rocking the scarf in the bathtub.  See, all due respect to JT, Prince doesn’t even need to utter a lyric to bring the sexy.  When I talk about geniuses in music, I’m talking about people whose minds are operating in a place you or I cannot comprehend.  They can see and hear things in a way that I cannot.  Not only can they envision on a grander scale, they can actually execute the vision.  Where we dream of stylized images, they dream of the veins in each leaf on a tree.  Long story short?  I would love to vacation in Prince’s brain when he created the music for “Purple Rain.”

“The Flat Earth” by Thomas Dolby

While “When Doves Cry” has surprisingly little instrumentation, “The Flat Earth” is conversely rich in texture.  It’s loaded with samples, keyboards, and backing vocals.  Most songs are portraits; “The Flat Earth” is a landscape.  It is a Miyazaki landscape, animated and fluid, where every detail is carefully drawn regardless of whether or not the audience will even notice.  I chose this particular link because I think it’s really cool watching Dolby reconstruct the song live.  You don’t get to hear the harmonies of the original recording, but I still really like this version.

“Lover, You Should Have Come Over” by Jeff Buckley

When I close my eyes and listen to this song, I think of when I was 19 and lying on the cold tiled floor of my dorm room.  It was the moment after I cried as hard as I ever cried.  The choking and sobbing stopped, and I silently stared up at the fluorescent lights above me.  Depression tore me one way, anxiety tore me the other, and I was left with nothing to tie my tiny shred of hope to.  I didn’t listen to Jeff Buckley until long after that moment, but somehow, this song places its fingers over that memory and gently tugs it out from under the rafters.  Even though the song is about his lover, the loneliness in the song feels like something no one person could possibly cure.

“A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

It amazes me to think how many pop classics Sam Cooke wrote in such a short time – “You Send Me” was released in 1957, and he died in 1964 at the age of 33.  In only 7 years he had 29 top-40 hits.  The album “Ain’t That Good News” was the last album released in his lifetime, and contains some of my favorite songs of his – the title track (which has a great banjo part), “Meet Me at Mary’s Place,” “Good Times,” “Another Saturday Night,” and this song.

When I was in high school, my music teacher knew I was a fan of Sam Cooke, and let me borrow the CD “Sam Cooke: The Man and His Music.”  There were a number of songs I never heard before, including “A Change is Gonna Come,” which closed the album.  His first three notes gave me chills, and I immediately knew I was listening to something extraordinary.  So much of Sam Cooke’s music is pleasant and innocent.  On the “Ain’t That Good News” album, and on this song in particular, there is an incredible honesty and soulfulness in both his voice and his lyrics.

One more thing about this song – I feel it is one of those songs that 99.999% of the population should not even try to cover.  When I hear someone cover it, I typically get Bad Cover Rage.  At one point in college, I was in the middle of a pleasant make-out session with a boyfriend and the Roger Clinton version of this song came on the radio.  I tore away from my boyfriend mid-kiss, and exclaimed, “what the f— is this!?!”

“Who cares?”
“But…it’s just awful!  Who the hell does he think he is?”
“Let it go…”
“He has no right to sing this!”

Needless to say, Roger Clinton killed the mood, and to this day I have not forgiven En Vogue for their participation in that atrocity.

On Facebook, I asked people to name a few songs that blew their mind.  Here’s what they came up with:

“Linger” The Cranberries

“First of the Month” Bone Thugs N Harmony

“Wuthering Heights” Kate Bush

“Holiday in Cambodia” The Dead Kennedys

“Signs” Five Man Electrical Band

“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” Elton John

“Eternity Road” Moody Blues

“Silence & I” Alan Parsons

“Just What I Needed” The Cars

“Forever Lost” God is An Astronaut

What about you? What songs blew your mind?

The Lying Liar

[Alert!  There is mild cursing in this post. “*” indicates a name that has been changed]

“I want you to draw a picture of what you did over the summer, and in a little while you’ll share what you did with the rest of the class.”

It all began with this simple assignment given by Mrs. Dorgan* on the first day of second grade.  My little 7 year-old mind reflected on the last 3 months of unadulterated summer slacking and overall uselessness.  I had nothing.  Toys?   Yeah, I played with my toys.  I ran around in circles outside and watched ants.  I pretended my dog Dunder was a pony and tried to convince him to let me sit on his back.  I wrote a letter to my great-grandfather, and forgot how to spell “of.”  That was it.  My family didn’t go anywhere and my neighborhood didn’t have any kids my age, so I played by myself all summer long.  How would I draw that?

I decided to stretch the truth a little bit; prior to that summer, I made a fort with a girl the neighbors babysat.  It was a really cool fort made out of all of the dangerous materials my neighbors dumped in their backyard.  That would make a decent picture – I’d say I made a fort over the summer.  Yeah, that’s it.

As I drew a picture of me making a fort, I looked around at the classmates whose desks neighbored mine.  One girl was drawing a picture of Greece, because her family took her there.  Another kid was drawing a picture of Disneyworld.  Another kid was drawing a picture of a tent and fishing.  I looked down at my pathetic drawing of me laying a piece of sheet metal against a boulder.  This would simply not do.  How can I jazz this up a bit?

At the time, I had a fascination with rainbows.  I desperately wanted to see one, and I wanted to look for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (Don’t judge.  It’s no more out there than Santa Claus).  I told my father this, and asked him how you get to the pot of gold.  My dad smiled and said, “well, you just walk on the rainbow, and slide down to the pot of gold.”

“You can walk on rainbows??”

“Yup!  It’s real easy.  You just have to walk quickly because they disappear fast.  The leprechauns make it tricky for people.”

“Wow…Have you ever walked on a rainbow?”

“I have.  But it went away before I got to the pot of gold.”

And like that, dad was God.  He also gave me an idea; an idea that would let my lame summer compete with Greece and Disneyworld.

After we finished with our drawings, we had to go up in front of the class and present them.  Everyone had the best summer – horseback riding, camping, traveling… then it was my turn.

I stood in front of the class and everyone looked at my picture curiously.  Mrs. Dorgan looked annoyed.  I began to describe my picture and summer to the class.  “This past summer, me and my friend Krista made a big fort.  We saw a rainbow.  My dog walked on it.  It was neat.”  Yeah.  That.Just.Happened.   Sure, Greece is cool; does it beat a Labrador Retriever walking on a rainbow?  I don’t think so.

A couple of kids giggled.  My teacher sneered.  Her eyes narrowed as she looked at me.  “These were supposed to be true stories.”

“But it is…”

“You can’t walk on a rainbow!”

I paused.  Damn it!  I scrambled.  “Well…Dunder didn’t really walk on a rainbow.  We made a bridge over the fort, and he was walking on that.  And it looked like he walked on the rainbow.”

“Sit down, and stop lying.”

I sat down quietly.  From that moment forward, Mrs. Dorgan hated me.  For my part, I continued to give her plenty of reason to hate me for being the pathological liar that I was.

On another occasion, we were at recess.  Two of the girls were playing a game they made up called “I have a secret.”  One girl would whisper something to the other girl in front of me, and then they’d tell me that it was a secret and they couldn’t tell me.  The secret always seemed really crazy and mysterious.  I didn’t have any secrets, so, I made one up.  “I have a secret!”  I leaned over to one of the girls, Jean, and whispered, “Peter was pushing Angela on the tire swing, and she showed him her underwear!”

Jean squealed with delight at this scandalous secret.  “Ooo!  I’m telling Angela!”   No!  She jumped up and ran off.  I yelled after her.  “Stop!  It’s a secret!  You’re not supposed to tell!”

She ignored me and ran up to Angela, who was clear across the playground.  Angela looked over at me from the distance and screamed at the top of her lungs, “that’s a lie, Anne-Marie!  I’m telling Mrs. Dorgan!”

Oh, shit.  Mrs. Dorgan was going to kill me.  I looked at the eager eyes of my nearby classmates – not everyone knew what I did, but they all knew I was busted for something.  Only one idea crossed my mind at that moment – run like hell.  I took off, my gangly legs running as fast as possible towards the western edge of the playground.  There was a fence there.  Maybe there was a hole in the fence – I could squeeze through there, or I could even scale the fence.  I’d get away, and Mrs. Dorgan wouldn’t murder me; or worse, yell at me.  Or even worse, tell my mom.

A few of the kids in my class chased after me like a bunch of bloodthirsty little bounty hunters.  I got to the fence, but couldn’t find an opening.  I tried to scale the fence, but my spaghetti noodle arms failed me.  No!  One of the bounty hunters, My Elementary School Nemesis, grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled me down.  My attempted prison break failed.  Nemesis looked at me sympathetically.  Although she was thirsty for The Hunt, she knew it could have easily been her in my shoes.  “Mrs. Dorgan wants to see you.  She’s mad.”  Mrs. Dorgan was always freaking mad, but I knew I was doomed.

I slowly made my way to the tire dragon where Mrs. Dorgan sat.  Angela was standing next to her.  All the kids stared at me, knowing my fate; I could have sworn I heard chants of “dead man walking…dead man walking.”

I stood silently in front of Mrs. Dorgan.  Her black eyes glared at me with a wrath I had never seen.  “Why did you lie?”

“I don’t know…”

“Do you know what happens to little girls who lie?”

“No…”

“They have no friends and nobody likes them.”

I started to cry.  Mrs. Dorgan looked disgusted with me.  “Tell Angela you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry, Angela.”

Angela shrugged her shoulders, nonchalantly.  “It’s okay; we’re still friends!”

You would think after these two instances I would have learned my lesson, wouldn’t you?  About a month later, we were studying geography, and Mrs. Dorgan went around the class wanting students to share what the BEST trip they ever took was.  My heart sank – I never took a trip before.  What was I going to say?  Everyone had great answers – guess who brought up freaking Greece again?  Of course, Disneyworld was mentioned, and a magical land called Philadelphia…I remembered my favorite Dennis the Menace comic book…

 

Mrs. Dorgan got to me.  “Anne-Marie, what was YOUR best trip?”

I smiled.  “I traveled around the world with my family!”

The class “ooo-eed.”  I don’t know how Mrs. Dorgan could believe a word out of my mouth after the web of lies I weaved up to this point, but she inexplicably believed this one.  Her eyes widened, and for once, she didn’t look at me with anger.  “Oh, how wonderful!  Where did you go?”

I thought of where Dennis the Menace went.  “You know… France, the Netherlands, England, China…”

Her eyes closed in delight.  “What a wonderful trip.  How lucky you were!”

I felt uncomfortable.  She was way more into my lie than I expected.  I should have just stuck with Paris.  “Yeah…I guess.”  She moved on to the next kid, and I thought I was done with it; until my mom met Mrs. Dorgan at a parent-teacher conference.  I dreaded the day, knowing it was very likely I would be exposed.  My mother came home, and as soon as the door closed, I knew I was in deep shit.  “Anne-Marie!

I walked up to my mom.  She was furious with me.  Apparently, Mrs. Dorgan started asking my mom all of these questions about our travels, and my mom looked at her like she was crazy.  Mom told Mrs. Dorgan that I made it all up.  Now, mom was yelling at me for being such a liar.  When I got to school the next day, Mrs. Dorgan pulled me outside of the classroom, her mouth finding its natural home in a deep and wrinkled frown.  I was so dead to her.  “You lied to me.  Your mother said you never went traveling around the world!  Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

I lowered my head and didn’t say anything.  For the rest of the time Mrs. Dorgan was our teacher, I feared going to school almost every day.  Mrs. Dorgan truly despised me and would occasionally blow up at me in class.  In her eyes, I was the devil.  I wished I was invisible, and that I could take it all back.  But I couldn’t, and I had to live with the consequences of my actions for as long as she was our teacher.  I began to think that I really was a bad person.  I was a lying liar, and I couldn’t keep myself from lying.

A little after the mid-year, Mrs. Dorgan had to leave for personal reasons, and she was replaced by Ms. Axelrod.  I was afraid Mrs. Dorgan filled her in on what a demon child I was, but as soon as Ms. Axelrod talked to me, I felt like a weight was lifted.  Unlike Mrs. Dorgan, she smiled a lot, and she entrusted me with responsibilities.  I liked her.  Life suddenly seemed different; for the first half of second grade, I felt like I couldn’t do anything right.  Now, I felt like I was a really good kid.  I wanted to be good, and do good things and I didn’t want to let Ms. Axelrod down.  My grades went up.  I looked forward to going to school every day.

I’d say my lying was over, but I’ll admit, we had to write another non-fiction story in class, and I had to make something up again.  She knew I was making it up – it was an absurd story about how God gave me a pine tree for my birthday, but she never questioned me and even encouraged me.  I wrote with a fury, and she praised me for it.  The only story that was as long as mine was the story the one girl wrote about her trip to Greece (it was that girl’s ace in the hole, no doubt).  I was sad when school year ended, knowing that Ms. Axelrod was no longer my teacher.

Thanks to my experiences as a 7 year-old lying liar, I learned an important lesson in life.  I could be sentimental and preachy and tell you that I learned that lying takes far more energy and time than telling the truth; I could tell you that Ms. Axelrod taught me everyone deserves a second chance.  Oh sure; these are lessons I carry with me to this day, but the real lesson I learned?

For God’s sake, if you are going to make shit up, fact-check that bitch and keep it small.

Chocovine: Bringing New Meaning to “Chocoholic”

Earlier this year, we invited a few people over to serve a dual purpose: to celebrate Chris’ birthday, and to get rid of booze we’ve had for a long time.  Here’s the problem with a “help us get rid of our booze” party: you always wind up with more.  In our case, we wound up gaining about 10 additional bottles.  Those additions were not Bacardi or Cuervo; they were 10 amazing bottles of sweet German wines, Estate rums, and tasty liquors.  This makes our dear friends slightly evil, but being the hedonistic heathens we are, evil is a prerequisite for awesome.

Amongst the 10 bottles of liquory goodness, we received two things we never heard of before – a bottle of Pinnacle Whipped Cream Vodka and a bottle of Chocovine.  To get this out of the way right off the bat – Whipped Cream Vodka?  Yes.  Oh, hell yes.  It is as good as it sounds, and is known to turn the driest of people into frothing-mouth gluttons after the first sip.  It is that good, and after you have it, you will be finding excuses to put it in everything.  Our awesome/evil friends recommended making a martini combining the Whipped Cream Vodka and Chocovine.

Looking at the ingredients and description for Chocovine, it doesn’t sound like it would make for a great cocktail drink – it contains Cabernet, Cream, and “artificial flavors.”  The artificial flavors suggest to me that they don’t use real chocolate, which makes me really sad for the three seconds before I drink it all.  Surprisingly, you don’t taste the wine at all.  It basically tastes like spiked chocolate milk, but that is a good thing, isn’t it?

Per our friends’ suggestion, we made Chocotinis – 3 parts Chocovine and 1 part Whipped Cream Vodka.  This was exciting for me, if for no other reason than to use my pretty Mikasa martini glasses which haven’t seen the light of day since the unfortunate mid-2000s Appletini craze.  Now, I have had Chocolate Martinis before – usually they contained chocolate liquors and girly Hershey-kissed rims.  These concoctions are usually like chocolate-flavored lighter fluid that singe your nose and ear hairs.  Chocovine martinis on the other hand, are like drinking dew off the wings of an angel while you’re receiving a lomi-lomi massage from James Marsden as he sings to you.

Hmmm.  What was I saying?  Oh yes.  Booze.

The calorie content in Chocovine is rather high due to the cream, but Chris and I couldn’t resist having a drink every night after dinner until the last drop was sucked out of the bottle.  We were both sad and relieved when the last of the Chocovine was gone.  For a few weeks, we passed on buying more, knowing cream and rich alcohol don’t exactly fit into a regular part of our diet.

While at Cost Plus World Market, I strolled through their wine section and happened upon their large, beautiful display of Chocovine.  They had the regular kind, a Raspberry Chocolate flavor, and… oh no.  Espresso.  I stared at the bottles.  The classic angel vs. devil battle ensued in my mind:

Angel:  The diet.  Think of the diet.

Devil:  Think of the delicious smooth nectar of chocolate rushing over your palate.  And espresso.

Angel:  Think of the food pyramid; where does this fit on it?

Devil:  Whatever.  We both know your food pyramid resembles a martini glass.  Just don’t have it every night.  Have it as a sometimes snack.

Angel: True… true…

As I stared at the display, good and evil battling it out in my mind, at least two people came up to me.  “Have you tried that?  OhmiGOD is it good!”

I caved in and grabbed a bottle of the regular (for Chris) and a bottle of the Espresso for me.  After a long day at work, I made an Espresso Chocotini for myself and savored it sip by sip.  Rich and chocolaty with subtle coffee tones, it makes for the perfect drink to have after a rough day at the office.  Or after your kids have been difficult.  Or for breakfast, or even as a little pick-me-up to carry in your garter in a little flask (just kidding – seriously.  It has cream; you don’t want that evil on you after a 120 degree day in Arizona.  Plus, little hidden flasks kind of make you an alcoholic, unless they are super chic and cute, of course).  At any rate, whatever reason you give yourself for drinking Chocovine, it is a worthy reason.  Chill it, drink it, enjoy it, and thank me later.

Act Two

Connecticut, for the most part, is a beautiful and quaint state.  The roads rise and fall with small hills and wind through lush green landscapes, as large oak trees create a canopy overhead.  Driving through these winding roads, you experience Connecticut’s history through the architecture of its homes.  In the more rural areas you see old saltbox houses from the late 1600s and early 1700s.  Old towns are filled with colonials and Victorians, and the closer you get to major metropolitan areas, you find post-World War II tract housing consisting of cape cods and L-shaped ranches.  Tudors dot the wealthy outskirts.  In all, you have a wide variety of architecture to enjoy, covering the span of American history.

As pretty and diverse as it can be, there are few vistas in the state where you can look out and see for miles.  You happen upon homes and landscapes when you drive or walk along the roads.  You can see only what is in your immediate view, unaware of the world past the canopy or over the next hill.This was my life for 18 years.

As I stood on the balcony of my hotel room, I experienced Tucson for the first time, and admired the beauty of differences.  Instead of being cocooned in Kelly green leaves, I could see miles and miles of sand-colored ground and sage green plants.In place of winding roads, there was a clear grid stretching as far as the eye could see.  Rather than being surrounded by homes spanning 250 years of history, I could only see homes that were 50 years old at the most.  The tiny hills of Connecticut were no match for the bold and ragged Catalinas – the mountains made me feel like I was living in a topographic map.

When I stepped foot off of the plane, my mind was filled with a typical Yankee perception of Arizona – sun, sun, sun!  It never rains!  Blue skies all of the time!   Imagine my surprise then, when on that balcony, I saw a menacing dark cloud creep over the Catalinas making its way towards my hotel.  I inhaled to enjoy the unusually thick smell of ozone that preceded the storm.  For the first time in my life, I saw lighting bolts stretch from cloud to ground, hitting different points on the mountain.  The thunder rolled loudly as the storm neared.  I watched with fascination and concern – this was nothing I had ever seen before and was wholly unexpected.

Suddenly, a loud clap of thunder exploded as a large lightning bolt slammed from the heavens to earth only a couple of miles from my balcony.  I jumped.  Tens of car alarms triggered, providing a soundtrack of man-made chaos responding to the ho-hum of Mother Nature.  Large, dense raindrops fell from the sky furiously, while thunder and lightning rumbled and flashed around me.  The world was ending in a biblical storm; why was I the only one who looked freaked out?

Just as quickly as the storm came, it ended.  The sun peeked through the clouds, and the sky shimmered from the raindrops that continued to fall over Tucson.  The menacing cloud moved on to wreak havoc on another part of town, leaving a brilliant rainbow in its wake.  The sun seemed brighter, the sky bluer.

I realized at that moment that I had finally made it to Act II.  I did it.  I was able to leave home – to really leave home and start the next stage of my life.  I had no idea where I would wind up, but the wheels were finally in motion.  I could finally be “me” and have an existence that was built completely on my own accomplishments and failures.

Today, I think about how my life has mirrored that moment – I think of all the times I believed I could see far ahead, and I would anticipate and plan every move, only to be rocked by an unexpected lightning strike or fierce storm.  I’d feel like my world was ending yet somehow the storm would find a way to clear, and I’d be stronger and wiser on the other side; even if there was a little damage left in the storm’s wake.

That moment also serves as a microcosm of why I was a virgin to life.  There was much I thought I knew about the world, only to have an abrupt epiphany to challenge my thinking.  The epiphanies can range from subtle to anvil-like; they can be triumphant or they can be devastating.  They can be humorous, morbidly funny, and on a rare occasion – unfortunately – they can still bring tears to my eyes.

Over the years, there is one epiphany that trumps all others in its importance – the realization that we do not connect with each other through our perfection, but through our mistakes.  In the coming weeks, you’ll learn why I was (and am) a Virgin to Life.  My missteps are embarrassing at times, but a little hyperbole, humor, and a few choice curse words can at least provide good therapeutic laugh and perspective if nothing else.  So feel free to laugh and/or facepalm at my expense – I won’t be offended;  Maybe you’ll even find a little bit of yourself in my stories – I won’t tell if you won’t.

Photo of Arizona copyright 2007-2012 by Chris Giard.