I’m not lurking; I’m finding my zen

The view from another, more photogenic, San Francisco hill.
The view from another, more photogenic, San Francisco hill.

As I may have mentioned before, I do a boatload of driving.

In fact, I drive up and over one particular hill at least six times every day. Let’s not explore the reasons why. Suffice it to say that having two children in schools on opposite ends of the city can make a person do ridiculous things.

Over the past six months, I’ve developed a habit of pulling over and parking at the top of the hill. Maybe I’d feel a little embarrassed if it didn’t feel so dad-gum therapeutic.

It’s not the most spectacular view of San Francisco, but the sky is constantly changing there–like moods. I am always surprised by what I see.

Sometimes the clouds split and a ribbon of light rips across the horizon.

Sometimes I can see it raining one place, sunny in another.

And sometimes–like this morning–the hill is adrift in fog and I see nothing at all. I always look for a while anyway.

I might comb my hair or clean out my purse. I might eat breakfast, read a few pages, or listen to the inane commentary of morning talk shows.

Often I close my eyes and take ten breaths.

The neighbors must wonder about me–though I have taken to setting my alarm for seven minutes, so I don’t wallow indefinitely–but for that tiny envelope of time, there is nothing but the sky and me. It is strangely satisfying.





Ode to Toast

from www.coverbands.com.au
from http://www.coverbands.com.au

I love raspberries, dark chocolate, decaf lattés, halibut with spicy mango salsa, potatoes mashed with cauliflower, cucumbers, french fries, crisp apples… but my most favorite food is: toast.

With a crunch like boots in snow, with butter pooling in the little troughs and valleys, leaving salty streams across my lips and fingers–what’s not to love?

Toast comforts me when I’m sick, when I’m sad, when I’m bored or peckish. It magically clears my head at day’s end.

Toast is like a warm hand on the belly; toast is perfect.

Unless I am out of butter, and then it’s not.

Old School System Failure

photo (1)

In times of duress, I write the most critical information on my left hand.

Not on my palm–where it might be less noticeable–because that is less noticeable.

Also, more likely to wash away.

Now that I know better, I take notes on the triangle of flesh on the back of my hand, between my index finger and thumb.

Today when I awoke, I saw “MC” in black sharpie in my Very Important Memo triangle. MC?

I’ve spent the day ruling out a steady stream of possibilities–all clearly wrong:

  • MasterCard
  • Marginal cost
  • Memory card
  • Master of Ceremonies
  • Merry Christmas
  • Milk cows
  • Minecraft
  • Miss Congeniality
  • Motley Crue
  • Mentally challenged
  • MC Hammer?

Sigh. Any ideas?

Beyond Bertie Bott’s: Jelly Beans That Will Never Be

Yep. That's what they call them in Oregon. Bad idea for a jelly bean flavor!  http://www.honeybucket.com
Yep. That’s what they call ’em in Oregon. Great name; bad idea for a jelly bean. From http://www.honeybucket.com

Thanks to J.K. Rowling…vomit, booger, sausage, and earwax-flavored jelly beans already exist. Having recently reread the Harry Potter books and visited the Jelly Belly Factory, I started wondering if there were flavors that could never be made into jelly beans. I know the box says “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans,” but surely there are lines which cannot be crossed. Continue reading Beyond Bertie Bott’s: Jelly Beans That Will Never Be

Man Shopping

I’m not talking about shopping for a man.

I’m talking about man-style shopping.

It’s not like I love shopping. I don’t squander vacation days noodling around in tchotchke shops. Bleah. Still, shopping is a frequent necessity, so I try to delegate it now and then. Sometimes that’s more of a nuisance than just going to the store myself.

I’m sure there are plenty of strategies I could learn from my spouse’s shopping methods–like how to get in and out of Target in 17 minutes flat, for example–but a few of his habits are completely mystifying to me.

1. Labels? Shmabels!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked my spouse to pick up something at the store, only to discover that I have to go back to buy the item I actually wanted. Maybe I could do a quick and dirty shopping trip, too, if I just threw random crap into the cart. Scallions are not shallots. Butternut squash is not pumpkin. And is it too much to ask to look for the word salted or unsalted on the butter? He’ll buy the orange juice with extra pulp, though he hates pulp, and it just goes bad in the fridge. If I mention “pulp free” the next time, he’ll wind up buying the kind with added calcium, which he won’t drink, either.

Sometimes the man reads half the label, which may be worse: “Less sugar,” it says right before “than Sunny D.” I try to explain the difference between fruit juice and fruit drink, but I can see his eyes glazing over like they do when I ask him not to put my favorite wool sweater in the dryer. Whatever.

Here's a clue: when fruit is spelled with two o's and an umlaut...it's probably not the real deal.
Here’s a clue: when fruit is spelled with two o’s and an umlaut…it’s probably not the real deal.

As a methodology, though, complete disregard for precision inevitably frees up a lot of his time. Not only is his shopping trip nice and quick, I’m probably not going to ask him to go next time.

2. Let’s buy enough for the Armageddon.

You might be wondering why I have a 50-pound bag of rice in the middle of my kitchen. Well, it’s because it doesn’t f*!&ing fit anywhere else. I completely understand buying in bulk, but wouldn’t twenty pounds of rice suffice? That seems like plenty. And is it really necessary to buy 48 rolls of toilet paper at once? Or 12 rolls of paper towels and a gallon jug of Windex? Really?

Last time we needed more bedding for the mouse cage, the man brought home a bag that was four feet wide and three feet tall. Why? Because it was ‘cheaper’ to buy a two-year supply. Little Stripey promptly kicked the bucket a couple of weeks later. Now what? Now the girls’ closet is impassable because a truck load of cedar shavings is sequestered there. Every time I trip over it, or try and squeeze around it to find some lost shoe, I give it a little punch. It feels pretty good.

What makes rule #2 especially confusing is that he hates having so much stuff. “Why are all of the cupboards and closets full of stuff?” he hollers. I bite my tongue, because the basement full of boxes is completely my fault. It’s not like I can cast the first stone.

3. Why go to the store if you could buy it online?

Left to his own devices, the spouse would buy absolutely everything online. It started a while back when it was cheaper to subscribe for a year of two-day shipping than to pay the delivery charge on the gigantic power tool he needed. After that, he began ordering everything from diapers to a shop vac to wine to batteries. That’s convenient and all, but paired with the first two rules, it means we get a lot of packages. Recently he gave me a packet with ten pairs of extra thick white sweat socks. What’s this for? I asked. “Oh,” he shrugged. “I thought they were men’s. It costs too much to ship them back, so I’m giving them to you.” Yeah, thanks.

I will admit that the wrong pot that he ‘amazoned’–the one we had to store in a dusty pile on top of the kitchen cabinets for five years–has recently become useful. That’s nice.

In the meantime, we need grape-flavored Children’s Tylenol, so I guess I’ll head to the store. Any ideas on how to use up a mountain of cedar shavings?

Losing my Nouns

In my dreams, I channel Dorothy Parker. Each time I open my mouth, words with weight and wit wander past my admiring audience, directly onto the pages of the New Yorker.

In my reality, however, I have always been a slow talker, rummaging a little desperately for the second half of my sentence. It’s a bit like having a Southern drawl–without the charming accent to keep the listener entertained.

In the past couple of years, it’s been getting worse. I’ve started losing my nouns. You know…the words I need to add to my sentence to have anything at all to say. Given enough time, I can pull out any number of qualifiers or adjectives, verb after verb, and even an adverb now and then. But nouns are frequently and conspicuously absent from my conversational menu.

This is causing some discord on the marriage front. In addition to my inability to finish a sentence, I need visuals to remember what the other person is saying. I recently asked my spouse to “please stop talking” about his upcoming travel schedule and “send it to me via email instead.” He paused for a moment before asking, “Why do want me to talk to you, anyway, if you’re just going to forget what I said?” Good question. I can’t remember.

Not that it would make me feel much better, but I can’t dismiss these as senior moments yet, either. I’m not a teenager anymore, but it’s not like I’m a card carrying member of AARP. Besides, I don’t feel old; I just feel stupid.

Sometimes I am so horrified at the prolonged, awkward silences that I fill in with whatever is in my line of sight. “Bills!” I blurt. “Clip ons!” “Peanut butter!” I might say with feigned certainty. Then I try to cover. My poor kids get so confused. “What are you talking about?” my nine-year-old asked me once. “I don’t even eat peanut butter.” “Yeah, well, look,” I said. “There it is. If you did like it, we have plenty.” By that time, I have confused myself as well, and I don’t remember what I was trying to say in the first place. Oh well, perhaps that is a blessing. It’s always worse when you know what you’re missing.

I remember vividly the first time this happened to me. I was visiting my brother-in-law, and I had just confided how I repeatedly tried to turn off the skylight in his bathroom. We laughed, and it was a nice moment–until we were teamed up for Pictionary minutes later. Guess what word he got? He was so excited! He started drawing and I knew immediately what it was, but I could not remember that word! “Sky-window?” I said, in a teeny, tiny voice. “Window-light?” “Ceiling-window?” I tried endlessly and in vain, watching him turn purple, a single vein throbbing at his temple. We never played Pictionary again, but I frequently have that same feeling. I am losing it, whatever it is.

After listening to my anxious whinging for a while, a friend suggested I get some of those Gingko Biloba supplements. Herbally-minded folks claim that regular usage works wonders to sharpen the old gray matter. I bought myself some. Trouble is, you have to remember to take it. At this very moment, there are at least two bottles of expired Gingko Biloba sitting in my kitchen cupboard, and they haven’t helped me one bit.

I don’t forget everything, though.

I remember advertising jingles from my childhood. That’s super handy, as you can imagine. Come to think of it, that’s probably what is taking up the bulk of my RAM.

I remember other people’s kids’ names. When necessary, #1 and #2 will suffice for my own kids, so that’s not much of a problem, either. Grown ups all look more or less the same, say the same sort of things, and behave as expected most of the time, so their names generally vanish into the unknown. There are exceptions, of course. If you shave half of your mustache, run for office, or throw up on the sushi platter at a party, I will probably remember your name.

Most unfortunately, I remember all of the things I would dearly love to forget. Let’s say you make a disparaging comment such as: “That font you chose for your thesis work reminds me of Sunset Magazine.” Oof. I will remember that until the day I die. How could that have been at all helpful in the evolution of humankind? I would probably write a letter to ask that Mr. Whosit evolution guy if he were still alive.

Wait. What was I talking about?

Another love letter to New York

There are a few things I truly dislike about New York, and I encountered most of them between 5:30 and 8:00 a.m. the day I arrived.   Stubbornly anti-cab, I spent the bulk of that 150 minutes on frigid platforms, awaiting imaginary trains, and–much later–pressed into a rush-hour train car with my great piles of luggage, sandwiched firmly between Freakishly Annoying Man and Mr. Clearly Shat Himself.  It is difficult for me to remember now, days later, but I had been so tired and hungry and cold that it seemed better to stay on that godforsaken train than battle the crowds and wait for the next one.

But then I suddenly emerged in sunny Brooklyn, around the corner from my old apartment.  I am wearing my scarf and ready for an adventure.

I love this place more than is really possible.

Being here is just as much about being in the past as in the present, and if I close my eyes, I am right back there in Central Park on the last day of my first year of teaching.  The Neville Brothers are there, too, and a lovely police officer asking us to please move a bit farther away so he won’t have to look into our coolers and confiscate our revelry.

My dear friend Alan is there, around the corner, throwing the key out the window and waiting for me to walk up.  He has a new mix tape, a new book, and a new way to look at the world today.

I am riding the train to work in the morning, darting off to throw up in the garbage cans and race back to reclaim my seat–a subway miracle.  I am wandering around the west village again, wondering why they keep reorganizing it so I can never find Arthur’s Tavern.  I am running late, running for trains, running out of steam, running amok.

I am meeting acquaintances for drinks, unfamiliar with bars with no signage at all–only really there if you know where to look.  I am ordering the wrong thing, I am wearing the wrong thing, I am likely saying the wrong thing, but it is ok because there is room for everyone.

Things have changed, of course.  It’s no longer MY city.  I can no longer eat bagels, and the Kentile Floor sign refuses to light up.  But the city is still full, magical, and heart-stopping. There are flirty barista boys and Indian restaurants so bedazzled it is impossible to stand up.  There are secret notes written on tickets; there is King Kong; there is the most exquisite pair of shoes I have ever laid eyes on.  There is Alan Rickman just yards away, and row after row of Brownstones, huddled together against the elements.  And there is a cafe playing an album I haven’t heard in so many years, resurfacing things long unfelt and unthought, seemingly forgotten.  It is all still here.

I remember why I moved.  I do.  New York can be a desolate and unfriendly place, even soulless.  A person has to expend so much energy looking out for herself that little remains to offer others.

Once safely nestled back on the West Coast, however, only the stardust lingers.

Oh, to go back.  I can’t wait.