Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sports you'll never see at the next Olympics

Only a few years ago, sports like curling and snowboarding went from weekend hobbies to actual Olympic competitions, in hopes that viewers would find them compelling. Even so, the ratings for this year’s Olympics were one of the lowest in recent history. Next time, in the interest of keeping potential viewers from other diversions such as American Idol, video games and channel-flipping to get away from the endless hours of Visa commercials and teary skating pixies waiting for their scores, how about lobbying to get a few of these as exhibition sports in 2010?

The Layering Competition: People across the northern climates have been doing this all winter as an amateur sport to combat the high price of home heating oil. For the actually competition, participants put as many insulating layers of clothing on their bodies as quickly as they can before they either tire from the effort or simply fall over from sheer weight of fabric. Requires strength and endurance. Possibly participants will need to be divided into weight categories. Two drunk guys ice-fishing in northern Wisconsin recently tried this on a dare by putting on half of the Lands’ End catalog before one of them toppled over, rolled into a lake and was never seen again.

The New Biathalon: If skiing and shooting is considered a “sport,” then why not skiing and shoveling? Ski from house to house with a shovel strapped to your back, clean off the stairs, then on to the next. Participants will be judged on speed, accuracy and dollar amount of tips received from the homeowner. Salting prohibited.

Speed Skating Moguls – Make some lumpy ice and watch them go! Can be applied to the figure skating as well. Talk about getting some height on those triple axels! Helmets required, but can be decorated to match the skater's costumes.

Rocket Sleigh – Those bobsleighs were looking a little sluggish at Torino. Let’s strap a rocket engine to the suckers. The course may have to be made a little bit larger, but staying on it’s half the skill. If the injury rate for this exhibition sport is low, consider adding rocket-assist to the Snowboard Cross and the speed skaters. Extreme speed and focus will be required to prevent Apolo Anton Ohno from becoming Apolo 11.

NASCAR on ice – Points for artistry and creativity in the spins. All four tires must remain on the ice at all times. Chains or any other modification to the vehicle chassis (other than the approved sponsor logos) are prohibited. Pit crew must wear skates, but skirts are optional.

Really Big Air – Ski off a ramp and over the edge of a cliff with a parachute on your back. Partially stolen from a Bond stunt, but what the hell. It looked like fun. Extra points for not wetting yourself.

See you in Vancouver!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Learning to love again

In some ways, a good job is like a marriage. However, if the job starts going south, you still get paid for it, and it’s much easier to leave. Lawyers are rarely needed, although if you are asked to step aside, a burly security guard might be required. (Wouldn’t that be an interesting and certainly more inexpensive option to end some marriages: “I’m sorry, Chuckie. The company has decided to eliminate your position. Now if you go quietly with this nice man and pack up your tube socks and collection of ugly tchotchkes he won’t have to shoot you.”)

My job was like a marriage. Except when my services were no longer needed, the only burly man I required was the one (actually it took three) to carry out the physical baggage of my eight years of service.

The mental baggage took longer to unpack. How foolish of me - I’d thought that after so many months, after washing the dirty laundry, filing away the travel brochures and tucking the suitcases into the storage bin, that I’d be ready to start “dating” again.

But I still had my illusions. I uploaded my resume to job sites, I cruised the web looking for potential. Still hoped that I was ready for that perfect new relationship which was just out there waiting for someone like me.

Hah, the universe said.

Then a few days ago I picked up an interesting new local paper, scanned the classifieds, and saw that the publishers were looking for a part-time graphic designer. It sounded right, it felt right. Maybe I was healthy enough for a part-time gig. If not marriage, at least one of those transitional relationships. So I called, had one of those conversations with the editor where you felt like you’ve known each other all your lives – we even had the same name (yes, I know, how odd would it be to find another Opus just fifteen minutes from my humble abode) – and in one head-spinning exchange, she asked if I could come in the next day with some samples and I said yes.

I said yes.

I hung up the phone. I said yes?? Oh, crap, I thought. What the hell have I done? I hadn’t had a job interview in eight years. I didn’t even know if I had any samples let alone where I might have put them in my wreck of an office.

Half an hour later I was working out at my PT’s clinic. “I’ve got a job interview tomorrow,” I told Tom, and he smiled. Some days I live for that smile, that “hey, girl!” when I come through the door. He’s got to be the most consistently upbeat person I’ve ever met and he was acting like this was the best news he’d heard all week.

During the time I was there he kept peppering me with sample interview questions.

“So tell me, Ms. Opus,” he said in a pompous interviewer-type voice, “What would you say is your greatest weaknesses?”

“Uhhh….I work too hard,” I said, upping my speed on the treadmill. “Yeah. That’s it.”

“Anything else?”

“Hmm.” I smiled. “Well, there’s the drinking. And the drugs. And I beat up my husband.”

He smiles back.

And there’s this PT, I thought. He has me doing all these exercises every day so I won’t be showing up to work until, say noon or so. Is that OK?

But I knew what he’d say to that – start earlier – so I kept that to myself.

When I got home I felt like I was ready to take on the world. But unfortunately that didn’t last and I couldn’t take Tom on the interview with me.

I didn’t sleep at all that night (my own fault – I tried to tell myself I wasn’t nervous but my hypothalamus wasn’t having any of it) and the next morning I was close to hyperventilating. Husband had helped me find and cull my samples. I had my resume. I knew exactly where I had to go.

The problem was not as much that I’d forgotten how to interview. I’d forgotten that I had to dress for one. And I hadn’t worn anything but slouchy, around-the-house crap, athletic ankle socks and sneakers for almost a year. I took a few deep breaths and reviewed my closet, found something that looked newspapery and then….crap.

I had no idea how to put on knee socks. It might sound easy to you, but to someone who hasn’t been able to shave her legs for almost a year, this was a bit of a challenge.

But I figured it out. And put on real shoes. And jewelry. It all felt so surreal to me. Dressing up. Selling myself. I’ve been leaving the house so frequently these days to go to the doctor or the pharmacist, I almost caught myself verifying if I had enough in my checkbook for the copay.

I got to the publisher’s office on time only to be told, “Weren’t you supposed to be here at noon?”

My stomach fell into my politically-correct brown suede loafers. I knew she said one. I knew I wrote down one. Swallowing, I reminded her of our conversation, correcting her as respectfully as I could.

“Oh, right,” she said. And pointed to the note she’d scribbled on her desk blotter.

My first not-good sign. Do I want to work for someone who scribbles her schedule on her desk blotter?

I think I did OK. Wished I had the samples she was looking for (unfortunately working for a European lighting manufacturer with a minimalist corporate culture doesn’t leave you with a lot of sexy design samples), and I wish I’d remembered to ask more questions. It was a nice-looking newspaper, yes, they clearly put their hearts and souls into the work, but overall there were too many not-good signs about the job (the frenetic pace, the low pay, the daily deadlines, the erratic hours, the claustrophobic office) and at the end, I thanked her, shook her hand and left.

I was glad it was over. Even when I got to my next destination, looked at the mirror in their hallway and realized I’d forgotten to put on makeup. Still, I was glad I’d gone. Gotten the first one out of the way. Like that guy you meet in the health club or the supermarket, the one who is good looking but not too good looking, to help you get over the Big One and get on with your life.

Except next time, I’ll sleep better. I’ll remember to put on makeup.

And I’ll know how to put on my socks.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

H. M. Oh just shoot me now.

I apologize in advance to any of you who might work in the health insurance business, but right now I’d rather stick feathers on my head and share a duck blind with Dick Cheney than have to call my HMO with any more questions about my account.

And even worse, I had and I’m still dealing with a rather involved condition that spanned not just one but two different HMOs, as my company decided to change carriers (for the better, I might add, if that’s possible) in the middle of my treatment.

But I don’t just get the two HMOs, oh no. For each I get the HMO proper, plus their third provider who approves medical procedures. Plus their third provider who analyzes blood tests. Plus their third provider who “manages” my mental health needs. So for each phase of my treatment (first, up to and including October 31, 2005, and second, from November 1, 2005, inclusive, and onward) I’m dealing with four different companies. Each with their own indecipherable web site and voice mail system. Each forcing me to wind through a rat maze of options and extensions until, if I’m lucky and the stars align just the right way, I get an actual human being on the phone. And then, having already plugged in my ID number, social security number, telephone number and date of birth, this human being, with a name I can’t pronounce let alone spell, asks me to verify this information all over again.

Christ, I’m exhausted just from writing the previous paragraph.

Then we get to decipher exactly whose responsibility the “error” might be. And 99% of the time, it’s not theirs. Once I got a battery of blood tests the results of which took five weeks to reach my doctor’s desk, and that was after I called the prescribing doctor three times, the blood lab twice, and the third party provider who manages the blood tests once.

Turns out they had my name spelled wrong.

And I’m not making this up when I tell you that last summer I gave myself a stomach ache trying to get approval for a prescription for Aciphex, since absolutely no prescription anti-acid medications are on the HMO’s formulary list, and they required me to try every single over the counter preparation for my gastritis (none of which worked) before they’d deign to give me something that is advertised as frequently as Coke and should be as easy to score in any public high school.

Fortunately, after some treatment with alternative medicine, I no longer need the aciphex at all.

But this is still leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

For weeks now, I’ve been getting notices from the old HMO letting me know that payment is being refused for all kinds of doctors and treatments. All right, whatever, I thought, and stuck them at the back of my bill basket. Eventually they’ll submit again and eventually everyone will get their money, right?

Then I started getting bills from doctors. Then hospitals. After meandering through the voice mail maze to an actual person (I think his name was Brandon), I was told that they didn’t have any of these bills on file as being submitted.

All this time, all those months that the first HMO was “taking care” of me, they’ve been providing my entire medical team with the wrong billing address.

And back in the hopper they go.

I long for the days of yore, when I’d hand the doctor my Blue Cross card and never write a check for a co-payment, never see a bill, never had a worry.

Of course I was ridiculously young at the time, and all I ever needed was the yearly checkup and an occasional antibiotic for bronchitis. For them it must have been like Kate Moss walking into Sizzler.

I know there are no easy solutions, that everyone’s got their thumb on the scale (or in the pie, or up their asses, as the case may be), but jeez, how did this get so bad?

Of course we could go like Canada, and make granny wait a year for a hip replacement. I thought it amusing when I heard that agencies are sprouting up like mold around large US cities near the Canadian border, ready to provide health services for our disgruntled northern neighbors.

Or we could be like Austria and many European countries, where more than half of their paychecks disappear into taxes and you have no choices when it comes to healthcare.

I’m for the US and Canada pooling their resources. Cheaper drugs for us, shorter waits for them. Why fight it when the black market is already working so well?

I don’t know, but it sounds better than anything Congress has yet to dream up.

Monday, February 20, 2006

President's Day

Remember when both Abe Lincoln and George Washington had their own holidays? But through the misfortune of being born in the same month, the emergence of Martin Luther King Day, and the economic convenience of the Monday Holiday bill, now we are simply left with "Presidents Day."

So instead of celebrating the lives and accomplishments of two of our greatest presidents (some may argue), we are now forced to honor every man, good or bad, who has held the post since Washington declined exuberantly and newly freed colonist's offer to make him King.

I'm sorry. I refuse to celebrate the "administration" of Warren G. Harding and his many scandals. The dishonesty of Lyndon Johnson. The ineptitude of Jimmy Carter. And don't even get me started on Nixon. And did Millard Fillmore do anything that anyone remembers?

But, as this is a democratic society, we can't seem to exclude anyone without some journalist or special interest group "representative" going ballistic or inviting Dick Cheney on a hunting trip.

So how can we do this? “Good President's Day?” Nah, that will send Congress into a filibustering tizzy. “Just The Guys on Mount Rushmore Day?” Nope, too long to fit on a school calendar.

How about ditching them all and simply calling it "Founder's Day." It would only for the good presidents. Nobody's feelings would get hurt. And that way we could include all the great men and women who made our founding possible: Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, Paul Revere, John Henry, Ben Franklin, etc.

Or how about this? Pick a random Saturday in July and call it "Bad Presidents Day." Only you have to go to work. It will serve as our punishment for pretty much every second administration we were foolish enough to vote for. A kind of object lesson to make sure you know what the hell you're doing when you step into the voting booth.

And everyone who voted for Ralph Nader (myself included) has to work Saturday AND Sunday. Two weekends in a row if you voted for him twice.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Olympics, Part II

Since I have so much time on my hands I’ve decided it would be good to use it for, say, practical studies of the human condition rather than hunting for jobs on or letting my computer beat me at chess.

I’ve used some of this time, while watching the Olympics, to monitor among other things, something evolving in our broadcast language, perhaps a generational shift, perhaps one of those inevitable “passing of the torch” moments (no pun intended).

Has anyone else noticed that, according to the broadcasters, the athletes no longer are in medal contention, but they have a chance to “podium,” instead? When exactly did “podium” become a verb? Think of all the little boys and girls leaping about their living rooms not hoping to win at the Olympics one day but just getting a chance to podium! It sounds like a remedy for an embarrassing foot condition.

And there’s a definite snobbery rift between the skiers and the snowboarders. It can’t be generational, because they all seem to be about fifteen years old, but I watched one female skier leave the gate wearing a tiara, the next wore a double-strand of pearls and oh, the commentators were all over them. It’s unprofessional, they said. How could they, Elfie Schlegel said. Yet the half-pipers and snowboard crossers (damn, that’s a cool sport.) come out looking like gang members and they’re “individualists,” or have “flair.”

Another thing that fascinates me is noting how many expressions Scott Hamilton and Dick Button can come up with to mean that an ice-skater’s program sucks. “Oh, he’s losing his steam,” “Oh, he looks tired,” “Oh, he didn’t bring his game tonight,” “Well, at least he wasn’t expected to podium.” Why can’t they just shut up and leave the guy alone while he’s falling on his ass and two-footing his landings? And even more humiliating is the camera shot while he or she is waiting for the score, close up on the tears, the condition of the pores, how well the woman’s eyeliner has made it through the long program?

No wonder most of the country is watching “American Idol” instead.

Although I’m finding curling to be curiously compelling. You know how in the news specific things get certain modifiers attached to their names that forever stick, like “the breakaway Republic of Chechnya,” or “conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh?” Husband and I have started our own: “the curiously compelling sport of curling.” It’s what they broadcast all afternoon on CNBC that looks like a giant game of shuffleboard on ice. With intense concentration, one team member launches a stone (it’s a loaf-sized rock with a handle on it that looks like an iron that might have been used by Betty Rubble) toward the target area while two other team members furiously scrub at the ice with rubber brooms to control the movement of the stone. I think the object is to knock the other guy’s stone out of the ring, but I’m not sure. I don’t get the rules, but just the fact of it fascinates me. How did this get to the Olympics? It seems like more of a game than a sport, something like bocce, where a bunch of guys get together on a Sunday afternoon to get away from the woman and drink. (Don’t be surprised if one day bocce makes it to the summer games, along with lawn darts, and maybe if we’re really lucky, quarters. At last, a podium-level sport we can also play at home!)

And hockey…now, I’m a baseball girl. I was weaned on Yankee games, played catch in the backyard, and in a 12-year-old’s act of rebelliousness, became a Met fan, where I’ve stuck (unfortunately) ever since. Football is becoming a close second. I’m mildly interested in basketball, but not so much since leaving Boston and the land of the Celtics. But hockey? I never had much use for it. The puck moved too fast, as did the commentary, and I never knew what was going on. Olympic hockey somehow is different. Maybe because the rink is smaller. Maybe because they don’t have that stupid orange blaze that shows where the puck is supposed to be, maybe because there are no grudges built up to cause the guys to beat each other’s brains in because half the guys in the NFL are fanned out participating in their country’s own teams. Anyway, it’s simple, moves fast but not too fast, and is more fun to watch.

Even if “our” guys never get a chance to podium, it’s still entertaining sportsmanship.

And isn’t that what it’s really all about?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Fiction Friday

From The Role Model. This should keep you busy for a while...heck, at this rate, you won't have to buy any of my books. ;)


Diana had imagined that the moment when a person achieves a hundred-pound weight loss would be more...momentous, somehow. That flashbulbs would pop and music would play and confetti would shower from the ceiling. Or at least there would be someone else in the room with which to share the news. But it’s just Diana and Jeff among the motivational posters and the low buzz of fluorescent lights, in the back booth on the left. He in his stocking feet - a threadbare spot on the right pinkie toe - atop the same scale she’d been weighing him on every Saturday morning for the past two and a half years.

And at this moment, as the red diodes settle into place on the digital readout and she records this week’s loss on his file chart, Diana is the only one who knows. Swelling with pride as if she’d lost the weight herself, her body floods with warmth. Her Weight Away training had taught her that any success was wholly owned by the participants - coaches should take credit only for supplying the tools. But she feels at least partially responsible, like she’d created him somehow, week by week, pound by pound, coaxed him out of wet clay with patient and gentle hands. He’d joined the program a depressed, taciturn mountain of a man who couldn’t walk across the parking lot without gasping for breath, and now...

“I made it, didn’t I?” Jeff says.

She raises her gaze to his pale-lashed eyes, and smiles. “Congratulations.”

He doesn’t smile back. She’s disappointed that he isn’t acting happier. Maybe it’s simply anticlimactic. That they’d been talking about this day for so long that the actual fact has lost its significance.

“So I guess they’ll want to do that interview,” he says.

Weight Away Magazine publishes a profile when anyone makes a hundred pounds. To inspire others. With the disclaimer, of course, that actual results may vary. “Like we talked about before.” Diana curves her fingers over the outside of his forearm, surprised at its new firmness. “That’s completely up to you.”

A pink flush bleeds across his freckled cheeks and up his forehead into the thinner spots on his scalp, as he lifts one corner of his mouth into a sort of trepidacious hover. “They’ll want pictures?”

“I imagine they will.” She copies today’s weight onto his card.

“You’ll be in it, too, right?”

She feels his eyes on her, and as she looks up from her notations she sees him looking back, through her, until she feels warmth trickle down her shoulders.

“I...think there’s a form in here for submissions...” She turns away, thumbing through the literature rack, full of flyers with recipes and motivational tips and exercise suggestions. “We could check if the group leaders are also to be interviewed—”

“ don’t have to dig through all that stuff...I’ll do it. I guess...yeah.” She hears him draw in a deep breath, and she stops, and turns toward him. “I’ll do it. Except...” He looks down at his body, the baggy shirt, the shapeless trousers twisting around his knees, the heartbreaking thinness of the toes of his socks. One black and one navy. “Hell. Guess with that and a couple, three job interviews lined up, I should probably find something that fits a little better. And maybe, you know.” He forces out a smile. “Socks that match.”

“I was going to suggest that,” Diana says.

“Yeah, except I was waiting to go whole hog on the new wardrobe. For when I lose the last twenty.”

“But it’s important to take care of yourself along the way,” Diana says. “It’s hard to start seeing yourself as thinner until you get out of your old clothes.”

He nods. “Right, the body image thing. Like when you look in the mirror and keep seeing the fat guy.” His shoulders sag. “I don’t know, but I look, and look, and all I see is that fat guy Noreen walked out on. I see a fat slob standing in the driveway, holding a note and a frying pan, with a ridiculous expression on his face.”

Don’t, she thinks, as something in her chest softens, as her mouth draws downward. Don’t do that to yourself, not now, not after this long, you’ve been doing so well. Diana was the only person he’d told about Noreen. A year into his weight loss, on a dark, bleak morning in November. He’d gained five pounds that week, and she was on a slight backslide following a series of arguments with Ted. Sitting together over coffee after the meeting, deconstructing what was happening in both of their lives to derail their healthy habits, he’d revealed the real reason he’d joined the program. So one day his wife and daughter would come back.

They hadn’t come back.

Maybe today is an anniversary of sorts, maybe this morning he’d found something of theirs, a toy, a sweater, a tiny little sock. Something must have happened. It happened to her, one Wednesday when she was going through a box of old clothes in the back of a closet, and found the elbow-length satin gloves from her first wedding gown, the one she’d never worn. She went down to the kitchen and started eating and didn’t stop until she heard Ted’s car in the driveway.

“Was it a bad week?” Diana says softly. “You want to get some coffee?”

He shrugs, and jutting out his chin, exhales long and hard. His mouth begins to form a word - a tender word, from the softening of the muscles, the liquid quality of his grape-green eyes, pale brows arched above them, molding furrows into his forehead. But then he stops. Wendy, who leads the ten o’clock meeting, had just burst through the community room doors on her cheap and too-tall shoes, too-red lips stretched wide with her “good morning!” as effusively false as a kindergarten teacher with a hangover. She sees the two of them together, her face goes slack, the eyes knowing. Then says she’d left something in her car.

They listen until Wendy’s heels clip-clip down the corridor and disappear. Jeff sags into a nearby blue plastic chair as if he could no longer shoulder the weight of this stifled, tender word. Diana pulls a second chair beside him.

“Caroline’s birthday,” he says. “I sent a card, and a check, so Noreen could buy her something, a little dress, a doll, heck, I don’t know what a three-year-old wants. It came back, no forwarding address. And I still had a loss this week. Not like it matters anymore. Like it ever mattered, like she was ever planning on coming back even if I lost the weight.” He shoves a hand through thinning, strawberry-blond hair. “Christ. No wonder sometimes I look in the mirror and can’t see anything but that sorry-ass fat guy.”

Diana lets his words settle. Then reaches for his hand. It’s no longer the soft, paw-like appendage it used to be, and her fingers fit more easily around it. Screw Corporate’s warnings about physical contact, about invading people’s personal space. They could fire her, if they wanted. No one had complained yet.

“Can I tell you what I see?” she says.

His mouth forms a grim smirk as he begins pulling on his boots. “A pathetic, sniveling mess whose socks don’t match?”

She starts to smile back but then arranges her face more seriously. “I see a man who had the courage and the strength to change his life.”

He’s quiet a moment. “OK. OK, I don’t totally believe it, but it’s something to hang my hat on. For now.”

Wendy is back, trailed by her weigh-in assistants, and a few of the early birds for the next meeting. They begin to flutter about taking their positions, the participants finding their registration cards, the assistants setting up their stations.

“You want to tell them?” Diana says.

Jeff winks at Diana, then grins, curling up one arm to flex his bicep. “One hundred pounds!” he says.

And it’s different now, the women clap and Wendy squeals and in her head Diana can almost hear the music. After the imaginary confetti falls, and the fake flashbulbs are no longer blinking white spots before her eyes, the bustle resumes, of another meeting about to begin.

Jeff finishes tying the laces of his boots, leans over to Diana and says, “You’re right. I ought to go buy a few things to tide me over. Sort of celebrate. Sort of learn how to see the new me. But I could kind of use some advice. I’m all thumbs about this stuff. I don’t even know the right places to go.”

“Sure,” she says. She’s used to helping Ted with his wardrobe. The tie that goes with the shirt that goes with the jacket. “We’ll go have coffee and talk about it. There are sales all over, I could tell you where—“

“No,” says. “I’m asking if you could, you know, help me.”

“You mean...go shopping with you.“

“Well, yeah. You always look so good, you know, pulled together? I figured, maybe that skill translates over to guy’s stuff and you could help me look intentional instead of like some kind of accident of whatever fits from the Big Man’s store.”
Diana considers her schedule. The errands that Ted asked her to take care of. Replace a watch battery, get a pair of shoes re-soled. She hates how he does that, goes off leaving her a list, like his time is more important than hers.

“Heck, what am I thinking, it’s Saturday, you probably got plans. With your husband—“

“Ted’s in Detroit,” she says, too quickly.

“Think he’ll mind? You spending the afternoon with a pathetic, sniveling mess whose socks don’t match? If he gets mad, call it an act of charity. Call it doing your part to improve the landscape.” He lowers his voice. “Call it helping me look good enough to find a job so I don’t have to keep going to meetings on the Diana Blisko scholarship.”

She stares at him, a flush creeping into her cheeks. “You...know about that?”

“Diana, I’m not stupid. Corporate’s too greedy to let anyone slide that long. Besides, I’ve seen you sneaking money into the till after you checked me in. Several times.”

“I’m sorry...I didn’t mean to...make you feel...”

“No, it’s OK. Call it a nice person doing a nice thing.” He smiles. “But I got dirt on you now, so you’re obligated to help me, or I’ll sing like a canary.”

Diana smiles back. Ted could do his own damned errands. “I’ll get my coat.”

Thursday, February 16, 2006

God Bless Masochism

Now before you flag my blog for pornographic references, this isn’t a how-to guide or an article for Penthouse Forum (do these things still exist?) Sorry to disappoint you.


I have a hazy memory of a sign in my mother’s kitchen (seems like everything is hazy these days; life as seen through a fogged mirror of medication and one unemployed day melting into the next…cripes, I feel like something out of a barenaked ladies song)

The sign read: The best substitute for brains is silence.

Which is why I haven’t posted anything for a bit. In the last few days I’ve gone from curmudgeonly to grouchy to just sitting around alternating between staring at the piles of crap in my kitchen and staring at the piles of crap in my living room. A curmudgeonly blog might be entertaining, maybe something cute and snappy about clutter and the difference between how men and women see dirt, but I couldn’t even muster the p&v necessary to get that far. It’s been like the little writer in my head has been in the corner in a fetal curl, wrapped in an afghan, eating Cherry Garcia out of the carton while watching reruns of The Gilmore Girls.

And I almost joined her with a second spoon. But thanks to a couple of unseasonably beautiful days and some time on my physical therapist’s S&M table, I’m back on my knees if not my feet (please, no Monica jokes, I beg you).

Which frightens me a little.

If I feel better after being harnessed by the ankles and chest and stretched like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, does that mean…I’m…one of…those people? The ones with rubber masks and whips (not that I know what any of this stuff is…I just read copiously as a child).

Anyway, at least I know what a corset might have felt like. And I thank fate not to have been born into that time in history. No wonder all the women got the vapors.

Hopefully this era of good feeling will continue. Or else it’s back on the table. I don’t know, I think the guy enjoys his job a little too much.

Monday, February 13, 2006

As we change...

How did I get on the mailing list for this? Between husband and me, we get a lot of strange things in the mail – his pictures of W and pleas for contributions (I throw them out when he isn’t looking), my New Age nutrition sales pitches, and for some reason, a catalog for medieval weapons (Curse thee, spouse, now take yon trash to the landfill or I’ll smite thee with my mighty and powerful mace!)

There’s probably some Hal-like database deep beneath Battle Creek, Michigan which directs thousands of tiny elves (probably immigrants, probably underpaid) to collate together mailings based upon your age and stage of life…remember all the stuff you got as you entered college, trial coupons for this or questionnaires about that, which led you to believe that yours was the most important demographic group ever to be born into modern civilization? They have one for when you graduate (mostly it’s credit card offers – low interest!!), they have one for pregnancy (bulk discount on diapers, and, now that you’re responsible for another, isn’t it time for more life insurance?) They have one for the bride-to-be. Now, apparently, another group of elves (the ones who are forever fanning themselves and asking, “is it hot in here or is it me?”) are putting together this one for women going through The Change.

You’ve probably only seen this catalog if you’re of a certain age, (And how do they decide what that is? Is this like Logan’s Run, and the minute I turned 44 (apparently a number of interns have gotten together and determined that this is the median age where women might experience their first hot flash), a light in my belly started glowing and I am now marked as “about to become invisible to society,”) but it’s all the goodies and knickknacks you might need as you’re going through menopause. Breathable jammies for the night sweats, fashionable swimwear with “tummy control,” aromatherapeutic mind de-foggers, full-figure bras (When I go into menopause, will I suddenly develop a bust large enough to need to be controlled? Ladies? Please? Anybody? Will I? Damn.), and my absolute favorite, which is a bunch of scary-looking devices that promise to strengthen your pelvic floor (trust me, nobody really wants to know how these things work, so even if I could figure it out from the vague copy in the brochure I would refrain from sharing it with you).

But why is this the only period of life change that can benefit from a catalog? Certainly I’ve gone through other life transitions and would like to have had more help than I received from ABC After School specials or MTV or thirtysomething.

How about a catalog for those of us leaving college and entering the workforce? Lipstick that lasts through happy hour and beyond? Clothing that goes from work to that big date, then just turn it inside out, give it a shake and you’re good to go the next morning without anyone in your cube farm giving you the evil eye? Attractive throws to make Salvation Army furniture look like you actually bought it at IKEA?

What about the catalog you should get when you leave that fat and happy 18-34 demographic group? Condolence cards to send to your friends? Fake Nielsen boxes to put atop your TV to make everything think ad agencies still care what you think? DVDs of music and TV shows that are age-appropriate and still make you think you’re cool?

Guaranteed the top seller would be the one you should receive when you either move in with or marry your intended. Clothing that is as comfortable as sweat pants but doesn’t really say that now that you don’t have to date anymore you haven’t really let yourself go. Scads of books on communication, including a great big encyclopedia on how to deal with any relationship crisis, from how to handle your first holiday meal in your own home, what not to say when she asks if her new jeans make her look fat, what’s the one thing a man should never say to a woman and vice versa.

Hopefully, this helpful advice will eliminate any need for the medieval weapons catalog. But if anyone wants one, let me know. I'm off to Battle Creek to get my name off the menopause mailing list.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Happy birthday, Mom!!!

A short poem for my mother on the day before her birthday,
When there’s too much snow to travel to New Jersey

For all the things you taught me….

…that no matter how much my teachers whine,
it’s OK to color outside the lines.

…that wherever I play, at whichever house I choose,
I shouldn’t leave without my shoes.

…that when you’re smarter than the boys,
you should carry yourself with pride and poise.

…that if you’re on the highway, out of gas,
if you’re wearing a bikini you’ll get help fast.

…that if you have a leek, bouillon cubes and lemon peel,
you can still make a gourmet meal.

…that all things can be borne, every strife, trial and rumor,
as long as you keep your sense of humor.

And lest we forget, imagine husband and I singing this in two-part harmony:

Happy Birthday To You
Happy Birthday To You
Happy Birthday Dear Mom
Happy Birthday To You…..

(Mike, am I supposed to pay someone ASCAP royalties now or what?)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Costas Curse

I love the Olympics. Mock the opening ceremonies all you want to (God knows we did; what was more ridiculous – the little Italian kids towing plastic cows around while the Ricola guys made moose calls on the giant horns, or Rob Lowe singing and dancing with Snow White at the Oscars?), but come on, 418 televised hours of amusement, awe, and at times, sheer terror are well worth the price of admission.

I love the half-pipe. I want to be one of these people in my next life. Just to get a chance to fly. Right now when I watch them all I can think about is how many of them have chiropractors on retainer. And where else in the world can former skateboarding slackers get so much public attention, and maybe, maybe some money? (Can you actually be called a slacker anymore once you’ve made the Olympic team?) Bizarre outfits, though. They look like old-fashioned prisoners swimming in uniforms seven sizes too big. Or, an Olympic version of the clothes they normally wear.

I even love those little misty, Vaseline-lensed profiles of the favorites in each sport. While the bobsled run is being resurfaced or the judges argue over a score, Bob Costas runs his interview: Here’s Sven, who hails from a mountain village in Norway so remote that he only had a yak for a friend. He and his family had to boil snow for fresh water and chip lichen off of the walls of caves so they’d have enough to eat. But little Sven had a calling. Even as a tot he’d swipe a log from the woodpile, hug his tiny arms around it and slide down the mountain. And as he grew stronger and stronger from trudging back up the mountain with the log strapped to his back with elk sinew and a pair of shed yak antlers for poles, he got faster and faster. And now here he is, just seventeen and Norway’s best hope for a medal in the luge…and cut to Sven at the gate, crashing and burning on his first run, flipping end over end like a confused salmon until he comes to rest against the orange netting.

Never fails. It’s like being on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

I’ll stop anything to watch professional ice-skating, just because I admire the skill it takes to get even half as far as any of these people. First you have to born with the right body. And then you go to work your ass off on the skating part. Even the bad skaters are better than I ever was or ever will be. The only trick I was able to master in ice-skating was skating backwards, which would come in handy…like, never. Watching Olympic ice-skating, I drift into a sort of Walter Mitty-esque haze, like Snoopy on his doghouse pretending he was the World War I flying ace on his Sopwith Camel off to get the Red Baron…'s the graceful but freakishly powerful young skater about to start her Olympic short program....

“Here comes that graceful but freakishly powerful young skater everyone’s been talking about, Dick.”

”Yes, Peggy, she’s just amazing. And a get a load of that costume. I understand she refused the usual skating skirt for a more practical and definitely more stylish unitard. And I have to say that purple is her color.”

“And not only is she easy on the eyes, Dick, but she was the first woman to land a triple axel triple toe triple loop sequence in competition and she opens with that combination, here it comes, and….woh-ho! Look at that!”

“She nails it! Absolutely amazing, Peggy. Oh. Oh, wait.” Dick cups his hand around his earpiece, suddenly looking serious. “I’m hearing some terrible news.”

“What's that, Dick?”

“Well, it seems that somebody attacked Bob Costas with a tire iron in the men’s room.”

“My Lord, Dick. Is he all right?”

“Yes, but they say he kept holding his knee and crying “why, why, why?’”

“Do they know who did it?”

“No, but allegedly a witness said he smelled like a yak.”

Friday, February 10, 2006

Fiction Friday

Another excerpt from the dark comedy that will never see the light of day....

Nate: more fluff and puppies next week, hopefully.


Estelle found the first lump by accident, on the morning of Adam’s wedding. The night before her youngest son Charlie had given her a pill, and she’d overslept, and then she had to race to get ready. She rushed through her makeup, painted on eyebrows and colored her cheeks. She’d been planning to wear the dress she wore to her niece’s wedding the year before. Now it didn’t sit right in the bosom, and as she was slipping it this way and that and adjusting her brassiere she felt something hard and uneven in her right breast, like the end of a chicken bone. She thinks about all of those medical shows and the books she reads and the women she’s known who’ve gone through such things and when they talk about tumors, they talk about them like food. A pea, and orange, a grapefruit. This was nothing that friendly, and nothing that round. This was like a knuckle, a dagger, a hand grenade. She sat on the edge of the bed and smoked three cigarettes in a row. The phone rang twice and each time she didn’t answer, just sat on her damask spread and smoked and smoked and listened to it ring.

The first time when the answering machine picked up nobody left a message. That was Adam. Adam didn’t leave messages.

The second time it was Charlie.

“Ma. Just seeing when you want me to pick you up. Call me at the hotel.”

People do this every day, she thought. People get married. Other people dress up and go see them recite their vows and step on the wine glass. They eat rumaki and drink champagne and slip checks into the groom’s pockets. They smile and wish them well and gossip about the in-laws and debate the couple’s chances in the car on the way home.

She didn’t know about that Liza. She just didn’t know. Something wrong about the family, something wrong about the way she was raised by her father, like a boy. Adam needed a woman. He had Eddie’s feckless streak and needed a firm hand, someone like herself. She just didn’t know if Liza was up to the task. But Liza was a smart girl, a practical girl. Estelle hoped to God Liza was smart enough to figure out how to make the marriage work.

The phone rang again. If she didn’t answer maybe the boys would wonder if something was wrong and rush over and she didn’t want to tell them now, she wouldn’t, not like this, not on the day of his wedding. She wouldn’t do that to her Adam. Whatever she thought personally about Liza, he seemed happy. She wouldn’t make this the day he found out the time bomb went off. But she prayed it wouldn’t be Adam calling.

It’s Charlie, asking how she’d slept.

Fine. She’d slept fine. Your schmuck of a father, she’d said, may he rest in peace, he couldn’t drop dead on the golf course like everybody else, he couldn’t go quietly in his sleep, he had to have a massive coronary in the middle of synagogue on Yom Kippur and make the newspapers and scar the entire community for life.

“I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose, Ma. Although if you have to go, it might as well be memorable.”

“Adam could have gotten married anywhere. A catering hall. That beautiful park on the river. But no. He had to pick Temple Beth-make-the-rest-of-your-mother’s-hair-fall-out.”

“You need another Valium?” Charlie had said.

Estelle lit another cigarette. “Bring the bottle.”

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Misery loves company

A short one today because I’m grumpy. And when I’m grumpy I like to spread it around. Your pet peeves encouraged. Have fun!

Amazon women at the Y – to prove how much weight they’ve been pumping, they shut the shower faucet so tight that those of us who don’t look like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 can’t turn it on.

Doesn’t that thing come with an ashtray? – People who flick cigarette butts out the windows of their cars.

No, really, I’ve seen them do it. – People who smoke in supermarkets.

Just ‘cause it’s on doesn’t mean I’m out – Damn it, leave a message so husband and I don’t stand there staring stupidly at each other asking, “wonder who called?” And if that’s your idea of a joke, then I hope you break out in a rash.

Get a grammar book, for Pete’s sake – Journalists who write “completely destroyed” (Destroyed means Destroyed. Done. Gone. Nothing left but the rubble.). Radio journalists who pronounce the “t” in often.

TV news – Ditch the crawl. Remember when crawls were reserved for things we absolutely needed to know, like there’s a tornado coming or someone important had died. Not only have they lost all meaning, but they’re a distracting nuisance. Especially when husband and I watch TV news together. He’s watching and listening, I’m reading. I make a joke about something I read on the crawl and he misses it completely because he’s watching Rumsfeld in front of a microphone or something getting blown up and then he looks at me like I’m nuts. And the reverse, when he’s laughing over some squirrel run through a domino maze and I’m reading how much blew up in Afghanistan that day. No wonder we all have ADD.

More journalist pet peeves – Commentators who pronounce Latin countries with Latin accents, even if they’re from South Dakota. If we’re doing this to be politically correct, then why don’t we pronounce the names of Islamic countries properly? If Bush can wrap his lips around them, so can that blond doofus guy on the Fox morning show. Also, commentators who smile while they talk. Stop it. It’s creepy. It makes you look like a politician.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Opus No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

All right, call me a blatant copycat, but Nate (, Supergirlfriend ( and Highlander ( (sorry for the URL jungle, but my browser won't let me make links) already ran with this idea on their blogs and it sounded like fun.

If I’d made different choices in my life…in an alternate universe...

1. From the stress of living with an emotionally abusive, philandering boyfriend, I gain a hundred pounds and an addiction to raw cookie dough ice cream and a twitch in my left eye. In the dead of night, I escape to a battered women's shelter, but have to be moved several times because my ex seems to be able to charm my current address out of the agency in charge. Despite the many orders of protection taken out against him, he manages to appear in my window every other night. Finally I have a breakdown and while recovering at a hospital guarded by very large men and un-charmable women, I lose the weight and write the screenplay to "Sleeping with the Enemy." Except my version wins an Oscar. After it's nominated, my ex tracks me down and stalks me, demanding a cut of the profits because the character was based on him. I ignore him, and then while I'm coming up the red carpet to accept my award, he charges me. My husband, Harrison Ford, wrestles him to the ground. In my next screenplay, I give his character erectile dysfunction and a nasty case of the crabs.

2. I am a single mother, divorced from the alcoholic cokehead father who managed to stay awake and focused long enough to knock me up. He’s home crashed on the day of the hearing and his mother begrudgingly pays me child support. I start my own version of Alanon, called Women Who Should Have Known What They Were Getting Into But Were So Deep In Denial They Couldn't See Daylight Until Planting Season (“WWSHKTWGIBWSDIPCSDUPS”, or "We wish to God that we hadn't been so pathetically stupid"). Oprah finds out about me and begs me to write a memoir. It wins the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and the Booker Prize, (the British Empire makes their first exception and gives the honor to someone outside Britannica because they laughed so hard they wet themselves). While I'm doing my reading at the 92nd Street Y, my ex's mother charges me and demands an apology and a share of my profits because I made her out to be a Jewish battleaxe with a permanent claw in her son's shoulder and a bad case of body odor, which had been vetted by my lawyers and found to be the truth . She's taken out by my current husband, Colin Firth, who will be playing my ex in the movie. I ask the screenwriter to make his character gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

3. I become a world-class marathon runner and I'm so focused and competitive that my poor, beleaguered significant other has to go to great lengths to get my attention and approval. So I plot to poison her rival by spiking a cup of water and holding it out to her from the sidelines. Unfortunately I grab it,, wait a minute, that was a TC Boyle story. Never mind. But it's a really good story. You should read it.

4. Getting in my head that I could write a novel, I hunker down at my very first computer and write not just one, but two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.... I write continually for two, three decades. I'm so focused that I don't notice the meals someone slips under my door, or when the phone stops ringing. Or the red alert level siren blaring from the firehouse. I don't notice the explosions, the screaming, even that the electricity has gone out. Eventually I wander out into the light of day, blinking through the fallout haze, and find that I'm the only person still alive except for Dick Cheney, who finally pops his head out of his secret undisclosed location. I tell him I’m a novelist and he says, great, I could use the distraction. He offers me his printer so I can run them out from my backups. "Backups?" I say. "What's a backup?"

5. Wendy Pini from Elfquest catches wind that I can write comic book script. She offers me a job, which I accept, and spend years hunkered down in a tiny room bent over a keyboard writing dialog for elves and fairies. Eventually I go mad, and become a bag lady, wandering around pushing a shopping cart, sipping on a Diet Pepsi and murmuring, “Nastybad high thing…nastybad high thing…”

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

It's not just a job, it's $249.33 a week

All right, I swallowed my self-respect and applied for social security disability. After a 2-1/2 hour phone interview, I was sent a packet of information and was told to fill some stuff in and return it, but they neglected to tell me which things to fill in. This, unfortunately, required a phone call to the local office and I’ve been trying for hours and it’s either busy or nobody answers. All of this waiting gave me lots of time to imagine what they might be doing instead of answering the phones.

1 An angry grandma couldn't get her Medicare prescription information straightened out so she came back with a deer rifle, shattered the front window and is holding all of the employees hostage until somebody can explain it to her. Because the “Medicare Changes for Dummies” books have not yet arrived, the boss makes an intern call Congress. The rest of the employees are all cowering underneath their desks, nibbling on donuts like frightened mice.

2. Congress is too busy arguing amongst themselves to answer the phones, so the employees tried to figure it out for themselves. But all of their heads exploded. Granny is now answering the phones, telling people they’d be better off cashing in their 401Ks and stashing their money under their mattresses. She’s a nice lady underneath; we’re having lunch next week.

3. All of the employees are furtively tapping away on the company phones trying to get on Al Franken's radio show.

4. They're all too busy Googling test words for the NSA.

5. A retired postal employee didn't get his social security check so he came back with a gun but Grannie beat him to it, so he's taking advantage of all the vacant computers to cruise porn sites on the web.

6. They are playing "caller-id bingo" and my telephone number fills up everyone's cards at once. A fistfight breaks out and in the melee, two employees strangle themselves on their own headseat cords, because wireless sets are not in the budget.

7. Due to an internet prank by Al Gore, the entire Department of Social Security believes they have been laid off. They are trying to apply for unemployment benefits, but everyone at unemployment have all been fired too. One phone number now exists for all governmental services. The voice mail directs all calls to Hillary Clinton's office. She and her staff are sitting back puffing on stogies, drinking champagne, listening to the phone ring and laughing their asses off.

Monday, February 06, 2006

When dreams die

I was going to write about the much maligned and misquoted Dorothy Parker today, one of my favorite women, but then realized that Women’s History Month is in March, and this is still Black History Month and I hadn’t given 12% of the calendar (or 12% of the US population) their due. I realize I’m only scratching the surface with this, but it’s waaay too big for one person and one blog. And a white blogger at that.

First, a story. Years ago, I was teaching an adult-ed class at Northeastern University in Boston. This was in the mid-eighties, during the Tawana Brawley incident. For those of you not living in New York (or were too young to remember those years), I’ll make an ugly chapter in Black History short: an African American teenager named Tawana Brawley was discovered in a condo complex in Wappingers Falls New York, naked in a black plastic bag and smeared with racial epithets written in feces, and said a group of white cops had attacked her and left her there. Al Sharpton descended and basically called the people who lived in Dutchess County (where I grew up, and as color-blind and educated a populace as I defy you to find outside of Manhattan) a bunch of racist honky crackers and demanded justice. Pete Seeger (who lives in the county) organized a protest. It was all over the news. Turned out the girl made the whole story up because she was out late misbehaving and didn’t want to get in trouble. Meanwhile Sharpton ruined DA Steven Pagones’s career, (Pagones sued for defamation and won; Sharpton claimed poverty and dragged his heels on producing payment), and cost the county millions of dollars in legal expenses and god knows how much in good will. Tawana quietly went away but I’m taking bets that one day you’ll see her on celebrity boxing facing off against Tanya Harding.

So. I was in the classroom packing up to go home, and one student was left, a middle-aged African-American woman. We started a conversation and began walking to the T stop. Somehow we got talking about Al Sharpton. “Well, that fool doesn’t represent me,” she said, standing up a little straighter.

Yet these are the representatives, the guys who are first to the microphones when any African American individual or interest is wronged. You get Al. You get Louis Farrakhan. You get Jesse Jackson. They speak eloquently and whip up the masses. But what are they whipping them up to do? Burn down their own communities? Continue hating white people? Continuing to believe that young African Americans have no future and no hope because the Big White Government won’t give them enough money or adequate opportunities? Because they haven’t yet been given their 40 acres and a mule? Cripes. Where are we going to find 40 acres for every African American man, woman and child in this country? How about an apology instead? (oh, right, Clinton did that) Well, then, how about a cat? Or some of Reagan’s leftover government cheese?

I never got my apology. I’m a left-handed agnostic female Unitarian Jew. Left-handed people and agnostics and women used to be burned at the stake. And what Hitler did to the Jews pales against the actions of Stalin or the former czars of Russia. God knows how many of my relatives were killed by marauding Cossacks. While they were praying in synagogue yet. Hell. They ought to give me Disneyland.

But seriously…where are the Martin Luther King’s of our time, demanding not just justice but reason? Where are the Ghandis?

Oh, right. Somebody shot them.

But Dr. King would be disgusted if he were alive today. By the healthy young black men selling coke on the streetcorners of the cities of the Hudson Valley, and elsewhere. By gang-bangers shooting each other up. By kids calling each other the "n" word. And he'd be heartbroken to see that nothing had been done about his dream. That this is a world not united but still divided, and worse, divided by choice.

Colleges have black fraternities and white fraternities, by choice.

Their dining halls have black tables and white tables, by choice.

Walk through the mall and black kids are over here and white kids are over there.

Studies were done years ago showing that girls learned better in an atmosphere free from boys. So all-girls schools were established. An African American woman in the Bronx extended the model and started an all-black-girls school in the Bronx. They almost lost their funding because they were accused of discrimination – not against whites but against boys.

Are we really back to the days of “separate but equal?” What will be next? Health clubs? Restaurants? TV networks? (all right, I think we have that already) But I seem to remember who was an advocate for separate but equal. Governor George Wallace. And someone shot him, too.

I hope to hell that this isn’t the truth, but perhaps the pendulum has to swing all the way around before we can see a glimmer of that dream again.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Fiction Friday

This is another excerpt from The Role Model. Oh, it almost makes me miss my job! ;)


Pissed at having to burn valuable phone time attending another sales meeting - and prompted three times by the god-awful blinking reminder on his desktop - Ted and his monthly inflow figures huffed toward the glass-walled conference room at exactly 11:01.

But the meeting wasn’t even close to starting. The lights were on, the projector wasn’t hooked up yet, the inevitable PowerPoint presentation wasn’t vacillating against the screen. The jowly bulk of Garrett Ames, Senior VP of Sales, leered into the guts of a laptop being disemboweled by Lucy, the company’s one-woman IT department. Yeah, he was really looking at the motherboard, the dirty old fuck. His gin-blossom nose was virtually buried in her cleavage.

Ames stabbed a bloated pink paw holding a pencil toward the open circuitry. “So what’s that thingamabob do?”

“It’s the disk drive.” Lucy shielded it with her hand. “Please be careful with that.”

He was undaunted. “And that’s where you’re supposed put the CDs?”

She gave Ames a withering glance over the tops of the tiny black-framed glasses that every female under thirty seemed to be wearing those days. She’d told Ted that Ames had broken three laptops in the last year. “Theoretically.”

Ted caught Lucy’s eye and smiled. She smiled back, ungluing something in his knees. She was like Kryptonite to him: a lethal polyglot of brains and beauty, thick black hair and long legs and clear olive-green eyes that looked straight through him to all the bullshit he tried to hide from the world.

What the hell are you doing, he warned himself, shoving a hand through a hairline that used to be lower. It was a good thing that the Charleston job was about to come through. Before what was still an innocent flirtation could go any further.

She had to know he was married. He kept a picture of Diana on his desk, for Christ’s sake. But maybe Lucy was one of those girls who didn’t care. He’d met a few. One of those young, opportunistic girls, who assumed legal age during Clinton’s definition of “is,” devoid of guilt, who figured that if you were cheating on your wife, it was your problem, not theirs, but only if someone found out.

“Amazing things. Amazing things,” Ames muttered toward Lucy’s breasts. Then somehow caught that Ted was standing in the doorway. He didn’t even have the grace to look ashamed. “Oh, hey, Teddy. I just can’t get over how they get all that stuff into a box that small.”

In Ted’s peripheral vision he could see Lucy rolling her eyes. One of their discussions, over their series of innocent coffees and innocent lunches, was about how different generations have accepted the computerized workplace. Ted, not weaned on a mouse like Lucy, had learned all his technology on the fly. Lucy had admired that about him, what she called his “mental flexibility.” (Diana had likened it more to “the attention span of a coke-snorting gnat.”) He preferred to think of his thirst for novelty as self-inoculation against the kind of staidness so many of his contemporaries had settled into as they aged. God forbid he wound up like Garrett Ames, a sixty-something dinosaur. Either Ames’s synapses were ossified by too many three-martini lunches to absorb new information, or he simply didn’t care. The guy was still probably amazed by the invention of the telephone. And by the idea of having attractive young women in his own workplace to do his bidding, far from his wife’s scolding eyes.

Dirty old fuck.

But the dirty old fuck was still Ted’s boss. And the only thing standing between him and the Southeast Regional VP job that had been vacant for the last six weeks. Ted had made his case. Paraded out his numbers for the last fiscal year. Enumerated the deals he’d closed, his meteoric rise and stellar accomplishments since joining the company three years ago. He’d taken all the right parties out to lunch and talked about his eagerness to pursue new challenges. Never lost an opportunity to display his willingness to make the move to Charleston that the job required. Hell, he’d done everything short of grabbing Ames by his flabby jowls and singing “I wish I was in Dixie.”

But it was getting harder to play the waiting game. He’d paid his dues. He was forty-five years old. A youthful forty-five, he liked to think. Not too much gray or too many lines in his face, not yet. Good genes - from his mother’s side, at least - would only get you so far. It was time he either got the spoils, or moved on.

“Yeah,” Ted said. “Amazing. Look, Garrett, do I have time for a couple of calls? If I don’t catch Zurich now, I’m going to lose them until tomorrow. Time is money, you know.”

That was a technology that Ames could understand.

Still gaping into the maw of the laptop - or perhaps down Lucy’s blouse - Ames waves Ted off. But not before Ted could casually set his notepad computer and file folders at the “power position” at the conference table. Directly across from where the president usually sits. Not at his right hand. That was for squids, subordinate suits who will never rise higher than Regional VP. Eye contact, baby, that’s what worked. Hell, if he had to be mired in some time-suck of a meeting, he might as well make political hay out of it.

If Ames was too addled to get the message, perhaps it was time to go over his head.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Treat yourself

Yesterday I went to yet another specialist and as I was leaving I did one of those mental forehead smacks and thought, hey, I’ve got four bucks in my pocket, why go right home when there’s a Starbucks next door? In just a few minutes, some 20-something Barista could be whipping me up a decaf latte with soy milk and I could be soothing away the memory of yet another person with letters after their name telling me there’s nothing wrong with me when my body keeps telling me otherwise.

Then, for some weird brain-bending reason, going for a grown-up treat after a doctor’s appointment made me think not of the lollipop after the childhood injection (that’s a story for another blog), but about a cat I used to have in Boston. We found each other when I saw a flyer posted in one of those 24/7 marts in Cleveland Circle advertising “Free kittens to good home.” At the time I lived in a studio apartment with a parakeet, two doves, and a man who was a serious control freak. I mean serious. I mean serious to the point of causing his girlfriends to develop eating disorders serious. I had some doubts as to whether this would qualify as a “good home,” but I needed a friend and ally, someone who would be glad to see me when I came home from work no matter what the hour, someone who wouldn’t scold me for buying the wrong brand of peanut butter. I chose a black tabby and named him Phineas. The woman loaned me a wicker basket to take him home on the subway.

The man I lived with took a shine not to the kitten but to the basket, and wouldn’t let me return it to the woman who’d loaned it to me, and I was young and cowed enough to obey him. The cat, however, didn’t. Phineas must have known in his little kitty heart that this was a bad man. I should have listened. Among other points of contention between us, he and I had major disagreements on how a cat should be raised. I know every feline has his or her own nature, but I think about eighty percent of how a cat turns out has to do with care and environment. Love given equals love returned (At least where pets are concerned. People are much more complicated). All of the cats I’d raised “from scratch” (all of two) had grown into loving, affectionate, loyal adults. This is what I’d planned for Phinny. Turns out my boyfriend had other ideas. He thought cats should be raised like dogs, and over the next few months, proceeded to yell, shove, smack and scold all the affection right out of the poor thing. Then, fortunately, the guy got a job that took him on the road about three weeks out of the month. But Finny didn’t catch on right away. He developed nervous tics. He followed me around the apartment as I got ready for work in the morning, clawing at my ankles, as if to say, “don’t leave me alone with him.” He had some kind of feline version of agoraphobia, and was afraid to leave the apartment. (maybe he was afraid to leave me alone with him) So, lacking the money for a cat carrier, I’d put him in a cardboard box to get him out the door. Then, because he was also claustrophobic, as soon as we got out, he had to be outside of the box, riding on my shoulder. My big mistake (besides not kicking this guy out on his ass) was that the first time I did this was to take him to the vet to have him neutered. I worked it out with the vet that I’d drop Phinny off on my way to work and pick him up on my way home. So in the morning I put him into the box, we got on the subway, he got out and started climbing up my coat to my shoulder. But something scared him. Maybe it was all the people. My feeling was that either he got an inkling of what was going to be done to him, or got hit with one of his many other neuroses.

He sprayed me.

In the middle of a crowded Green Line car, all over my brand new calf-length purple down coat that I’d gotten in Filene’s basement for some ridiculous discount, he let loose, his last chance to exert his feline manhood. Or to mark me as his territory for the rest of my life.

I never got the smell out.

And the difficulty of getting Finny out of the apartment never changed. After that, I tried bringing him to fun places – the Cleveland Circle Reservoir, the Public Gardens, even sitting with me at the Laundromat, hoping he’d want to cuddle up on a warm towel placed next to a dryer while I read – to show him that leaving the house wouldn’t always lead to getting your balls chopped off. But no dice.

It went from bad to worse. One night I had to work until midnight and came home to find a dead parakeet on my threshold. And by the time the guy left me for good, Phinny was so traumatized that I had no choice but to find him a better home. Fortunately, the friend who helped me move owned a large house on an acre of land.

I got reports on his condition from time to time. Phinny remained slightly aloof, but on the whole, was much, much happier for the rest of his life.

So always remember to get your lollipop, your latte, whatever gets you through the rough patches. Then they won’t have to take you out in a box until it’s absolutely necessary.