Friday, July 29, 2005

Safe Betting

The coast is clear (or, in more geographically-correct terms, the hills and strip malls are clear) -- I think Kevin and Alex have finished remodeling. The screens and doorknob look good.

You may be wondering how the doorknob suffered enough damage to necessitate two bachelor remodelers. Okay, you aren’t wondering, but I’ll tell you: the doorknob cracked when someone tried to break into our house.

Surprised? So am I. This abortive break-in may have occurred while I was away in PA, AR, or MA, or perhaps I was home but didn’t hear it.

Either way, it’s scary.

Crime is something that happens to “other people.” Sort of like rare diseases and freak car accidents. Robberies take place in NYC or in rural communities where Sheila’s Good-Time Diner serves grilled cheese sandwiches 2 for $2. Crime exists only on the 11 o’clock news. Yes?


So, last night I lay awake well past midnight, listening for the scritch scritch-scritch of a crowbar yanking at our front door. Usually, somebody in my family sets our security system before bed, but yesterday it remained off -- Mom and Dad were already asleep by the time I came upstairs to read, and I didn’t want to wake them with the BEEP of alarm activation.

I was playing the odds, sure. Chance of me waking the ‘rents by turning on the alarm: 85%. Chance of a psychotic serial rapist entering our unprotected home: 2%.

And that 2% ruined my chance for a pleasant night’s slumber.

Of course, nothing happened. Much as I enjoy blogging, I wouldn’t be writing if I had recently fallen prey to a psychotic serial rapist. I’m not that dedicated.

Insomnia is often good for realizations, and as I stared at my ceiling last night, I came to this earth-shattering conclusion: hey, security is important.

With the security of my home in jeopardy (real or imagined), none of my chronic neurotic concerns seemed quite as crucial. Will I have time to hit the gym tomorrow? Uh, not if a homicidal maniac busts our screen in the next 10 minutes. Did I pick the right Ph.D program? Should I ask the guy in the ski mask?

Here’s a fact: even if I had a high-tech security system and two Vin Diesel-sized bodyguards standing at my bedroom door, I’d still spend a lot of time worrying about security. Job security, the security of my friendships, my own insecurities....I’m more security-obsessed than a ring-wing warmonger on speed.

I’m probably not alone. I know I’m not alone. I mean, how much money does the magazine industry make playing on women’s insecurities? Oh God oh God oh God, I’m too fat...I’m not sexy enough...I’m not fashionable enough...I’m not happy enough (wonder why). I buy into it all the time. Cosmo has yet to send me a thank-you note.

Today I joined Dad on a visit to his investment analyst. Discussion item #1: financial security. Over a round of Diet Pepsis, we all examined the analyst’s J-chart. The J-chart shows risk vs. reward of investing in stocks and bonds. I’m not a “numbers person,” but I know that if you dole all your cash into stocks (100% stocks), that’s awfully risky. And if you buy totally into bonds (100% bonds), you’re playing it yawningly safe. 50% stocks/50% bonds would put you in the middle, I guess.

The chart should be linear -- risk rising with % invested in stocks. But it isn’t. It’s a “J”-chart, not an “I”-chart. The hook of the “J” shows that your safest bet is actually a mix of stocks and bonds. More bonds than stocks, but a small percent of stocks nonetheless. (This advice is free, by the way).

Don’t ask me to give the reasoning. I asked the analyst, but I don’t remember enough to paraphrase his answer. I’m more than a little insecure about my ability to explain money matters, anyway.

I only know the bottom line: security isn’t always what it seems. And sometimes it pays (literally) to drop a security blanket or two.

But I guarantee I'm setting the alarm tonight.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Royal Mess, Royally Avoided

I’m about 400 pages into Charlotte Simmons, and I’m not anxious for it to end. If I didn’t have Nick Hornby’s latest and the new Harry Potter waiting, I might slow down my reading. It isn’t that I’ve found my literary soulmate -- I have problems with some of Tom Wolfe’s stereotyping (sluts vs. virginal beauties; athletes vs. geeks), but CS is a college-campus tale, and my college-campus days weren’t that long ago. Wellesley sure didn’t echo with frat-party hollering and “Go, team, go!” but we had the requisite bump ‘n’ grinding and Rugby Chicks. As I told my friend HTS, “they” say every stereotype has a grain of truth. Once in a while, “they” are right.

This morning I awoke to the not-so-distant voices of young men, and for a few seconds I thought Charlotte Simmons had infiltrated my dreams. Was I really in my bedroom, or had I snoozed myself into a Saint Ray fraternity gala with Wolfe’s Greeksters? I rubbed my eyes and looked around: dirty laundry, childhood stuffed animals; unpacked PA boxes….definitely my room.

The voices belonged to the two bachelor remodelers (meaning “young, single men who are in the process of remodeling our house,” not “people who are in the process of remodeling young, single men,” syntax, syntax).

Yup. They’re back.

I quickly changed out of the mismatched wife-beater/saggy pajama bottoms ensemble I’d worn to bed, and put on running shorts and my “Bob Ross Happy Trees” t-shirt. I save my humorous-message t-shirt collection for just such emergencies. The funny t-shirt says, “Hey! No worries! I’m not gonna get drunk and stick my tongue in your ear!” It’s low-libido casual.

From my bedroom, I slunk into the den, where I planned to check e-mail (of course) and maybe play Solitaire for an hour or so. “Funny T-Shirt” was Plan B. “Avoidance” was Plan A.

Enter: Mom. “Why don’t you go say ‘hi’ to Kevin and Alex? If you don’t talk to them, they might think you’re a snob.”

So, Plan B it was. I might encounter total humiliation, embarrassment, awkwardness…but God forbid anyone think I’m a snob.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I waved at Kevin and Alex from our second-floor landing. “What are you working on today?”

Installing screens on windows and fixing a doorknob. “Ha!” I smiled, descending the stairs and displaying my Bob Ross shirt (see? No libido!) “Seems like the work never ends around here.” And in Kevin’s 22-year-old mind, he probably added: "you have no idea."

With that, I hoped the guys would turn back to window screening. But they didn’t. More conversation seemed obligatory, so we chatted about Prince. I mean, naturally.

I don’t remember how we got on the topic of Mr. Artist Formerly Known As. If I recall correctly, Alex’s live-in girlfriend’s friend works at a Nashville hotel where Prince once spent a few nights. Got that?

Anyway, Alex declared, “That guy is really strange,” and—based on my People-magazine knowledge of Prince—I agreed. He’s very short. He wears sparkly outfits. Alex says he (Prince) won’t shake hands with anyone, for fear of germs. Also, he called Alex’s live-in girlfriend’s friend at 3 a.m., requesting a hairdresser. An on-call hairdresser doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me, but I suppose 3 a.m. is pushing it.

While the guys and I ruminated on “Purple Rain” (which is, apparently, a song AND a movie. News to me.), some part of my brain conjured this happy Prince memory: March 2004, Austin, TX -- HTS, Jessica, and I shimmied, bumped, and white-girl-overbited (overbit?) to “Pussy Control” on a lit-from-beneath dance floor. First time we’d all been together since before college (I think), and we haven’t reunited since. But every time I play “Pussy Control” (“a tale that will soon be classic, about a woman you already know…”), or “Kiss” for that matter, I get a slice of that hard-partying, sweet-reminiscing night.

Which brings me to my two favorite things about music:

1. It fills weird silences, in ways that funny t-shirts can’t.
2. It marks memories, for better or worse (but usually for better).

I own few albums. The majority of my CD collection consists of mixes, compiled from MP3s and friends’ tune stashes. I have more mixes than a depressed 15-year-old wannabe poet, which is why I rarely share my CD collection with anyone. It’s embarrassing. Grown-ups buy albums, you know?

The thing is, there’s nothing quite like listening to David Lee Roth’s “I Ain’t Got Nobody” next to Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You” next to Adam Sandler’s “Love Stinks” when you’re heartbroken. And Cake’s “I Will Survive” next to Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right (But It’s Okay)” next to Eamon’s “F-ck You, I Don’t Want You Back” is great for the upswing.

“Ice Ice Baby” (on my “Feel Good Mix”) reminds me of cruising around the Murfreesboro roller rink, circa 1988, hoping to out-skate the preteens. “You Can Do It” by Ice Cube is also a “Feel Good” song, with its Highlights-style affirmative title, disguising PG-13ish lyrics (Goofus must have written it). Vanilla Ice right next to Ice Cube. Word to your mother.

Since I listen to my mixes more often than I tune into the radio, I’m not exactly current on the “next wave” of music. Postal Service, the Killers, the White Stripes, Death Cab for Whatever….not on my radar yet. But as long as Prince keeps bridging the conversation gaps, I’ll stick with him. I just won’t shake his hand.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

I Just Stick Out My Chin and Grin, and Then What?

I’m sure you haven’t been keeping track of my blogger confessions. Chances are, you have better things to do. I hope you have better things to do. But if you’ve made note of my revelations, then you know the following things about me:

1. I like to pretend I’m a hot back-up dancer.
2. I embrace nostalgia -- weepy, goofy, or otherwise.
3. I’m a good alliterator, bad stylist.
4. I won’t be getting married soon, but I might get a new computer.
5. I have crabs (two).

That pretty much sums up my blog, so if you haven’t read it at all -- now you know. Oh, and I like to rhyme. Cellophane, night in Spain, bathroom drain, and on and on.

In the spirit of self-disclosure, I’ll add another tidbit tonight. Are you ready? It shames me to admit it, but....I really want to be discovered.

Blogging takes a fair amount of egocentrism. Simply by starting this blog, I’ve revealed that I get a kick out of analyzing the day-to-day events in my life, and I believe they’re worth sharing with you.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that I deeply desire recognition from the world at large Every time I refresh my email account (meaning, about 781 times per day), I anticipate a note from or The New York Times, requesting my services as a weekly columnist. "We stumbled across your discourse on beginner karate and Robert Palmer," they’ll say. "Absolute brilliance! Can you take Frank Rich’s slot?"

In a way, I’ve been a fame-o-phile for years. As a 7 year old, I used to stand in our Murfreesboro driveway, singing to myself and smiling precociously, with the notion that a Broadway talent scout would walk by and exclaim, "THAT’S the kid who should be in our Annie revival." I think I got the idea from a Ramona Quimby book -- Ramona knew she’d be a shoo-in for advertising Juicy-O or dog food.

Unfortunately, I never grasped Beverly Cleary’s tender humor. Of course Ramona would be a star. And I would,’s only a daaaaaay awayyyyyyy!

You can imagine how disappointed I was to find this article in yesterday’s New York Times online ("Reader, I Dated Him"):

Stephanie Klein is a 29-year-old blogger who got discovered. According to the article, "Today [her] blog has an international readership, with fans who recognize Ms. Klein when they see her gallivanting around Manhattan and the Hamptons, and who find parallels in their own lives in her candid, freewheeling stories."

"Ms. Klein" is full-on sunbathing in the glory that I envision for myself.

So is Jason Mulgrew, People’s "bachelor blogger." His latest posts hint that he may have a Hollywood movie deal.

Why am I upset? If it happened to Klein and Mulgrew, it can happen to me. I have the dream! I have the drive! And well, that’s about it. Dream and drive. Dreaming and driving aren’t likely to get me very far. Can I say that and still be American? I think so.

For starters, the Klein article goes on to report that out of 13 million blogs, "single-subject or niche blogs" hardly ever rate in the top-100 for "net attention." Blog surfers prefer to read news and politics, the article explains.

Adding insult to injury (or vice versa, whatever): "Most of the millions of daily-life blogs have only a handful of regular readers, generally the author’s friends."

Gee, thanks, NYT. Most of my friends don’t read my what does that say for me? It’s a hard-knock life.

Another small impediment to my super-stardom: I’m not exactly "gallivanting around Manhattan." I don’t even "gallivant" here at home, unless you count my trips to the community rec center. Can you gallivant on a treadmill?

Apparently, Stephanie Klein spends her evenings eating at Maxie’s steakhouse on Park Avenue South and "sipping cocktails with strawberries and kiwis in them." All the while, she’s attracting men who will fuel her "racy anecdotes."

Here’s what I did last night -- Saturday night:

1. Ate a burrito with half a can of enchilada sauce.
2. Listened to an Otis Redding CD while watching my crabs.
3. Drank a margarita, then, why not, a couple glasses of wine.
4. Lay down on my bathroom floor, pretending to feel a buzz.
5. Got up, checked Friendster, checked IM, checked email, checked crabs.
6. Continued "checking" for 2 hours.
7. Watched 30 minutes of an "SNL" rerun (David Spade...yawn).
8. Went to bed.

I could write an essay about that. In fact, I wrote some very bad haiku. But I decided not to post it, because I did not want to shall we say it....pathetic.

But perhaps I’m "on" to something. Jason Mulgrew and Stephanie Klein have gained recognition for leading highly social, escapade-filled lives. So maybe the key to my worldwide popularity lies in doing something completely different. I’m thinking total seclusion and tedium. More crabs! More Otis! More bathroom floor! What do you say?

Are you there?

Well, drat.

Friday, July 22, 2005

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

1. All families are strange (including mine). Before this CA trip, I put faith in the sanity of my family. On the continuum of normality, I would’ve placed us close to the Huxtables and the Seavers, far from the Simpsons and Roseanne’s bunch.

And, okay, I still wouldn’t toss us with Bart and Aunt Jackie, but we’re not in the nuclear Top Ten.

This trip brought together most of my immediate family, for the first time in this century. My grandfather, my Alabama uncle, and my dad stayed home (maybe wisely), but everyone else showed up in full effec’: Mom, grandmother, Alabama aunt, California aunt and uncle, two CA cousins and two AL cousins.

I maintain that none of my relatives are particularly bizarre, when sold separately. But as a complete set, we apparently create a nice, shrink-wrapped package of dysfunction. Our weirdness is much like one of those pictures formed by placing many small images together -- take a few steps back and, hey, there it is!

I’d like to present exhibits A-J of the events and behaviors that led me to this realization, but I’m convinced God would smite me if I told family secrets to the greater blogging community. I’ve escaped smiting for over two decades now, and I don’t want to further press my luck.

However, I’m pretty sure God isn’t checking my e-mail, so if you want the director’s cut, drop me a line.

2. Peacocks are worse than roosters. Remember my rude awakening from Fergus? Raise the intensity and duration, and you’ll get a sense of my week’s “rise and shine” from the small-town CA peacocks. My uncle’s neighbors own five or six of these plumed birds, and, as it happens, mid-July is peacock mating season. Welcome to “Birds Gone Wild.”

The first time I awoke to peacock calls, I thought someone was torturing an acutely misanthropic cat nearby. Mrowwwww. MrOWWWWWWWW. My aunt and uncle claim that they no longer hear the peacocks in the morning, but I never developed an immunity. Once the howling died down, the neighborhood sprinkler systems kicked in: chk-chk-chk-chkkkk....So much for sleeping in.

3. The roller-coaster metaphor is no longer valid. Somebody tell Comso and Marie Claire -- you can’t compare love or relationships to roller coasters anymore. Instead of stomach-lurching falls and upside-down tumbles, the latest roller coasters rely on darkness, special effects, and whiplash.

I guess some relationships incorporate these elements, but, as B.B. says, the thrill is gone.

I reached this conclusion after my day at Disneyland, aka “the happiest place on Earth.” If Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth, it’s time to stand firmly behind NASA’s exploration of other planets. Where’s the happiness in cramming thousands of people, a large percent of whom don’t wear deodorant, into cramped, two-hour lines for two-minute rides and overpriced soft drinks?

Lest you think I’m a total Eeyore, let me say that I love amusement parks. No Southerner was sadder than I when evil developers turned Opryland into Opry Mills Mall. As a kid, I rode the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster until I could no longer stand.

But -- by cracky -- they don’t make ‘em like they used to. I elbowed aside several small children to get a front car on Space Mountain, then waited patiently for that I’m-going-to-throw-up-right-NOW feeling. It never came. No big drops. No sudden turnaround spins. Only a side-to-side whipping that almost dislocated my spine. Ouch. Come to think of it, my last relationship was sort of like that.

4. I’m still 24 going on 12. And not just because I crave a good amusement park. I thought by the time I reached my 20s, I might get to eat with the adults during our family trips. Well, alright, I have earned that privilege – but I’m not grown up enough to ride shotgun in the minivan. When it comes down to it, I’m sitting with “the kids.”

My cousins are aged 14, 12, 6, and 4. Because I fall so far outside the median, my grandmother, aunts, and uncles have made me the average: about 10. I’m old enough to look after my younger cousins, but I continue to be asked whether or not I “need to go bathroom” before day-long excursions.

To his credit, my CA uncle frequently referenced the “adult fun” I could be having. “Next summer you need to bring a boyfriend up here,” he said. “Then you can go have adult fun.”

As far as I could tell, my uncle translates “adult fun” to “binge drinking.” I had no sooner dropped my suitcase at my aunt and uncle’s house, then my uncle offered me a vodka-tonic. Before I finished that, he gave me a cosmopolitan. That was prior to bringing out the wine glasses. Nevermind “adult fun”....I was pointed straight toward good, old-fashioned adult black-out.

I wasn’t sorry to return home -- as I’ve said, routine has an embarrassing appeal to me, and there’s only so much “learning” I can take. My seatmate on the return flight (next to Mom) was a California guy, around 40ish, tanned, blonde, briefcase-bound. He stayed immersed in a heavily acronymed, tech-ish book for much of the flight, but as we landed in Nashville he bid us some farewell small talk.

“Where are you all from?”

Mom told him, Middle Tennessee.

“Ah!” he smiled knowingly at me. “Summer vacation’s just about over, then. You ready to go back to school?”

Who knows if he meant middle school, high school, or college....I haven’t taken offense at underestimates of my age since I was 17 and the Shoney’s waitress informed me that “kids under 12 eat free!”

And actually, I am ready to go back to school. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of pausing before I replied. My mother jumped in, “She’s 24!” while I looked on, as a pre-verbal toddler might seek ventriloquism from Mommy. And how old are you, little girl?

24 going on 12....going on 2?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Sudden Doom (and Cereal)

You could say I enjoy routine. I’d rather you not say it, though, because it makes me sound boring – like the “We really shouldn’t be doing this…” girl in teenage-joytrip movies. I promise I’m not Page Hannah in Shag, but I guess I’m not Bridget Fonda, either. I wouldn’t perform a public strip-tease to the tune of “Way Down South in Dixie,” but I’d consider giving my number to Jimmy Valentine. Maybe I’m Phoebe Cates. (Of course, if you haven’t seen Shag, none of this makes sense. Rather than change my metaphor, I’ll let you rent the movie. It’s a classic.)

My mornings in Honesdale all started roughly the same way. Wake up at 6:18; stumble to the computer; select an upbeat number from iTunes (such as “Stayin’ Alive” or “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-dah”); hum along and scan e-mail. Then, shower; dress; pay my dues to Clinique and Neutrogena; pour Grape Nuts. Always Grape Nuts? Well, 90% of the time. I got on a Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch kick for awhile, but the guilt nearly wrecked me. My parents instilled me with a reverence for dietary fiber, and I regarded the Cap’n as one might consider a jaunty drug dealer. In the end, I just said no.

I’ve tried to keep most of the routine since arriving in Murfreesboro. I sleep a lot later – so I don’t need the wake-up music. But the Hewlett Packard is still my first stop after rolling back the covers. I like to imagine that the man of my dreams has emailed me overnight, having noticed me in the cereal aisle at Kroger and asked around town for my name. He needs me to log onto IM immediately, so we can arrange a getaway in his private hot-air balloon, which will launch to the tune of “Sky Rockets in Flight, Afternoon Delight.”

And to think….he planned all of this while I slept!

This morning I found a note taped to my HP monitor: “You need to unhook your computer. It’s sick ☹ Mom” Had I been a cartoon character, a little exclamation point would have sprung over my head. Sick? Like, head-cold sick? Or one of those Oregon Trail diseases that ensured instant death? With a trembling finger, I powered my hard drive. Just as I feared: call off the journey West. My computer has dysentery.

I’m not a computer techie by anyone’s definition, but I know the BSOD. That’s Blue Screen of Death. RIP, HP. My first thought was: God, I’ve lost all of my MP3s. Second thought: God, please don’t make me face the HP support staff. I set a high priority on avoiding situations where I might feel moronic, and talking to tech support always shakes my IQ.

No offense to my computer-savvy friends, but I believe every IT department houses at least one Nick Burns. You know, the Jimmy Fallon tech support character on SNL: “He’ll fix your computer, then he’ll make fun of you.” As the BSOD flicked on and off, I could hear Nick Burns’ dry laughter, “You ignored the Norton Bloodhound message? And you didn’t install a pop-up blocker? Did you say you’re a Ph.D. candidate? At which school…the school of the technologically retarded? Ha ha ha.”

I had to give myself a little pep talk: you’re a good person with a bad computer….use those karate skills….fight or flight! Eye of the tiger! Float like a butterfly, whatever.

Half an hour later, I turned my hard drive over to C&C Computers. I then retreated to Barnes and Noble, where I impulsively spent $75.00 (Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down; Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons; Paul Feig's Superstud: Or How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin). If I’m gonna break routine, I’m gonna go all the way. Cue “Dixie.”

* P.S.: I’m now writing from Dad’s computer, on which I can't figure out how to create italics, check spelling, or change font. Don't laugh at me. If all goes well, I’ll see you again from my HP in a week. In the meantime, I’m off to California on a family vacation. Westward, ho! (Whatever “ho” means in that context.)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Adventures in Travel, Episode Two: Unplugged

This second episode begins at a hotel in Hawley, PA, where Mom and I stayed during the week of my move. The Settlers Inn reminds me of that lodge in Dirty Dancing, minus watermelons and scheduled archery lessons. Since DD was filmed in the Poconos, not far from Hawley and Honesdale, maybe the resemblance isn’t too coincidental.

On the morning of our planned NY excursion, I sat in the Settlers Inn dining room, trying to decide whether I should devote more attention to my homemade granola with yogurt and seasonal berries, or to the generous smattering of Swayze-esque college-aged waiters circulating with fresh coffee. I’ve always been indecisive (or have I?), so I should probably thank the noisy family of five who made my choice easy – with a prepubescent brother-sister pair fighting over swimming goggles and Mom and Dad reading menu items in Yankee Stadium voices, this family demanded everyone’s attention. "No one puts Baby in a corner" times five.

Amidst the squabbling and cereal-choice listing, one member of this clan remained silent. A kid whom Piaget might classify as preoperational – not more than three or four years old – had reached such a state of Zen with his Game Boy that he couldn’t see the orange juice, goggles, waiters, silverware, or pressed tablecloths. It’s likely that this boy had only recently begun speaking in full sentences, yet I’d bet my nonexistent paycheck that he’s reached level 12 on whatever game he was playing.

If I were a couple of decades older, I might say something such as, "These kids with their electronic games! In my day, families really shared their meals – none of this clicking and beeping at the breakfast table." Then, I suppose I would lament the decline of family togetherness, values, etc. But instead I offer my thanks to the Nintendo corporation for keeping one piece of this bickering, shouting family quiet. The electronic babysitter deserves a raise.

Okay, you know I’m sort of tongue-in-cheek....I never spent much time with my Game Boy, and I’m glad. If I had latched onto Mario and Yoshi, I would’ve forsaken Rodgers and Hammerstein, the sing-along staples of our family road trips. I also would have missed our family road games. When I was Game Boy Kid’s age, my mom devised all sorts of activities for "Are we there yet?" situations. We had the "Alphabet Game": starting with A, find words on roadside signs beginning with each letter of the alphabet. The letter X took us at least 100 miles. We also played the standard "License Plate Game," looking for license plates from each state. And we had "Road Bingo," with bingo cards that Mom created. In the center square, she always wrote the name of our destination ("Grandmother’s house"), so it was impossible to win until the end of the trip. Somehow, I never noticed the ingenuity of the center square – I guess I was too busy singing "Bali Hai."

In the spirit of Mom’s Road Bingo, I offer the following few observations from the NY-PA-TN haul:

Can you spot.....the vegetable samosa? We arrived in New York around 3 p.m., after negotiating a reasonably secure parking spot on 42nd Street. After unpacking (and assuring my grandparents that, yes, we made it to the hotel; yes, the hotel is clean; no, we haven’t been mugged, converted, or price gouged), we set out to scavenge for a meal. It had been at least nine hours since the granola, and we couldn’t wait for the chic 8-p.m. dinner hour. We needed the vegetarian version of the NY sirloin strip.

Like many "noble masses" from afar, we landed in the Grand Central Station food court. In TN parlance, "food court" guarantees a Sbarro, and, if you’re lucky, a Dippin’ Dots. NYC must shake its Paul Mitchelled head at this sad culinary fare. The first two kiosks we spotted in the Grand Central Station court offered sushi and Indian food. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Stones River Mall.

When I lived in Honesdale, Mary and I used to drive almost an hour to get take-out from the closest Indian restaurant. That would be two hours, round trip – we’d return with cold naan and congealing basmati rice, as happy as if we’d smuggled ambrosia from Mount Olympus. As much as I enjoyed my curried chick peas and samosa from Grand Central Station, I’m a bit disappointed that New Yorkers don’t have to work for their kormas and masalas.

In my day, we trekked countless miles for our Indian food. And we didn’t play Donkey Kong on the car ride.

Can you spot.....the Ann Taylor debacle? In my packing-and-shipping frenzy, I forgot to save a dressy outfit for NY playgoing. So on Saturday Mom and I hiked to the Ann Taylor Loft, where I prepared to pay twice the TN price for a halter-top sundress. In function-over-form style, I didn’t spend much time digging through the clearance racks or price-checking at nearby Gaps and Limiteds. I grabbed the first three sundresses worthy of Broadway tripping and headed toward the dressing room.

There, I quickly made another NY discovery: in the Big Apple, dressing room attendants work on commission. Or at least, the Ann Taylor Loft attendants do. "I’m Rachel. Let me know if I can help you with anything. And by the way, I’m Rachel."

Rachel obviously uses her Ann Taylor savings to supplement her fledgling modeling career. With a Crest Whitestrips smile and a perfectly yoga-toned arm, she directed me to a vacant room. "Let me know if I can help you with anything." Right. Imperative, not interrogative.

As it happened, none of my sundresses fit – I needed smaller sizes.

A good friend recently observed that the well-documented super-sizing of meal portions in America has catalyzed the super-sizing of clothing. I am not a size 2 petit. But Rachel (borrowing from Sam I Am) convinced me to try the size 2. I shall not buy size 2 today. "Try it, try it, and you may. Try it and you may, I say."

Through the Ann Taylor Loft rabbit-hole, a size 2 fits me....well, everywhere but in the upper deck. Rachel eyed my gaping halter and arched an intricately plucked eyebrow: "Are you wearing a bra?" I considered responding as Ellie Mae in "The Beverly Hillbillies": "Why, no ma’am. In Tennessee, we don’t take stock in yer citified undergarments." Instead, I blushed and nodded yes.

The thing is, Rachel, size-2 girls don’t wear double-D cups. I have no problem with flattering America’s ego by altering clothing sizes, but can we please use standard, human-body proportions?

"Maybe you’d be happier in a blouse-and-pants combo," Rachel offered. I shrugged off the sundress and stepped into size-4 jeans. Several spaghetti straps later, I found a silky turquoise tank with plenty of gathered material in the front – enough material to deceive all members of the boob-fixated NY populace. Is she an A cup? A C cup? The Shadow knows.

"Ah, that top is perfect," Rachel smiled. "It doesn’t matter that you’re...." I thanked her and left before she could say "flat-chested." And before she could remind me that, by the way, her name is Rachel.

Can you spot....the Waldorf-Astoria flub? Rachel’s carefully selected casualwear delivered me through two nights of Broadway theater. On Saturday evening, Mom and I scored tix for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a musical spoof of young vocab-philes, ideal (or ai-deal) for a Scrabble fetishist like myself. Sunday afternoon, we got seats at Fiddler on the Roof, starring Harvey Firestein as Tevye. If you’ve seen the Fiddler movie a few times (not that I have....nor have I memorized "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," or anything like that), I’d skip the Broadway show. Firestein’s high-profile drag performances of years past create a discordant backdrop for the uber-masculine Tevye character. I don’t think "discordant backdrop" is a phrase acceptable in NYT theater reviews, but you know what I mean.

After the final mazel tov, Mom and I window-shopped until we reached the Waldorf, an appropriate public restroom site for the upscale traveler. We walked under three chandeliers, past about five ottoman sets, straight into....a Jewish wedding reception. I kibbitz you not. We settled into an ottoman to watch the stomping and singing. For a mousy Episcopalian, I loved it way too much.

When the last yarmultke-clad guest had vacated the wedding hall, adjacent to the reception area, Mom and I stole a stranded program. Beautiful script, extensive wedding party, and a special note:

"On this happy occasion, we wish to remember our grandparents. Though we miss their physical presence, we know their soles are with us."

Their soles? Unless Gran and Gramps were fishmongers or shoe peddlers, this was a misprint. And I don’t want to be a snooty ex-editor – well, okay, I do – if you’re going to get married at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, add a proofreader to your guest list.

Now that I’ve snidely pointed out the homonym slip-up, you’re going to scope this essay for grammatical errors. Alright, I can take it. Perhaps you can proofread to kill time while waiting for a latte or for the next mile-marker. I’ll put Spell Check in the center square.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Adventures in Travel, Episode One: Plague and Permeability

Batman did not arrive to rescue me from the SWMs. Nor did Sober Remorse Woman, who’s my fear-pseudonym superheroine of choice. But the weekend is here, and the SWMs won’t be back until Monday. So, now I can come out of hiding and tell you about my PA-NY-TN trip.

(Incidentally, the Long Island Iced Tea, um, incident occurred two years ago, when I was 22 and the 22-year-old was...gosh...practically a teenager. My hippocampus has developed considerably since then – at the ripe age of almost-25, I would never get intoxicated with a younger man in my hometown. I’d choose a different town, much farther away. A town where the likelihood of a "second encounter" would be nil.)

(Also, I apologize for the rusty writing. There’s no excuse for "incidentally" and "incident." Even out-of-work editors should know better.)

So, the trip. Due to a flaw in our bionic powers of communication, Exploding Airplane Engine Chick and I missed our Big Apple rendezvous. That probably means that we won’t be promoted to full-time soft pretzel avengers. Still, Mom and I did our best to conquer the Upper West Side on our own.

Before we elbowed our way through Times Square, we exercised super-strength by defeating Mesh Shirt Man. Mesh Shirt Man (MSM) appeared harmless enough when he approached us during my yard sale in Honesdale. Mid-40s, moustache, sneakers. The mesh shirt might have sparked my weird-detector, but, then again, perhaps PA humidity called for perforated sportswear. As a function-over-form gal, I try not to judge.

In fact, I had made a rather poor fashion choice also – I was wearing my "I *heart* Nerds" t-shirt. MSM welcomed the invitation. "So, you love nerds?" he smiled. "Um, uh-huh." I pretended to change the price on a table lamp. "You really love nerds?" I looked around for my mother, then remembered she had taken the Acura for a gas refill. Bugger. MSM picked up a used hairdryer. "You know what you should do with this?" I had no clue where he was going. I should...dry my hair? Call for help? "What you do is, you put on some sunglasses and take this down to the park." MSM clutched the hairdryer in both fists, like a mesh-clad Pierce Brosnan. "Then you aim it at the cars as they drive by." MSM chuckled loudly. I laughed and walked back....back...back toward the porch. "Hey!" MSM announced. "You gotta do something in this town to keep from going insane."

Ah, Honesdale. I miss you.

Here, I insert a "to be continued," because the morning is slipping away and I haven’t showered. The hijinks get better, I promise. Hijinks. What a fun word. Yeah, I’m a nerd, too.

Friday, July 08, 2005


To: You
From: Me

Greetings from the laundry room of my parents’ house, where I will be hiding until further notice. Hero’s welcome to Tennessee has morphed into a duck-and-cover, a la Harrison Ford in The Fugitive (but with less gore and more dirty socks). Cause for distress? Two SWMs, aged 22 years and 32 years, who’ve taken residence.

Okay, technically they’re remodeling the guest bedroom, but you’re missing the point. They’re right here. In the house. Close range. They see me when I stumble in from a 4-mile run, huffing and sweaty. They see me eating spaghetti sauce with a spoon directly from the fridge. They see me digging through laundry in my bedroom, looking for a clean pair of shorts. They’re always watching. Please send back-up, asap (and maybe a sexier pair of shorts, too).

I’m not usually this paranoid about the opposite sex (or, as we called them in college, um, "them"). I even have a few male friends, though none are single and/or straight. I should probably add this tiny detail to help you understand the urgency of my situation. It’s small but significant. Really, I shouldn’t mention it at all, because there could be children present – and parents, too. Jeez. Well, one could say that I have a history with the 22-year-old SWM. Specifically, you could define "history" as "one night." Or, if you prefer, "the one night I ordered a Long Island Iced Tea, in addition to several shots." That’s all the info you need, I think. S.O.S.

More from me later. I hear footsteps.