Story Value

random musings and episodes from the life of a 40 something comidienne/corporate refugee/mom - since whatever doesn't kill you provides excellent story value.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Like A Fish Out Of Holy Water

I don't get to church much. Catholic Mass on Christmas Eve reminds me why. We attended more for the mother-in-law points than any heavenly credit. To say my 5 and 7 year old boys were not looking forward to it would be the understatement of the year. I'm not Catholic and they are utter non-believers in sitting still and remaining quiet.

I will say however that (short of airports) church offers the best people watching going. Big holidays bring everyone out of the woodwork. There are the church tailgaters who arrive an hour early, duded up in gaudy Christmas sweaters, overanxiously waving their arms and spreading belongings to save rows of seats for straggling family members. Then there’s the beleaguered stage parents dragging in their reluctant, disheveled shepherds and wise men wearing recycled burlap and dented garland halos.

I particularly enjoy watching Christmas Eve "teenapalooza," that incredible mix of tattooed, pierced Edward Scissorhands-looking kids who look as if they were dragged right off the floor of Strawberries to attend, and the jocks for whom Christmas Eve finery means their shiniest basketball shorts, new high-tops and an extra diamond stud. These guys skulk in and slouch into a seat as if pulled by some invisible tractor beam instead of their own feet.

In complete contrast, there are the church girls. The girls look as if they have spent the entire afternoon primping. There are updos and ringlets, glossy lips and wall-to-wall metallic eye shadow. Mary Magdalene had nothing on these chicas. They wear velvet wraps and show off their sparkly décolletages enhanced by glitter body spray. They come teetering in on brand new mile-high or kitten heels and the only thing they have in common is a complete inability to walk in their shoes. They clomp in like Clydesdales or wobble down the aisle, trying to look as alluring as possible as they take their seat. They spend the next hour checking one another out and craning their necks to see if they are being checked out in return.

The room is packed beyond capacity and the close, over-heated air smells vaguely of bad breath and expectation.

On stage, the key players look like they have been sent from Vatican central casting. The church choir leader could be from 1966 just as easily as 2006. She sports the air of a commandant accented by a plaid skirt suit and Lady Bird Johnson hairdo.
Oddly, the majority of this service was conducted by a teenage ecumenical minister. This sixteen year old gel-slicked Ralph Reed look alike was relishing every minute of the spotlight as he played to the audience with over theatrical hand gestures, deep bowing and perfect enunciation. Extra creepy. I’ll see him again on America’s Most Wanted 2012.

The priest seemed a little off his game. It was as though the high-holiday raised the bar of expectations and he wasn't used to playing to a packed crowd. He tried to connect with the congregation by making lame jokes about the Giants game, baiting us to see if anyone knew the score. (If someone knew, then they obviously hadn't turned off their electronic devices heh-heh-heh). I couldn't help but notice that he emphasized, about three times more than necessary, that Joseph and Mary had no marital relations before Jesus was born. I wasn't aware there was controversy on this point.

At the end, the priest ended with a big flourish by admonishing those of us who had mistakenly wished one another "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" during the peace. "In the house of Jesus, we should say Merry Christmas. No fish for you if you didn't." ... Um, OK - this church is headed by the "fish Nazi". Seinfeld would be amused.

The peace is always my least favorite part of Mass. You have to turn around and talk, shake hands and/or kiss strangers. I never know what to do. I am always jerking in one direction and then another, trying to make eye contact so I know where to go next. I'm bumping into people, shaking when I should bow or vice versa. Half the time I get totally smoked by someone in the next pew and I have to pretend I wasn't even headed in their direction. It’s always just one giant awkwardfest. Maybe next time I'll just focus on inner peace by pulling a "Fonzie" pretend make-out/back-rub with myself.

I don't think we got too many mother in law points. My boys made it all too obvious that they were visiting a foreign land by asking endless questions in their hearing-impaired voices -- "What's the bible?!" "Why are they collecting money?!" "What does pray mean?!" After I explained the concept of prayer, my eldest beamed at me and informed me he just prayed to Jesus.
"What did you pray for honey?" I asked.
"I prayed that Heat Miser was real and that I could hang out with him." He announced.
What could I say except, "Well, good luck with that," I said with a big thumbs up.

Finishing out our church experience, my boys continued their tradition of "christening" every public building with an extended bathroom visit. On the way to the car, my son asked my husband, "Do you think God minds that I had to poop in church?"
"Nah." My husband said. "That's why they call church chairs pews."

And, that is exactly why I married him.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I'm getting nuthin' for Christmas ...

Mmmmm and it sure feels good! Of course I got plenty of lovely gifts - sweaters, books, a down comforter and Ali G DVDs. OK, those are technically my husband's - but I am a beneficiary.
More than anything though - I am so enjoying some down time. The kind I never seem to allow myself under ordinary conditions. It is a glorious indulgence. Living white space if you will. No particular place to be, no cell phones ringing off the hook, no to-do list in sight. Pure bliss.
I just sat on the couch, bare feet jammed under my 7 year old for warmth, for two full hours as I devoured a Nora Ephron book. It's after 3 and my hair has air dried into a product-free shag around my makeup-free face. I'm enjoying a latte as I wander around the house aimlessly. Oh, there are gazillion things to-be-done. Lists to be made, calls to be returned, blah, blah blah. Later. Maybe. If I feel like it.
For now, I'm just chill-binging and it sure feels good. This could be my new indulgence. Its inexpensive, calorie free & I am thinking quite addictive.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I hate the help

What a bourgeois complaint, I know -- right up there with “it’s so hard to find good help” on the obnoxious cliché scale. Yet, right now, I am hiding from my cleaning ladies upstairs in my home office. I cower as a cleaning lady captive, un-showered and too hideous to leave the house since I woke up late, at the crack of dawn, just to get ready for them.

I woke up with a start. “Crap, its cleaning lady day!” I dashed around straightening toys and books, collecting errant socks, half-eaten fruit snacks and the sippy cups that routinely litter every room. After all, the cleaning ladies can’t clean if you haven’t straightened up first. Even with all my frantic efforts, I’m sure they are still rolling their eyes as they look at our sinks. “Have they ever considered rinsing the toothpaste down the drain?” I imagine them wondering, “How on earth did that much shaving cream get on the mirror?” and “Have they ever tried peeing IN the toilet?” Hey, I live with two little boys who enjoy a good game of “crossing swords” at least a few times a week. I wouldn’t take your shoes off in my bathrooms.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to be able to afford cleaning ladies twice a month. I am grateful to have someone to clean at all. It is just one of the most awkward relationships I have ever been in, and there is simply nothing worse than actually being here at home while cleaning is happening.

When I worked outside the home full-time, I really used to enjoy the experience. The cleaning ladies were an abstract idea. I would imagine them as little elves, working their magic while I was at the office. Now we exist in close proximity and none of us harbor any illusions about one another.

The cleaning ladies we have now play against the classic types we’ve engaged before. They are two affluent-seeming, impeccably groomed women in their mid-sixties. They feel more like aunts than employees. During the interview, they waxed on about the loveliness of each of their own homes. I could picture their living rooms filled with table-top lace doilies and mirror-paneled cases of Hummel figurines. Their ‘little boy with umbrella’ probably hasn’t ever seen dust.

The odd thing is -- they are the worst cleaning ladies we’ve ever had. At my house, they chatter loudly the entire time they’re here, discussing grandchildren, arthritis remedies and lasagna recipes, often loudly enough for my clients on the phone to wonder who is in the room with me. On top of it, they don’t clean; they just re-arrange.

What they must think of me, holed up in my book strewn extra bedroom, tapping away on a laptop while yapping on the phone. They seem so much like relatives, I can’t imagine firing them. I almost wonder if their sloppy cleaning – forgetting to dust book cases and lamps or not washing the kitchen floor, is their passive-aggressive way of thumbing their nose at my obvious domestic inadequacies. “You’re sitting right here Missy – get off your duff and pick up a mop!”

In the six years we’ve used professional help, we’ve gone through five sets of cleaning people – and that is only because we are too lazy and socially awkward to fire them on a timely basis.

First there was Melita, the hyper nosy cleaning lady who came whenever she felt like it. Her schedule was almost entirely random. My husband couldn’t stand her. Like a demented patient in a nursing home, he was absolutely certain she was stealing his asthma medication. I couldn’t shake the mental image of Melita hanging out in some parking lot with the other cleaning ladies, sporting their gang-colored bandana head kerchiefs, and taking hits off his Albuterol.

Then we had Tetrazinia … or something. Neither one of us could pronounce her Brazilian name. She, meanwhile, had trouble pronouncing “Sue”. Each week she would come and apparently bring a gaggle of grand children who would follow her around and play with our kids toys. Every week, they left snacks and more than a few of their own toys behind. We had a cleaning lady who we had to pick up after!

My most embarrassing cleaning lady experience was with Linda. Linda was extremely thorough and used some sort of black-market, Teflon-based wonder product that made every surface super shiny and lemony fresh. My kids and I would routinely wipe out on the wood floors and things would slide right off our slick counters after her visits. If you were ever home when Linda was there – watch out. She was like out of her mind on Methamphetamines. She’d find you, sit you down and babble at you at 200mph until you made up some fake excuse, like appendicitis, and slinked out the back door.
One horrible rainy night she was there, I had to legitimately leave to pick up the boys from daycare. That night, instead of her regular beater car, Linda had borrowed some friend’s fire-engine red sports car and parked it directly behind my garage bay instead of on the street. I pulled out without looking and hit the car with a sickening crunch. I tried to look out the window but couldn’t make anything out in the pitch dark and driving rain. I wanted to tell Linda, but I had to go get my kids before they were put out on the street.

We came home and Linda’s car was still in the driveway. I was terrified. So of course I did the adult thing and told the kids we were going to Dunkin Donuts to wait her out. “We want to go home!” They wailed. I was having none of it. We sat at Dunkin Donuts for nearly an hour before returning. Linda was still there. She was babbling at my husband who was nearly catatonic and desperately craving his asthma medicine. There was no obvious damage to Linda’s fancy car, but she drifted away shortly thereafter. I think the car was the first step towards an uptown life for Linda.

Every cleaning lady breakup is hideously awkward – whether it’s the clean break or the drift-away. It’s judgment-filled on both sides. When we initiate the break, we feel like we have to offer some elaborate explanation of our personal circumstances. “Well, finances are tight and we’re cutting back and I think we’ll be doing our own cleaning for a while.” The cleaning ladies just look at us and sneer. They’ve seen our shower drain and they know we are incapable of cleaning for ourselves.
So here I sit, immobilized between utter laziness, social phobia and embarrassment, unable to make the break. Maybe I’ll just change the locks and the phone # and they’ll get the message. Maybe I’ll hire a new cleaning lady from East Africa and pretend she’s a relative who has moved in to help out. Maybe I’ll hire a hard-core industrial cleaning company the day before their next visit and pretend I cleaned myself and don’t need them any more.

More likely I’ll just stay trapped up here in my sweatpants twice a month hatching elaborate schemes and avoiding contact. It’s working great so far …

Friday, December 15, 2006

Jewels of identity?

I have read that you can tell a lot about a woman from the contents of her purse. This may be true, for some, but I don't see how anyone would be able to construct a semblance of my identity from 3 tubes of lip gloss, 4 ID badges, a wallet & fist full of receipts.
I thought of this as I dug through my jewelry box feverishly in search of an earring mate. My jewelry box is where I often start and end my days -- you could probably get far more insight into a woman's identity by combing through those things she considered precious enough to be jewelry-box worthy.

Consider mine. The box itself is of the classic mahogany bureau-top sort. It was a gift from my parents years ago. I still haven't had the brass monogram plate personalized -- probably because after 13 years of marriage, I still haven't come to grips with which initials I would use. I should get a bigger plate.

My oldest son refers to my jewelry box as my "pirate's treasure chest" and it does resemble a prop from Pirates of the Caribbean. The lid is always ajar and all sorts of bracelets and necklaces are heaped in there, hangling (hang + dangle) over the sides like ill-gotten booty.

Inside, you'd find the following:

1) 4 strands of differently-sized faux pearls. These range from the small strand of majorca pearls from my grandmother to the Gobstopper-sized Barbara Bush beauties that are an artifact from my corporate power-suit days. If I ever need to attend a holiday party dressed as Lisa Simpson, I'm in business.

2) jewelry packaged by children and/or made by children. I've got some crazy combinations of macaroni bracelets and glittery, huge "Attention Kohl's Shoppers" specials. Every time I think I might let one piece slip into oblivion, I'll hear an adorable little voice ask "Mommy - don't you want to wear that beautiful pin I made you? Tell me why again that you wear it on the inside of your shirt?"
Because its closer to my heart that way.

3) Therapist jewelry. I don't know what I was thinking ... I have a few big rock on a string, hunk of turquoise pieces that I can't recall wearing since a friend and I attended a personal development workshop a few years back. Our goal was to beat each other out by wearing the most "therapisty" jewelry we could find. I have a few pieces Streisand would covet for her Meet The Fokkers sequel.

4) A veritable singles bar of earrings. They are all desperately seeking a mate. They wait patiently on little velvet pillows for the call that never comes. The nicer ones I always consider making a charm or pendant. There's one from 1986 ... A huge Glen Yank NY aluminum earring that looks like an industrial sculpture more than an earring. There's the pretty blue topaz snowman earring my husband (then boyfriend) gave me in 1990. I know I lost its mate in the bathroom at my first job. I just can't bear to throw it out. There's many more with less sentimental value but it feels like wasteful bad mojo to throw these out (like throwing away Christmas pictures of good friend's children). The person who comes up with a use for these abandoned earrings will be a millionaire.

5) Goofy holiday jewelry. Less embarrassing than a Christmas sweater, but hokey all the same, are the jingle bell necklaces, tree light earrings, vintage Christmas Tree pin and mini Frankenstein earrings. How better to show your festive holiday spirit than to have your ears telegraph the message?

6) Treasures from my grandmother. Some old photos of her from 1914, a citrine necklace, Deco rhinestones from the roaring 20's, a beautiful silver cuff bracelet, some cool/weird pins from the 70's. I always think of her when I see or wear these things. Its remarkable how often I do wear them - good taste never goes out of style.

7) A wide variety of ill-conceived hair adornments: funky combs, rhinestone barrettes, hair "chop-sticks", funky bobby-pins. All seemed like a good idea at the time but never made into regular rotation. I hang onto them all, waiting for the fads to come back.

8) Cape Cod jewelry. I HAD to have the plain silver with single gold bead necklace/bracelet/earring combo I saw on a few gals here on the South Shore. It seemed so clean, so classic and fashionable. Then I saw these EVERYWHERE, including the 1st grade girls in my son's class who whispered "Nice Cape Cod bracelet" conspiratorially when they came out to do math drills with me. That killed it.

9) Watches, watches, watches. I have leather strap, metal band, SWATCH - you name it. None have worked for years ... I should make time fly by heaving these out the window.

10) The top layer contains my current favorites. Milky aqua chalcedony necklace & earrings I got at a Malibu art fair with Violet, Rose Quartz square necklace I got at a little funky store in Marshfield. My fun & funky irridescent polka dot necklace I got at a South Shore boutique. Fun crystal necklaces and earring sets -- all colorful, differently shaped, creative, costume & fun.

So if a cultural anthropologist came upon this treasure trove -- what would it tell him or her about me?

That I have a hard time letting go of the past? Check. I do so love the 80's
That I have a strong sense of family history. Check.
That I can be a fashion victim and a holiday cornball. Double Check.
That I am a pretty conservative fashion-wise but increasingly enjoy showing some artistic, creative flair. Yep.
That I am mother to children who can work miracles with pasta and gold paint -- ooh yeah.

What's in your jewelry box?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Its the most WONDERFUL time of the year...

Ahhh yuletide ... or whatever the politically-correct seasonal police require us to call that today -- "tide" probably offends oceanographers and those who are Water Signs on the zodiac. I'm not even 40 and I'm already getting old enough to just not even care!! HA HA - I'm feeling Merry & thought I'd share some of the ways we've gotten festive so far!

1) We send greetings of the season. In my office, Egg nog latte(tm)-fueled marketing managers struggle mightily to create the perfect politically -correct, endearing, inclusive, non-offensive, clever and cute winter-time greeting. The trash baskets overflow with crumpled card prototypes festooned with ill-conceived trees composed of crosses, Muslim moon and stars, and Buddhas, all topped off with a star-of-David. (I wish I were making that up) Other card options feature new, non-sensical words comprised of the 5 or 6 holidays blended together as some version of "Merry Chrismakwanzahannukah", other choices feature lame and uninspiring odes to winter while showcasing a newly Richard Simmons-fit version of snow person. The card options are then presented to our CEO, an unsurprisingly obtuse, rich, white guy who proclaims, "These are crap -- why don't we just say Merry Christmas?!" The HR person in the room clears her throat and the CEO says, "Right, pretend I never said that - why don't you go back and compose some sort of holiday haiku using the world shareholder and value-added?" This is how we say Happy Holidays.

2) We love our neighbors. In our case, the neighbor is a 14 year old boy who would benefit from at least one hitch at a medium-security military school. "Eddie," as we'll call him, routinely rides his bike around the neighborhood for hours while pulling an upside down wagon that makes a hideous screeching noise as it drags along the pavement. One day, I proved that I have become a ridiculous adult by pulling over to ask, "Hey Eddie, how come you pull that wagon around upside down? It has wheels on the other side." In return, I got one of those looks -- those, blank, sociopath, stare-through you, probably seeing you as the gorilla in Donkey Kong that must be destroyed looks. "I dunno" he replied, along with a slouchy, lame, one-shouldered attempt at a shrug. Then we just looked at each other for what felt like eternity before I simply gave up. "OK then ...," I breathed, as I rolled up the window & drove off ... feeling very, very old.
On Saturday, my husband looked out the window and caught Eddie and friends making off with the Christmas lights from our outdoor trees. Apparently they make a really great sound when you smash them on the pavement. Why my husband knows this, I'm not exactly sure. He swears that as a kid, he only used the burnt-out lights his parents gave him, but I narrowed my eyes at this, suspecting a criminal past. I was ready to dial Norman Schwarzkopf to come get his new recruit, when my husband -- always filled with the milk of human kindness -- suggested a different approach. "Let me just talk to Eddie and explain he needs to promise never to do this again, and I'll respect him and not call his parents." His way sounded more rational and humane. I sighed deeply and spend the rest of the afternoon feeling like an inferior human being -- until we drove past Eddie and his buddy on the way out of the neighborhood. My husband rolls down his window and yells "Hey Eddie, you better come talk to me about those lights!" And then he just sped off. I looked back through the car window and Eddie looked stricken - clearly wondering if his parents had been called, or worse. Captain Compassion just let them stew in it for the next twelve hours. I guess there is a brotherhood of thieves, because the next morning I found $10 anonymously placed under our door-knocker. Later, Eddie came back to talk mano-e-mano and tried to finger some other kids who had been stealing even more lights. It's like the mob. Once you flip and turn State's evidence, you point the trail to the bigger fish. Somewhere in my neighborhood waits a Middle-school holiday decoration "Don" holed up in the woods atop a pile of plastic reindeer and inflatable snowmen. He smugly counts Christmas wreaths while dispatching his Capos to get more lights. Any day now we're going to be shaken down for protection money. Where's Elliot Ness when you need him?

3) We enjoy the sights and sounds of the season. A favorite tradition when I was a child was the drive around to look at Christmas decorations. We used to listen to Christmas carols on the radio while we stared through fogged-up car windows at a beautiful rainbow of colored lights reflected off the snow. Today, we live on the South Coast of Massachusetts, and let me just say that the WASPY folk don't really "get" the whole festive lighting concept. The more affluent the town, the more "white" the decorations -- literally. Tiny white candles shine in each window, maybe there's an evergreen wreath on the door. Not very exciting. My two boys squirm in the back seat ... "When are we going to see the GOOOD lights!!" They whine. My 7 year old asks "How come rich people don't have good Christmas lights, they can afford the electricity?" "Hmmm, I don't know." I reply, wondering the same thing. We drive towards some more working-class towns in search of more colorful decorations. The metaphor is not lost on me. Instead of Christmas carols, my four year old insists that we sing the Scooby Doo theme over and over, each time adding more verses about zombies and vampires until the song is too scary to sing anymore. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a good zombie song!

4) We gather around the tree. Every year, we make a big deal about bringing home our Christmas tree. This year we opted for the full Tanenbaum experience of cutting down our own tree from an actual tree farm. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, we hiked up to the tree orchard and prepared to claim the perfect tree. There were about 50 beautiful trees in the distance. Unfortunately the Christmas tree "sooners" had all been there before us, staking their claims with little yellow paper tags. If you eliminated all the previously claimed trees, the pickings were slim. Our two boys were undaunted and unwilling to leave that farm without a tree. Suddenly they became blinded by "tree goggles" and picked out a sad little specimen with several bald spots. (I won't go for the obvious joke here). To them, the tree was beautiful and we tied it to the roof and brought it home. At least this year, we learned from past mistakes and didn't drive into the garage with the tree still tied to the roof!
We brought the tree into the living room for our annual tree naming ceremony. Last year's tree was Fred. This year's tree is named.... Crispy Donut. Why? You ask. My eldest wanted "Crispy", my youngest wanted "Donut" and they occasionally compromise.
This season, you can picture our family surrounding the tree, singing "Crispy Donut, Oh Crispy Donut … How we love your sugar coating!”

Friday, December 01, 2006

Destiny Awaits!

After a few days of wallowing at my own pity party - I decided to have my fortune told. Here's what I learned.

May hair will turn into cheese.
I will lick an ice cream and it will turn into a monkey.
I am going to be a BIG Disco star.

Granted, this fortune was told by a 4-year old ... but he seemed crystal-clear in his predictions. This is more than even I had hoped for.

I am off to fashion some barrettes from Ritz Crackers. Destiny awaits.