Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Good, the Bad, the Half-Shelled

Okay, I lied. Looks as if I might be in Murfreesboro for a long time, and blogging seems like a relatively good way to pass the hours. By “relatively,” I mean relative to stumbling around the house in unwashed pajamas, or “biting mah pillow” (We love you, Corky!). These two activities have consumed 85% of my time since Saturday, when I drove the seven hours to my aunt and uncle’s house in Alabama. The other 15%, I set aside for watching the Weather Channel and admiring my red, puffy eyes. I have to say, depression isn’t a bad look for me.

I got out of N’Awlins on Saturday, when evacuation was only “voluntary.” My mom knows a lot about volunteering -- Junior League, Charity Circle, Garden Club. For her, it’s a mandatory thing. “Hurry! Go!” she commanded on Saturday morning. “Stop freaking me out,” I snapped. “It’s not time to panic yet.”

Au contraire.

At that time, the Tulane Web site encouraged students to “keep an eye on the news” and “be prepared.” News, check. Prepared, uh, check. I had half a tank of gas and a good pair of running shoes. That’s “prepared,” isn’t it? I finished my bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and shuffled my playlists on iTunes. And, once in a while, I glanced at the green and orange swirls swimming up Channel 62's Storm Tracker radar.

When the swirls intensified to orange and red, I refreshed Tulane’s page. A rough paraphrase of the new message: “Unless you seek a cold, watery death, get out right now.”

Here’s an interesting question: if you were faced with a sudden evacuation, what would you toss into your backpack? I didn’t have time to collect my journals, scrapbook, family photos, etc. Or I probably did, but the urgency of the situation, combined with old-fashioned paranoia, convinced me that disaster loomed one raincloud away. I chose to “save” the following:

Two pairs of underwear
Two recently purchased Old Navy t-shirts
One pair of Ann Taylor Loft jeans (the New York jeans)
One pair of dead-sexy denim shorts
Toothbrush, deodorant, floss, contact lenses, etc. (No one likes an unkempt evacuee.)
Childhood teddy bear (Ted)
Hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch (because it was handy)

And Dave, of course. Just call me Noah, minus the ark and the rest of God’s creatures.

After spending Saturday night in Alabama, I drove home to Murf. At the moment, I’m in the Murfreesboro Starbucks. Blogging in a Starbucks! How chic! I owed it to my parents to get myself out of the house. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent a significant amount of time with a depressed person, but let me tell you....it’s no Dollywood.

Why the long face, Jesse? And where did the expression “long face” come from, anyway? Lately, my face has been short – scrunched and twisted in anxiety.

I know I have no decent reasons to be terribly upset. I’m safe. I’m with my ‘rents. Since my apartment is on the second floor, it might not be totally underwater. There’s a good chance that most of my precious “stuff” survived.

I survived. That’s the most important thing.

But I’m still poor company.

Mostly, I’m angry with my inability to put things in perspective. Because despite everything I just wrote, here’s what my brain has been chanting since Saturday’s adrenaline wore off: “No apartment. No friends. No job. No future.”

Well, that’s silly. Eventually, I will return to my apartment, and school will start, and I’ll meet people and discover the Greatest Love of All, and all that jazz.

In the meantime, I would scrounge up a few friendships here, but I don’t really feel like hanging out with people. I would get a job down at my local newspaper. But if I get a job, I’m admitting that I’ll be in Tennessee for at least a month, and I don’t want to do that.

Maybe biting mah pillow is the most rational choice.

No, no. I’ll rally. “Things could be worse” isn’t the most upbeat motto, but it works in a pinch. Dave sends a friendly antenna-wiggle to everyone who called, emailed, and sent good wishes our way. He picked up a new housemate while we were in Alabama -- Lizzie the Crab is an early birthday gift from my aunt and uncle. She was named by my 4-year-old cousin, with little regard for crab gender. The crab looks like a Lizzie, anyway. (Though it does not look like my Delta friend Lizzie. It doesn’t have red hair.)

So, I left New Orleans with one crab, and I’ll return with two. Noah....reversed?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Hurrichicanery (An Ode to Disaster)

I think a massive evacuation calls for a limerick, don't you?

I've fled that great storm named Katrina
And am now safely gone from Orlean-a
In my apartment, what's left,
Not lost to wind or theft?
Well, folks, that remains to be seen-a....

Yeah, I know. It's not Ogden Nash. But I'm slightly shaken. More wit and wisdom later (if it hasn't been swept away).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Only the Lonely and Idiomatically Impaired

I’ve already broken the first rule in the Handbook of Making Friends After Relocation (HOMFAR). Took less than 48 hours, which must be a HOMFAR record. My crime was simple yet personally devastating: I turned down an invitation.

Everyone knows that if you want to avoid seclusion and decay in a new city, you never, ever refuse social propositions. To put it tritely: beggars can’t be choosers. (If you think that idiomatic phrasing is bad, read further. It gets a lot worse.)

This rule goes for all invitations. Particulars such as date, time, location, and legality aren’t important. Squirrel hunting in the briar? Well, sure! Detailing your uncle‘s motorhome? Count me in! Shooting up behind McDonald’s? Swell! Should I bring my own needle?

The good news -- after a few weeks of friendship prostitution, you can scale back. By this time, it’s likely you’ll have at least one “starter friend.” Or you’ll have a nice drug habit to take your mind off of the loneliness.

When my cell phone rang at 9:30 last night, I decided to ignore it. I was already in my pajamas, tuned into my favorite “Sex and the City” episode (that one where Charlotte gets crabs in the Hamptons). After the credits rolled, though, curiosity won (over laziness, I guess), and I checked the message. Adrian a.k.a. Mrs. Luc’s daughter and sometime caretaker.

“Just wanted to pass along a message from Karen. She says she’s been trying to get in touch with you about a party. You might give her a call, if you’re not busy.”

Busy? No, I’m not busy, unless your busyness threshold is low enough to qualify “breathing” and “blogging.” Party with Karen! My pulse revived. My forlorn little mind buzzed with scenes from Beaches (before the cancer) and Thelma and Louise (before the double suicide). Karen -- a fellow 20-something who interns for Adrian -- would be the wind beneath my wings, saving me from a dive bomb into reclusion. Did you ever know that you, Karen, are my hero?

I didn’t wait to call Karen’s number. I’d programmed her “digits” into my phone several days ago, when Adrian gave them to me. “I just know you two adorable single gals will get along!” Adrian chirped. Even Mrs. Luc seemed optimistic.

“Karen? Um, hey. This is Jesse? Adrian gave me your message? About getting in touch?”

Not a promising conversation opener. HOMFAR would deduct points for insecurity, uncertainty, and general shakiness. I held my breath while Karen paused.


“Uh, yeah. Shesaidyouwantedmynumber…..somethingaboutaparty.” Now I went into verbal overdrive, hoping to abort Mission: Friendship as soon as possible. Obviously, we were missing a few crucial bits of machinery. Like, the engine, and wheels, and such.

“Oh! Hey! I have your number.”

I didn’t really know what to make of this information, so I waited for a cue, either from Karen or God. Did this mean that she was about to call me, before Adrian stepped in? Or had she filed my number “In case of severe social deprivation”?

Hallelujah, she continued. “I’m so glad you called! A bunch of us are getting together at this club on Napoleon tonight. Major drink specials. You have to come!”

The italicized parts of this exclamation didn’t stand out for me. What I heard was: “bunch of us,” “Napoleon,” and “tonight.”

See, Mission: Friendship wasn’t doomed, right? That’s good. However, I could see three potentially fatal flaws:

1. “bunch of us” -- “Bunch” usually means “more than two.” And “us” is a plural pronoun.” So, the Thelma and Louise fantasy needed tweaking. How much tweaking, I wasn’t sure. A “bunch” of bananas….three or four. A “bunch” of termites….twenty or thirty, at least. Bananas or termites? It didn’t seem like an appropriate question.

2. “Napoleon” -- Napoleon Street is….well, I’m not quite certain where it is. But I know it’s not close to my apartment. As I may have mentioned previously, “sense of direction” is not my sixth sense. Sometimes I get lost in the supermarket. Wasn’t I just at Aisle 7? My internal compass is guaranteed to fall apart after 8 p.m. The nighttime is the right time for many things, but not for putting me on the road in a strange city.

3. “Tonight” -- As Karen enthused about 10-cent beers, I glanced at my watch. 10:05. 10:06. Tick tick tick. Okay, I’m not one of those anemic partiers who collapses at midnight, but this was a “school night.” I had my first university orientation session today: 9 a.m. ‘til 3 p.m. Yesterday I intended to be asleep by 11 at the latest. I’d drug myself with Tylenol PM, if necessary. My “best forward foot” might not be a 100% confident foot or a psychology-whiz foot, but I didn’t want it to be a sleepy or hungover foot. (Again, apologies for the idiom. Just wait.)

“Awwww, I’d love to go, Karen,” I said in my best “apologetic-yet-very-cool-and- definitely-worth-getting-to-know” voice. “But I’m already in my pajamas.”

“That’s okay!” Karen announced, before I could segue into “Have fun, and we’ll get together soon.”

“I probably won’t get out there until 11 or so. You have plenty of time to change.”

So, now I’m sending the mixed messages. “Um, I really wish I could. I really appreciate the invitation. Really.”

“So, come on! There should be lots of other single people there. Not that I’m trying to pressure you or anything.”

Here’s what I’ve discovered about the “not….or anything” phrase: it‘s always intended to work in reverse. Classic example: “I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but…” A line like this always ends in a mean statement. “I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but he smells worse than dog diarrhea.” Of course you’re trying to be mean. If you were trying to be nice, you wouldn’t have said anything at all. Would you? Would you?

“I really wish I could go….” I started. What now? “Um, I really wish I could go, but….”

And here’s where it comes. The dreaded idiomatic phrase. The dumbest idiomatic phrase in the dictionary of phrases and quotations. Worse than “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Worse than “You are what you eat” or “You can’t take it with you.”

“But…..I want to make sure all of my ducks are in a line for tomorrow.”

Pardon my idiomatic French, but: what the fuck? All my ducks are in a line? That isn’t even the right idiom. Ducks come in a row, not a line. And what does that mean, anyway? Why are the ducks in a row? They’re ducks, not ducklings. They don’t need to walk in a row. Makes them easier to shoot.

Karen didn’t say anything to this. How could she? Behind her silence was realization. Shazam. Eureka. I am dealing with Emily Dickinson-meets-Stephen Hawking. Abort! Abort!

The rest of our conversation lasted maybe 25 seconds. “Have fun and we’ll get together soon! Well, bye!”

I immediately called my mother, sobbing. Because when you utter an idiom only a mother could love, you have to call your mother.

“M-o-o-m….I….*snort*….I just ruined…..*sniffle*….ruined things with Ka-uh-Kar-ennnnnnnnn.”

“I’m sure it’s not that bad, dear.”

“I won’t make annnnny friendssss *snort snuffle* I’ll just be ‘That Weird Girlllll….’”

“You’ll make friends,” Mom sighed. “I mean, not everyone will think you’re weird.”

You can fool some of the people some of the time….

Oh okay, I’ll stop. There’s a happy ending to this long tale o’ woe: today I met two incoming psych Ph.D.ers, and I invited them to dinner at my place Monday night. I’m going to cook the least weird food possible. Nothing with tofu. Definitely no duck.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I'm Doomed. How Are You?

According to Mrs. Luc, I am doomed.

And Mrs. Luc knows what she’s talking about. In addition to being my 86-year-old neighbor here in New Orleans, she was a New Orleans tour guide for over 40 years. She’s done all the tours -- plantation tours, seaport tours, downtown tours, city tours. “You can’t be a tour guide if you don’t like people,” Mrs. Luc told me. I guess I’ll never be a tour guide. (Only joking. I do like you, at least.)

Mrs. Luc has seen thousands of Hawaiian shirts, I bet. Hundreds of straw hats and fanny packs. She has also seen a lot of change. I’m using both definitions: “change” as in “foreign and domestic coins,” and “transformation.”

It’s this latter definition of “change” that means trouble for me.

You see, dear, New Orleans isn’t what it used to be. When Mrs. Luc was my age, she could leave her door unlocked at night. The next morning, she might find a plate of brownies on her kitchen ledge -- made from scratch, of course, none of this Betty Crocker hocus pocus.

Also, she felt perfectly safe walking alone at night in our neighborhood. Mrs. Luc still walks several miles each day, but she’s careful to avoid certain streets. You can probably guess the pigmentation of people who live on these streets, sure as you can measure the meringue on the lemon pie Mrs. Luc delivered to my apartment.

“Keep your doors locked at all times,” Mrs. Luc directed. “And have some pie.”

Mrs. Luc does not eat pie (or drink), because she’s watching her figure. “You’ll gain weight living here,” she explained. “My grandson gained five pounds just visiting.”

If I get chunky, I’ll stand even less chance of finding a husband in this town. Things have definitely changed since Mrs. Luc was a 20-something. Women are waiting longer to get married. Or they think they’re waiting to get married. Really, they’re waiting for a long, lonely spinsterhood. “It’s getting late for you,” Mrs. Luc smiled. “Pretty soon you’ll be left with nothing but gays and mama’s boys.” Pass the pie.

Whether I’ll die fat and alone, at the mercy of non-white burglars, remains to be seen. At the moment, I can only report short-term tragedies: the sudden collapse of my iPod and subsequent loss of a 1,200-song index; the intermittent power failures wracking my little 2/br, 1/ba; and the death of Connick, my more cheerful hermit crab. Evidence suggests Connick died in his sleep, not in a street gang tussle. But I’m locking the aquarium, just to be safe.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Objects of My Affection

I said goodbye to Old Blue yesterday. We’d been together since 1998. I know what you must be thinking: seven-year itch. But Blue and I fell out of touch long ago. I think it was around my sophomore year of college; maybe sooner. Any good doctor could’ve predicted it -- quick flame, quick burn. Sleeping together every night; living in the same room each day....As the Cole Porter song goes, our affair was “too hot not to cool down.”

Or, in the words of wise men: “A geek and her retainer are soon parted.”

Blue is the latest casualty in my “stuff massacre.” Also bound for the Murfreesboro city dump: four or five stamps from an ill-fated childhood collection; Mickey Mouse underwear circa ?; photos of my sixth-grade pen pal and of my college graduation (great occasion, bad skin); and a plastic thumb from a misplaced magic kit. I’m hoping that one of our local sanitation workers will rescue the thumb -- it must have some practical use.

If it isn’t obvious: I hate throwing things away. Candy, socks, birthday cards, mascara tubes....you might call me a “pack rat” or perhaps just “ew, gross,” but I prefer to think of myself as “attached.” I love my stuff. It has history. Blue stayed with me through a 1,000-mile move and Calculus AB. When’s the last time you had a relationship that solid?

But here’s the problem with stuff -- it takes up space. Not just emotional space. After almost 25 years of stuff-attachment, I’m running out of room. Sign #1 that an affair is spiraling toward disaster: “I’m beginning to feel stifled.”

This week I finally admitted that my stuff and I need to see other people. The first “other person” on my list is the trash collector.

Not coincidentally, today I resurrected an embarrassing addiction. Call it a coping mechanism. In order to toss Old Blue, I absolutely must scrapbook.

Scrapbooking. I can’t look at the word without imagining myself in bifocals. Scrapbooking, the bastion of overpermed septaugenarians. People who scrapbook shop at those cutesy alliterative, rhyming places. Kountry Krafts. Hobby Lobby. I’m a Hobby Lobbyist. S.O.S. Send the special spinster squadron! Snap, snap!

As it turns out, this madness runs in the family. While digging through a bin of stuff, I found a scrapbook belonging to my biological father. Awkward phrase, “biological father.” You can probably tell he isn’t in the next room. There’s no delicate way of saying it: he died of cancer at age 30, two months before I was born. I think if blogs had been around in the 1970s, when he was a 20-something, he would’ve signed up. He kept journals, too. Retainers....I’m not sure.

My latest scrapbook contains, well, stuff. Ticket stubs from a June 2004 Harry Connick Jr. concert. SpongeBob and Barbie valentines from my miscreant fourth graders. A Helena Community Theater playbill. Postcards of Honesdale that I forgot to send.

I’m not fooling myself -- I know that my leather-bound Ode to Stuff has very little, if any, long-term significance. Subtract the emotion, sentimentality, nostalgia....whatever....it’s just stuff. It gets yellowed and crusty; the words fade, before or after the meaning. It’s perishable. I guess everything is -- perishable, I mean -- whether or not we care to admit it.

So I’m not going to pull a reverse-Siddhartha and glorify the power of petroleum- and carbon-based things. Instead, I’ll wrap this slightly cluttered post with an observation:

Among my father’s scrapbook keepsakes (newspaper clippings, prom photos, band seating charts) is a playbill: “Night of January 16th” by the Central High School Players.

“Night of January 16th” is a courtroom drama written by Ayn Rand. In the program, my father is listed as playing District Attorney Flint, prosecutor of Rand’s heroine Karen Andre.

Flint is a pretty juicy role. I know this because I performed as the “grieving” widow Nancy Lee Faulkner in my high school’s production of “Night of January 16th.” Hillary was Karen Andre. Note to KA: you may have been exonerated, but watch out. I know where you live.

It’s safe to guarantee that I’m the only person who retains this Central High playbill. Even Central High itself isn’t around anymore. To whatever intangible power who united me with this flimsy blue sheet: thanks for the stuff.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Fowl Play?

Nothing lengthy today; just a headline from our local newspaper:

Beat summer with roasted chicken

One word: ouch. I know heat leads to aggression and all, but please -- for the chicken's sake -- try not to beat anything today.

(Sorry for the pun...couldn't resist.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

This and That (Which One Am I?)

When’s the last time a guy tried to pick you up by pointing out how UNsexy you are?

If you’re female, the answer is probably “never.” If you’re male, “even less.”

Well, my tally is “once,” and I hope I can stop counting.

I’ll explain, but I’ll try to keep it brief. There are a few other stories I want to share in this post, none of which are interesting enough for an entire essay. Or maybe they are interesting enough, but my attention span isn’t up for a battle with the word counter. After all, I’m moving to New Orleans in a week. Anxiety has reached a new high -- better known as “freaking out.”

So, where was I? I was at a Saturday-night wedding reception in Sewanee, TN, home of the University of the South, alma mater to Hillary, who was visiting for a long weekend. Does this make sense? I’ve been accused of comma-happiness, so let me clarify: Hillary knew the bride and groom from college; I didn’t. But I wanted to spend time with Hillary, and I like wedding receptions. Wedding crashing is en vogue, right? In the spirit of Vince Vaughn, I accompanied HTS to the party.

The first thing I noticed about John was his height. I’m 5’4”, and he reached slightly above eye level. Thumbs up. I’ve recently decided that I like short men (Tom Cruise excepted).

It hasn’t always been thus -- Ex Who Shall Not Be Named was at least 6 feet, and I enjoyed the whole “small me/protective him” thing. But we all know how that turned out. Besides, now that I’ve taken karate, I’m less inclined to flirt with bodyguard types. John seemed, well...manageable. Also, he had nice teeth. Good enough for a quick dance.

Once the DJ moved on, I figured I would, too. Foolish girl! Never underestimate the mojo of a drunken short guy. He didn’t exactly jump on a couch, but John tried every other technique to lure me behind the buffet. He showed me digital pics of his springer spaniel. He boasted about his hunting prowess (I didn’t tell him I’m vegetarian. Bygones.). He rhapsodized about Harry Potter. “What did you think of the latest book?” I asked politely. “I can’t believe ____ died!” Remind me to take my as-yet-unread Harry Potter back to Barnes and Noble.

When ruining the end of HP failed, John kicked the subtlety:

“You’re very cute,” he declared.

If only he had stopped there.

I’m not one of those girls who can’t take a compliment. You want to tell me I’m Angelina Jolie-meets-Athena? Go ahead. Maybe John felt compelled to temper his forwardness, because he immediately added: “Not hot, but cute.” Que, senor? When I think “cute,” I imagine bunnies and kittens and heart-dotted “I”s. Hot is....hot. Paris Hilton. Paris Hilton doesn’t dot her “I”s with hearts; she has her Greek shipping heirs do it for her. That’s hot.

Has the battle for feminine allure come to this? Cute vs. Hot? Betty: cute. Veronica: hot. Janet Wood: cute. Chrissy Snow: hot. Jennifer Aniston: cute. Angelina: hot. And look which one got Brad Pitt.

Since this anecdote is dragging on, I’ll give you a multiple-choice guess as to how I handled John’s one-liner. Did I...

a) throw my vodka-tonic in his face?
b) give a karate shout and knee him in the groin?
c) grab his neck, plant a “home from the War” kiss on him, whisper “Hot enough for you?” and walk away?
d) clutch my chest in mock agony, giggle, and exclaim, “NOT HOT! You’re saying I’m not hot? I’m hurt!” Giggle, giggle.

Hint: which is the “cute” response? Sigh. Jennifer, I’m with you.

What else? On Sunday evening, my cell phone rang an unidentifiable PA number.

“Yes, hello?” Foreign voice -- not just strange, but foreign. As in: a prankster trying to fake a “Ablaham Rincoln” Chinese accent. “Hello. Your Chinese food is ready for pick-up.”
I waited for the punchline. “Um, I didn’t order any Chinese food.”
“Who is this?”
“This is _____,” I sighed, listing my cell phone number.
“No....who IS this?”
Was this really a Chinese restaurant? Or a serial killer trying to match a name with a random phone number? As I’ve divulged, I’m a bit paranoid about security issues. I decided to play enigmatic: “I’m not in Pennsylvania,” I offered.
“G-ddamn kids!”
Somewhere in Pennsylvania, a Moo Shoo Pork remains uneaten.

Yesterday I drove through a small town containing several gazebos. I was reminded of a conversation about musical theater (of course). A few Theater Geek friends and I decided that all musicals can be grouped into two categories: Gazebo Appropriate and Gazebo Inappropriate. “Sound of Music” is Gazebo Appropriate. “Chicago” is Gazebo Inappropriate. Also Gaz. App.: “Music Man,” “Carousel,” “Oklahoma” (there must be some gazebos out west). Gaz. Inapp.: “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” “Hairspray.” I’d like to propose a new Tony category: Best Musical With a Gazebo.

When Milton Bradley’s wife was pregnant did she crave a game of Monopoly? Lately I’ve been searching for a Monopoly partner, to no avail. Dad is a card player, and Mom prefers board games without a side of blatant capitalism. So much for my tryst with Uncle Moneybags.

What I really want is a Monopoly date. Think about it: why blow $7.50 on a movie when you can earn $200 for passing “Go”?

I believe more dates should center around literal game-playing. You can learn a lot about a guy (or girl) based on a round of Monopoly. To wit:

Does she prefer the race car or the top hat? The race car suggests speed and spontaneity, while the top hat is more traditional.

Does he scoop up Baltic Avenue or save his money for Park Place? Is it steamy car windows on the first date, or are we waiting for a full moon and a Van Morrison CD?

Is “Free Parking” a rest stop or a cash pot? Playing by the rules or skinny dipping in a public pool?

Is “Go Directly to Jail” a catastrophe or happenstance? Does your date have a felony record? I hope not.

And last, I just want to say: satellite radio is a beautiful, beautiful thing. “If I Were a Rich Man” followed by the acoustic version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”? That’s both cute AND hot.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Insert Wavy Flashback Lines

You know it’s been a slow week when your pet crabs are experiencing more excitement than you are.

Here’s how I’ve spent most of my time since Monday: staring at the computer, trotting on the treadmill, twisting my hair (well, as bad habits go...).

In the same amount of time, Connick and Dave have moved into the penthouse of crabitats. That’s right, they’re shacking in an aquarium now, baby. 5-gallon (at least). Calcium-enriched sand carpeting. Two state-of-the art climbing logs. Coconut-husk exercise wall. If I could insert a little “Jeffersons” theme music in here, I would.

Since I don’t have much to offer in comparison, I thought I’d go vintage. I’ve kept a journal since 1994 (ninth grade), and though I don’t write every day, I did jot something on August 6, 1995 -- 10 years ago today.

A peek, if you promise not to judge:

“Jenny suggested I try a new hairstyle, and I’ve been fretting over it for the past few days. I like my hair, but change is often good. Grandmother K. bought me some cute overalls as as early b’day gift. My horoscope says new hairstyle + new wardrobe = guys, but the only guy I (think I) want doesn’t care one way or the other.

“I wish I was dating this summer. I think it would be fun. But I really only wish I was dating HIM. Oh well.

“After I get home, school will start. It won’t be so bad, but I need to do my summer book report.

“I think I’m getting obsessed with Lee, and that’s bad. I’ve got to learn to SHOP AROUND.”

Nevermind...go ahead and judge. What was I thinking with that subjunctive? Didn’t I learn anything in Miss Heffner’s 8th-grade grammar class?

And yeah, there’s the “hair and boys” thing. If you didn’t know me, you might think I was (were?) slightly, er, superficial as a young teenager. I included the line about the book report so you’ll see that I did, in fact, pay attention to my studies.

But I also paid attention to “HIM.” Here’s August 31, 1996:

“My birthday is soon(er)! Mom is planning a big brunch tomorrow, and we’ll have many relatives. Kind of wish I was having a boy/girl party, so Lee could come. But oh well. I’m keeping those “Sixteen Candles” fantasies in the back of my brain.”

More misuse of the subjunctive, and more Lee. I bet I still wore those overalls, too.

You might like to hear that Lee eventually asked me to prom and that we enjoyed a long, post-graduation courtship.

Only in my Molly Ringwald sponsored fantasies.

In reality, we both went north for college, and while I underwent boy-crazy detox at Wellesley, Lee began dating boys at Princeton.

Yes, it turns out that while I was pining for Tony in my school’s production of “West Side Story,” Tony had his eye on Riff. I found this out when Lee and I met up at Starbucks in Murfreesboro last summer. Talk about star-cross’d love.

If I had the oft-coveted time machine, would I grab my 15-year-old self by the shoulders? “Look, Jesse, the boy smells good, dresses well, and has a passion for Broadway musicals....get a CLUE.”

Well, I don’t know. Yesterday I got an email from a friend who said, paraphrasing, that with the time she’s devoted to love (unrequited or otherwise), she could have written a novel or trained for a marathon. I might have at least worked on that summer book report.

But then, don’t we all need a “Sixteen Candles” sequence? Some weeks are slow. The phone doesn’t ring. The mailbox is empty. The coconut-husk exercise wall seems more tedious than exotic.

When life gets stale, there’s nothing like a good obsession. After all, haircuts go out of fashion; novels wander into the bargain bin; and marathon-running hurts your knees. Obsessions last a year, at least. I wouldn’t mind obsessing right now. I wish I, um, were.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Breakin' the Law (And Other Disappointments)

Take it from me: crime doesn’t pay.

And another thing about crime -- it’s not very interesting.

These observations come from my Tuesday morning in the Smith County courthouse. Smith County contains Carthage, TN, where Officer Brinkley stopped my mother on the last gasp of our return from Honesdale. She was speeding...and I couldn’t really say “She went thataway,” because, well, I was sitting right next to her.

In addition to the speeding, we got booked (or busted, slammed, cop slapped) for driving with expired tags. My fault, Officer. I should’ve renewed the tags in March, but I figured I’d wait until my homecoming. If “ignorance of the law” is no excuse, I guess “laziness” won’t work either.

We could’ve gone on the lam, but after 13+ hours of driving, I think we were too tired. Nothing to do but face the sun-spotted arm of the law. Yesterday I accompanied The Accused and my father to the locale of the crime, ready to hear the penalty and pay up.

Man, I was excited.

Who wouldn’t be, right? Courtroom drama makes great television: “Law and Order,” “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal,” “Night Court.” When I lived in Hughes, I watched a lot of “Judge Judy.” Something about the way Judge Judy made 300-pound truck drivers sit down and shut up boosted my faith in classroom management. I felt fairly certain that the Smith County judge wouldn’t swivel his head and say, “Don’t kvetch to me!” But you never know.

My anticipation rose when we reached Carthage. We arrived 40 minutes early, and The Accused (as I would continue to refer to Mom until it no longer seemed amusing) inquired what time traffic court started. “What’s traffic court?” I heard a nearby boy whisper to his mother. I looked at the kid, and he edged away from us. The theme from “Cops” played in my head. That’s right, sucka. Whatcha gonna do?

Next question from The Accused (oh alright...Mom): “Do you know where we can get some coffee?” Try the cafe, the courthouse receptionist said. Which cafe? The only cafe in town.

As we caffeinated beneath a large portrait of Scarlett O’Hara, I concluded that the Carthage judge would not resemble Judge Judy. He’d look more like the judge from “My Cousin Vinny.” He would have to be at least 80, droopy-jawed, with a few flies buzzing around his head (or “hay-ed,” as he’d say in his Huckleberry Hound accent). “I wish these here flies would stop buzzin’ ‘round my hay-ed. It’s long ‘bout time they be kilt.”

This elderly, “no nawn-sense” judge would sleepily stare down a room of hardened criminals. Or hardened traffic violators.

The 30 or so people crammed into the courtroom looked hardened to me. I assumed that a day in court called for “dressy casual,” so I wore a Gap khaki sundress, sleeveless but collared, with a belt tie. To me, the khaki dress says “stylish, not guilty.” On the other hand, a Dennis Rodman basketball jersey and low-cut gym shorts says “handcuff me now, mofo.” The Dennis Rodman devotee sat a couple rows ahead of me, and his attire -- not mine -- was the norm. Hardened, these Carthage traffic lawbreakers. Just another Tuesday morning in front of the ol’ judge! Gonna go shoot some hoops after!

My first disappointment came when the judge entered the courtroom. Middle-aged, glasses, moustache (standard, not handlebar), suit-and-tie, and no robe. No robe! Was this a hearing or a city council meeting?

After everyone sat, the judge made a few opening remarks, to which the hardened criminals glanced at each other and shrugged. We shrugged, too. Nobody could hear the judge. He didn’t have a microphone. Second disappointment, and counting.

Without a sound system, it was almost impossible to discern the details of our fellow convicts’ illegal acts. I leaned forward and strained my ears, hoping for the words “high-speed chase” or “unprecedented drug possession” or even “suspicious tractor emissions.” No luck. The best (worst) I got was a guy who went 93 m.p.h. In a 55 m.p.h. zone. High speed, but no high-speed chase. Disappointment all around.

Mom got her turn after about 15 minutes. When the judge’s assistant (who is that? the bailiff?) called her name, Dad and I smiled and softly clapped, “Hooray! That’s us!” If we’d managed to blend with the hardened criminals before this moment, our silent cheering forever killed any air of notoriety we’d achieved. In a room full of Eminems and Bobby Browns, we were Petula Clarks. Clearly, our version of “downtown” didn’t fit in this room.

And, as promised, the rest is....not interesting. The judge listened to Mom’s plea, asked a few questions (which I couldn’t hear) and fined us $360. With a little more help from outlaw families like mine, Smith County may be able to buy a couple extra squad cars.

Actually, the fine should’ve been $100 less. Though I couldn’t make out most of the judge’s introductory speech, I know he said he’d knock $100 off speeding penalties for those of us who hadn’t been ticketed in the past three years. Mom says she hasn’t gotten a speeding ticket since she was my age. But the judge never asked my mother if she had a record. I guess he looked at our “dressy casual” and figured we could afford a steeper fine.

So let me modify: crime doesn’t pay....but it pays more if you’re in a jersey.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Squealing

“Oh, HEY!”
(hug, hug, hug, pat, pat, pat)
“What a cute DRESS!”
“Where did you GET it?”
“What have you been UP to lately?”
“That’s GREAT! It’s so GOOD to see you!”
(hug, hug, hug, pat, pat, pat)
“We’ll talk SOON!”

Repeat these lines 20-30 times, and you’ll get an idea of my Saturday night. The inflection is necessary, because I’ve discovered that girl-to-girl small talk is much like a chirpy rap. It has a definite beat: ba BOOM ba BOOM ba BOOM. Replace male-centric lyrics such as, “Gonna smack those BITCHES” with female-centric phrases such as, “I’ve been looking everywhere for those SHOES.” See? Snoop Dogg may have been Eva Gabor in a previous life.

Where was I, dahling? Fo’ shizzle -- I spent Saturday evening at a catered, white-tent soiree, held in honor of a(nother) former high-school classmate who recently got married. Apparently, married people get lifelong companionship AND cocktail shrimp. The injustice!

This classmate is the daughter of our mayor, so you can bet her bridesmaids didn’t wear Dress Barn. The party must have cost $7,000 $10,000. It had sponsors. 40 of them. Valet parking attendants, too, juggling keys to BMWs and Jaguars and colossal SUVs. Andie Acura cowered.

I’ve never been very good at “getting my mingle on” -- I prefer private tables over mile-long buffets -- but once I mastered the small-talk rhythm (remixed for conversations with the opposite gender), I was okay.

Recognizing old classmates....not as easy.

I haven’t attended any reunions, since I’m not yet a Victoria’s Secret supermodel, nor do I drive a Bentley or wear Gucci boots. Unfortunately, this means that I had several conversations resembling the following:

“Hey, JESSE!”
“Hey....YOU! How ARE you?”
“Great! What have you been UP to?”
“Oh, I’m about to go back to school. But tell me what YOU’RE doing.”
Unrecognizable classmate: “Blah blah blah BLAH”
Jesse’s mind: “He says he’s working as a CPA in Nashville. Clint Hall did pretty well in math...maybe this is Clint. Or is it that guy who got seniors to stuff money in his shorts at the homecoming game?”

Thank goodness, noise from the dance floor pre-empted most verbal exchanges. If my mental yearbook-page-flipping failed, I could simply say: “I’m SORRY! I can’t HEAR you very well!” Sympathetic smile. Hug, hug, hug, pat, pat, pat....off to “Brick House!”

Okay, I admit -- I did dance to “Brick House.” All the other white girls in Ann Taylor sundresses were doing it...

Who was my dance partner? Well, some things haven’t changed since high school: I still can’t get a slow song with the star lacrosse player. But who needs strobe lights and “Unchained Melody” when you have Alex the Remodeler and “Everybody Was Kung Foo Fighting”?

That’s right -- Alex was there, and his live-in girlfriend allowed me to steal him for a couple of songs. I owe her a compliment; genuine, no inflection. True dat.