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.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Movie Night

I don't get out to see too many movies with a rating above PG these days . It just goes with the parenting territory. I get all tingly when we choose something with live action.

Last night, we had grand plans to go see Wall-E. Unfortunately, it was "War Games" night at the theater and they had no screenings.

We had to settle for 2nd choice: "Space Chimps"

Today I told a girlfriend that I saw an accidental movie that was better than expected. When I told her it was "Space Chimps," she asked deadpan -- "So, did you see with subtitles, or in the original French?"

I spit Diet Coke all over my shirt. Such is my life. Mon Dieu (ooh, ooh, ahh, ahh)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A dip and a plunge

When I was a kid, my favorite season was Autumn. Here in New England, that means apple cider, apple cider donuts, apple pie, apple crisp ... notice a theme? Today, however, I am a seasonal turncoat -- trading in the Autumn apple of my eye for a new sizzlin' season ... Summer.

It was inevitable. I live in a beach town and I own a pool. What's not to love? Growing up, I was pool-less but I didn't see myself as aquatically-disadvantaged. There were only one or two families with pools in our neighborhood of 42 houses (I recall the exact number houses from my paper-route). Pool scarcity provoked our creativity. We pool-less souls invented excuses to loiter on front lawns looking terribly parched while conveying the impression we'd be far more fun to play with if properly re-hydrated.
The pool moms would absent-mindedly supervise our swimming while sunbathing in baby oil -- smoking their Virginia Slims and drinking a couple high-balls on the patio. We were mainly a gaggle of girls and our high-jinks wouldn't exactly make your adrenaline rush. Our big thrills were making a giant whirlpool around by speed walking in unison and then swimming back against the tide. If we were feeling particularly Evil Kneivelish, we'd repeatedly fall backwards into the pool off the deck to "take the Nestea plunge."

My how times have changed as a pool-mom in Testosterone town. As the mother of rambunctious boys, who seem to collect more boys wherever they go... my voice is hoarse -- not from Virginia slims, but from screaming "That's not safe!" about 411 times in any single afternoon.

The same boys who have just barely mastered shoe tying suddenly morph into little MaGuyvers when touched by chlorine. They assemble vast contraptions of pool toys, floats, lawn furniture and playground equipment to better catapult themselves into the water. They have chicken fights, leap and push each other in every conceivable direction and shove one another off the diving board. I wince so frequently I look as though I have a facial tick.

They think this is funny. "Oh mom, Relax" they call. "Yeah, easy to say when you haven't read the liability insurance rider on our home owner's policy," I shout back.

Good gravy. Who am I becoming?

Later that afternoon, I decide to rekindle the fun by offering a thrill suggestion of my own. Over dinner I ask "So, you ever skinny dip?" Both boys eyes widen and they look at each other and say "no," breaking into fits of giggles. "Want to skinny dip tonight?" I ask.

"Yeah!" screams my youngest.
"OK." shrugs my oldest (he's a dude).

That night, we turn on the pool light and turn off the outdoor lights. My 6-year-old little guy is nearly stripped clean before he hits the deck. My 9-year old glances around furtively and sinks below the surface of the water before taking off his bathing suit. I jump in (with my suit on). I'm not creepy.

Suddenly the exhilaration sets in. They both start shrieking with delight and swimming around like little fish. They climb out of the pool showing two little white moons and decide to try the slide au natural. Bare bottoms give a distinct slippery speed advantage and they shoot off the bottom of the slide like little rockets into the night, squealing all the way.

My coolness factor has risen considerably and I am thrilled to find a something fun, safe and exhilarating to do in the pool.

The next day, we go to a water park -- oddly enough named "Water Wizz." I'd like to meet those marketing geniuses. What was rejected? "Poopy pools"?

Naming aside, I do love me a water park. Mmmm, mmm. One of the top three reasons I had children was so that I could continue to frequent water parks without looking like a pedophile. For years my husband and I would go every summer. We'd look freaky I guess -- much older than the teenagers & yet with no children of our own. We came to know park security quite well.

On this day, we have our child accessories and are thrilled to learn that our youngest is now tall enough (48") to ride the thrill rides. Hooray! We immediately set off for some of our old favorite tube slides. Next, we ascend "water mountain" -- an area of the park we have never been to, since the 'little anchor' had held us back. On water mountain, there are high-speed hills you can race down, luge like, on little mats. There are several high-speed inner tube rides and finally, there is the centerpiece attraction -- the Pirate's Plunge.

The Pirate's Plunge is a giant, fully-enclosed black tube, raked at an 80 degree angle. It juts out at a perpendicular angle half way through, and then continues straight down into a water gully that slows riders down, drag race style, until they hit the lazy river. There is an observation deck that straddles the water gully so that park guests can watch and laugh at the unfortunate Pirate plungers who are receiving the water wedgie of a lifetime.

I start suggesting we should try the plunge, believing, in my heart of hearts, that my 9 year old will be too chicken. He is a mini me. He will talk a great game and then find some excuse - a sore foot, belly-ache, mad desire to try another ride - to prevent our going on the plunge. I feel safe talking it up, until he says "Ok, let's do it!" I did not expect to have my bluff called.

We start to ascend the stairs -- many, many, many stairs -- and the pounding in my chest is not just aerobic. I am scared to death. I did not think we'd go through with it. My husband is calm and my 6 year old is dancing with glee. That kid would bungee jump without a second thought. The teen years should be fun.

I decide to try to reason with my 9 year old, making him my 'out'. "That thing looks pretty scary and like it would give you a wicked wedgie," I say. "We can go do something different if you want. We don't have to take the plunge." I see him look at me with what I mistake for gratitude for providing a graceful excuse.

It turns out he's looking over my shoulder at a 4 year old wearing an orange life jacket. This kid is bounding up the steps for his third plunge. My guy lights up. "No mom, let's do it -- that little kid has already done it twice!"
Crap. I think about telling him that a 4 year old doesn't have the sense God gave eggplant, but I know if will fall on deaf ears. Suddenly all three of my boys (husband included) start chanting "Do it, do it, do it!, do it" I am out manned.
My 6 year old starts trash-talking me. "You're a scaredy cat, even a kindergartner takes the plunge!" I redden. Then it starts. They start making the chicken noises, accompanied by the chicken dance. I can't handle that the whole ride home, so -- against my own wisdom -- I agree to plunge.

My little guys goes first, screaming all the way. Not confidence inspiring. Next, my 9 year old takes the plunge, walking a little funny after the dismount, but walking all the same.

I offer for my husband to go next, but he shakes his head. "I want to make sure you don't chicken out." He smiles. That's the problem with twenty-three years -- they allow you to know a person too well.

I step up to the pool platform. It is dark, pitch black in that tube. The only sound is a vague echo of all the water rushing down the super steep incline. I make the sign of the cross and climb in, pulling myself forward with an overhead bar.

Suddenly, I'm free falling with my eyes shut. I hit the midpoint and surprisingly speed up when the water hits my back. In no time, I'm in day light with a wall of water rushing up from my feet to slow me down. I look up and see three sets of hands clapping over my head. "You did it!" they cheer in unison.

Yes I did! I feel scared, proud ... exhilarated. Once I bit the bullet, it was really fun.

That is what summer is all about -- gettin' a little crazy, trying something new, pushing a comfort zone for the story value on the ride home. Over ice cream, we all agreed the Pirate Plunge was the best part of the day, then the boys begged to skinny dip at home.

I feel 10 years old all over again.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Perhaps in my younger days

Years ago, Saturday Night Live had a fantastic skit featuring Bill Murray as the middle-aged Hercules. In the skit, King David would be incredibly thrilled to meet his hero and would set up a recreation of the 'Labors of Hercules.' The Colosseum crowd would be jacked beyond belief to watch Hercules dazzle them with his powers, when ol' Herc would say (in his deep booming voice).
"No, I am sorry. I cannot lift a rock that large. Perhaps I could in my younger days." There would be a long disappointed pause until Hercules would offer, "Perhaps I could lift a smaller one," hoisting up a small stone about the size of a paperweight. The crowd would then golf-clap and roll their eyes.

And so it goes. I totally get it. This week, I had a wild and crazy night planned in NYC with my brother-in-law. Along with another friend, we went to go see the 80's techno-synth band Yaz (nee Yazoo). These guys have not toured or released a record in about 23 years and have sunk into almost total obscurity.

All during the day, I was in business meetings feeling somewhat smug that I was going out to a concert that night. I'd find ways to casually drop it into conversation, thinking "I'm not going to some boring wine dinner -- I'm going out to see Yaz .... Boo Yeah, I'm bad!"
The only problem was, no-one knows who Yaz is its incredibly difficult to 'hum a few bars' from a techno-band's few mainstream hits. "Deep deep deep, boop yeooooow, booop, boop boop wow, wonk wa." Pity the fool who picks Yaz on 'Name That Tune'. Its Turtle Wax and Rice-A-Roni time.

That night, we changed into our club clothes. Black remains an evergreen choice for any decade.
As we made our way up the West Side to the new club, "Terminal 5", we realized that there we not going to be any seats at this venue. This was a standing-room-only concert. A collective groan went up in the back of the cab.

I am at the age where seats make all the difference to the evening. We can head out to the coolest, hippest bar in the universe and -- if I'm standing -- its going to be a short night. In this, I am not alone. A group of us will be standing together in a bar, half-listening and looking over one anothers' shoulders to see if we can pounce on empty seats. One-by-one, we're fooled by table sitter's periodic trips to the bathroom until we give up & go somewhere less hip where we can rest our sore hips on plush seating.

At the concert, it seems Yaz was feeling the same way. Vince Clarke must have spent all his energy during his Depeche Mode and Erasure years. He stood almost motionless behind several Laptop computers and pressed keys periodically. We joked that the music had been pre-recorded and he was just checking his email.

Alison Moyet also seemed to be downshifting her energy this decade. She wore a simple black outfit and New Balance sneakers with orthotics. We couldn't technically "see" the orthotics, but she was clearly favoring comfort over style.

In fairness, Alison is not a small girl and she was belting out the tunes and working some of her 80s dance moves. (Note: How I wish there were an 80s dance move exercise class!)

There were fairly long rest breaks throughout their hour-long set and, at one point, Alison returned to the stage with her own Barcalounger as she sang a song about "sitting too low in her chair." Too low my ass. I was jealous, since by this time, my own knees were throbbing in time with my lower back.

I'm not saying we did not have an excellent time, only that a chair would have magnified my enjoyment tenfold!

On the way out of the show, we ran into one of my brother-in-law's friends who was bursting with verve and enthusiasm. "Wasn't that show just amazing?!" He asked. "Oh my god, there's such amazing music here this summer. Just this weekend, there's the Coco-Puffs, The Criminally Insane, Biscuit Cutie, The Nuggetrons, Noodle McBoodle, The Skeevemeisters and Tilly And The Wall."
Only the last name is a real band, memorable to me because they tapdance while singing.

At the end of the enthusiastic concert-listing fire hose blast, Tom and I just looked at each other pie-eyed. We were shocked that neither of us had any idea about any of the bands this guy was raving about. We fondly recalled the time when we would have been utterly plugged in. Tonight, our ankles hurt and we were dying to sit down and have an Italian Ice. Cool has taken on a whole new meaning.
Perhaps in my younger days ...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is this how Donald Trump got started?

My nine-year-old son has been obsessed with money for as long as I can recall.
"Keep your eyes on the ground and you'll always find money," he used to say. He was right. On every outing, he found -- not pennies -- but dimes, quarters and even dollar coins.

When he was 4, we once went to the beach at sunset and he found $80 (four $20 bills) floating in the surf. No kidding. He saves all this money and has me periodically take it to the bank to be converted into $100 bills for which he holds public showings in his bedroom. The neighborhood boys line up to ooh and ahh at his Benjamins. I am only surprised he doesn't charge admission.

This Halloween, he chose to go out as "Mr. Crabs" from Sponge Bob, going door-to-door announcing "Trick or Treat -- I LOVE MONEY!" The kid has a theme.

I wonder what career he'll pursue when he's older. Lucky him -- he won't have to choose between love or money, because for him -- where's the choice? His stated career aspirations today are: Major League Baseball player, comedian, and the scientist who invents a car which runs on salt water.

I'm thinking he might want to add "securities trader" to that list, since every day I am incessantly peppered with about 76,283 questions of "How much is that worth?" If I show him a picture of a friend's artwork, his reply "How much is that worth?" If I buy him a shirt, "How much is that worth?" If I receive a check in the mail, he asks "How much did you get?" The question is so automatic, I am ashamed to say -- I usually tell him without thinking.

More than occasionally, he stumps me. The other day he threw this curve ball.
"What would be worth more -- An original copy of the Declaration of Independence or The Holy Grail?"
"Umm ...," I replied. "The Holy Grail because that is globally-valued where the Declaration of Independence would be primarily valuable to Americans." I was so proud of my thoughtful answer.
"You think I could get $50 Billion for the Holy Grail?" He asked.
"Is there something you want to tell me? I haven't ventured under your bed in some time, did you find treasure there?"
We talked some more about potential buyers and whether Bill Gates or the Catholic church would cough up the most dough for the Grail. I thought we were done when he launched his follow-up line of questioning.
"If I found the Grail all by myself and sold it all by myself, would it be my money or the family's money?"
I said, "If you find and sell the Holy Grail all by yourself - its all yours." A big smile settled over his face.
"What if Teddy helped me dig it up with his paws?" At that point, our mini Golden Doodle trotted over to the conversation, evidently to make sure he'd get his cut of the action with this Grail business.
"If Teddy helps you dig -- you gotta hook him up," I said.
"Hmmm, how much would I have to give him?"
"Well, there's no rule, but Leona Helmsley just left her dog $12Million." We talked some more about how Leona's dog spends that money. I had just read an itemized accounting of this in New York magazine, so I could speak with authority.
"I'd buy us four jet-skis," he said. "And a side-car for Teddy so he could ride alongside me with his tongue hanging out."
Cam and I just sat there for a minute, smiling at the idea of us riding our four Grail-money jet skis with Teddy alongside. Teddy licked his approval for the plan.
Guess we better get digging.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Oops, I did it again

"Hey, why don't you come for the weekend with the kids?"
"Sure you can stay a week -- Don't worry about bringing anything."
"Absolutely I'll run the event, no problem -- I'd be delighted."
"Why don't I just hold the BBQ here ... there'll be 25 all together? Sounds great."
"Come on down." "Drop on by" "Don't sweat anything"

Here I go ... trying to cram 52 weeks of fun into 8. I'm out of my MoFo mind. I have a hostess addiction and it must stop, for I am now resenting the very fun I invite into my life. I am afraid of my in-box, my phone gives me the willies. I am overcommitted and it is ALL my own fault.

Time for a gin and tonic.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Pillow Talks

Each time I return from an overnight trip, I find my husband has "accidentally" purloined my two pillows. These pillows are nothing truly special, but they are broken-in and just the right measure of fluffy and squishy for me.

"If the pillows were numbered #1 - #4, you always get #s 1 and 2 and I'm stuck with 3 and 4 -- I think I should at least get custody of #2." my husband whines.

My eyes widen and my hands fly to my hips. "Excuse me," I say. "Shall we pay a little visit to the graveyard of special pillows first?"

My husband's gaze flickers and finds the floor. He knows what's coming.

In the last three years, we have invested more than $500 in special pillows for my husband. There was "the wedge," the hypo-allergenic down/foam mixture, the neck roll, the buck wheat crescent, and the Tempurpedic head support. Not only have we tried out every version of pillow available at Macy's, we've called 1-800#s, visited the back store and ordered online. Where are these special pillows today? Not on our bed. I have visions that they will someday unite and hold a pillow Special Olympics just to show us they are just as good as their generically-abled pillow cousins.

I think the dog sleeps on the $125 Tempurpedic pillow and he's not even picky. He would launch himself onto a Bounty paper towel that fell on the floor if it promised one iota of softness.

Now I could go out and buy exact copies of my present pillows -- either for me or my husband, but I so know what would happen. In the same way that dinner always looks better on someone else's plate, the pillows under my head will hold an irresistible lure.

I am just going to have to get me a pillow vault for when I go out of town and leave a paper towel on my side of the bed.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Requiem for a Nemesis

My mother is of the avid newspaper clipping generation. She smokes and reads daily. Each time she visits, she brings along a smoke-scented yellowed pile of townie news tidbits, amusing comics, recipes, and -- with increasing frequency -- the winners listed in the "Irish racing form," a.k.a the obituaries.

At first, the obituary clippings were few and far between and usually for people I assumed had already died years before; like my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Graves, who wore her hair in a severe silver bun while sporting chained bi-focals and orthopedic shoes. She seemed to be 103 in 1977. The surprise in her passing was only that she must have been so much younger than we thought.

In the clippings pile, sprinkled in with the passing of a distant generation, there are periodically a few tragic deaths of classmates who drank too much & drove too fast or maybe succumbed to a rare and and unexpected illness.

Sadly, these days my mother's clippings contain a steadily increasing number of obituaries for people who, while not exactly contemporaries, I would never consider to be within daisy-pushing range.

The latest obituary was for a high-school teacher who is etched indelibly in my mind as my arch-nemesis. We had a persistent multi-year low-grade war of passive-aggression that could provide excellent fodder for a 1980's Brat Pack movie. My part would be played by the indomitable Molly Ringwald and, if I were to cast my teacher -- I think a bearded Lewis Black would be an excellent choice.

Monsieur Richard "Dick" Dubois was my 9th and 10th grade French teacher. Dubois was one of those teachers who was unable to conceal his humanness behind the bland veneer of a standard teacher's persona. It leaked out. He was a tempermental French-Canadian who wore jeans to class, rode a flashy chrome motorcycle, and told stories that verged well on the side of ribald and inappropriate. While he tried hard to play the part of an affable and calm educator; he always had an edge. In his flush cheeks and the pulsing veins in his forehead, you could see the strain it took to maintain his composure in front of an unruly class. On more than one occasion, he cracked -- once even hurling a desk across the room at a smart-Alec student.

This made Monsieur Dubois interesting and I could not resist stoking this volcanic temper -- its my way. I was an average student of French, but I possess a black-belt of passive aggression and love to play with fire.

When Monsieur Dubois began waxing poetic about his days as an easy-riding flower child of the 60's, my friend Alison and I decided to festoon his cherished motorcycle with flowered garlands and streamers. He was pas amuse. Alison and I landed in detention.

While we sulked our way through the afternoon, we watched an uber preppy girl named Violet as she flitted in and out, perfectly conjugating French sentences and playing coy with Mr. Dubois. "What are you in for?" We asked her.

"Oh," she huffed. "I'm not in detention. I'm just here practicing my French for the spring trip to Paris." Then she blinked twice at us and turned on the heel of her penny loafer.

Alison and I rolled our eyes in unison, snickering about her whale belt, argyle socks and the multiple layers of oxford shirt that made it challenging to raise her arms to the chalkboard.

After detention Alison and I immediately began plotting to exact our revenge.

One Saturday afternoon, Alison and I were working the concession stand at the High School football game and tossing about potential options for secretly driving Monsieur Dubois bananas. Suddenly someone chimed in behind us. "If you really want to get his goat, you could steal his prized possession -- the framed photo of the Beatles over his classroom door."

Alison and I whipped around to find Violet smirking with a cocked eyebrow. "Like you wouldn't rat us out to 'your boyfriend'," I sneered.
"Don't be silly, I'd help you." She replied.
"Why on earth would you do that?" We asked.
"Why not? I like an adventure." She said. "We'll return it at the end of the year. No harm done"

Alison and I were captivated by Violet's cunning even though we didn't understand her motives. We began plotting our heist.
That afternoon, we snuck down to Monsieur Dubois' classroom and removed the 8 x 10 photo of the Beatles from its perch above the doorway. The photo was given to him by a former student and featured prominently in his weekly stories about his days stalking the band.

The next bit is where Violet's criminal mind revealed its full glory.
"Monsieur Dubois will immediately suspect you two." She whispered. "That is why I will craft a series of ransom notes in flawless French. This will remove all suspicion from you both."
We mildly protested, since she was basically calling us French-tarded. But she was right. We agreed the plan was brilliant and began collectively composing a series of letters we hoped would direct Monsieur's behavior to our liking.
"Cancel French quizzes!" We suggested.
"Too obvious!" Violet shot back.
We agreed that Monsieur Dubois should tell more stories, not lose his cool with students and demonstrate how much he wanted his photo returned by pleading to the class.

Monsieur Dubois would not be so easily directed. On Monday, he paced before the class furiously unleashing a string of French expletives. He "damned the monstrous cretins" who had stolen his property and demanded its immediate return. His show of fury was scary, but we held our ground and sent another note.

Later that week Monsieur Dubois threatened to tell the Assistant Principal and disciplinarian and punish each of his classes in full with extra homework and additional quizzes until the photo was returned.

Alison and I had second thoughts. Violet, however, was a cool hand. "Hold firm," she said. "Let him stew a while." We agreed, comforted by our vow of secrecy and that, due to the ransom note quality -- Monsieur Dubois' gaze never lingered on Alison or I for more than a moment.

Over time, the furor died down and I forgot I had the photo stashed in the back of my locker. Ultimately, we returned it to its perch late one evening before the end of the year.

Monsieur Dubois snidely remarked only that he was "pleased that the cretins had returned to their senses."

Following this little caper, Violet became my BFF and heroine. The next year, she inexplicably went through a metamorphosis and traded in her argyle socks for leopard skin dresses. We spent the rest of our high-school career tooling around around in her 1975 Cadillac Coup De Ville listening to Duran Duran cranked up to 11. We took our secret with us at graduation.

I never achieved fluency in French, but I did develop a rabid curiosity about the eccentricities that lurk below the surface in most individuals. Monsieur Dubois was perhaps not temperamentally suited to being an instructor of teenagers. He was, however, interesting and thought-provoking and he provided some of my more memorable high-school moments.

Monsieur Dubois' volatility also created the connection which yielded one of my most enduring friendships. He was larger than life and it seems impossible that he is now gone.

Adieu Monsieur Dubois.
Vive Monsieur Dubois. Laissez Le Belle Temps Roulet!