Laughing Inappropriately is my blog of personal essays and attempts at humor.
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Free Room for a Trouble-Free Woman
Dear reader, as always I am ready with an excuse for the absence of new posts. Last time, I blamed a Jewish holiday and here I am again, almost a month later, ready to justify my writing hiatus. A related side note, “hiatus” is such a wonderfully grown-up sounding word for “that period when I watched ‘Call Me Maybe’ on YouTube 16 times in a row.” Actually, though, I have a slightly more legitimate excuse this time (really, Emily, more legitimate than blaming unleavened bread for your inability to type?).
You see, dear reader, I’ve embarked on an endeavor more emotionally-fraught and physically-exhausting than a Shire family vacation to Yosemite and with just as many encounters with frightening critters to boot. I have begun to search for an apartment in New York City.
Cue the shocked awes from friends and loved ones who likely never expected me to actually move out. Well, neither did I, but the plan of waiting until Jon Hamm/Derek Jeter asked for my hand in marriage and swept me off to a honeymoon mansion isn’t panning out. So, I’ve got to put my big girl pants on and start the house hunt.
This process is a long-time coming. I know myself well enough to acknowledge that I am a creature of habit and that for all of my complaining, and there’s enough of it to bust through a sound-proof basement, I love being home with my family. I love that there’s an endless supply of Cliff bars and always someone with whom I can watchThe Colbert Report. In college, I used to speak to my parents for almost an hour every night; moving home has significantly reduced our risk of developing brain cancer and our cell phone bill (don’t you love how I say “our” when I’m not paying it. But, every birdie has got to leave the nest, and more importantly, I am tired of running into the mothers of schoolmates at the gym. I need to be in a city where I can be anonymous (because no other twenty-something Jew from Westchester moves into New York City).
Unfortunately, finding a compatible apartment in New York City is only slightly easier than trying to find a compatible boy—-and apartments don’t buy you Jack and Cokes, so it is a significantly less pleasant process.
Using Craigslist, which I am doing despite my mother’s conviction that this will lead to my demise at the hands of a psychopathic pervert, is not dissimilar from using OkCupid. about which my mother feels likewise. Both involve parties scanning an array of possibilities, checking out profiles without any sense of commitment or attachment, and trying to decide whether to send an email to check them out. Above all, they share the underlying common ideology of being absolutely free, which means you’re drawing from only the finest pool of applicants. Yup, both sites pretty much embody “you get what you pay for.”
Speaking of which, on Craigslist, there is the occasional listing for an apartment that is completely rent-free. However, as anyone who has contracted food poisoning from complimentary deli pickles knows, there is no such thing as a free meal. As someone who has led a largely sheltered suburban life, there is an odd novelty to these advertisements that somehow count as barely legal prostitution. Frankly, I worry more about the solicitors because any girl who responds to an ad to live in Times Square with “an exotic man of foreign decent” (yup, spelled exactly like that) has got to be just over the psychopath border.
My favorite of these ads was one that read “Free room for a trouble-free woman.” I must admit there is something tempting about the offer when you’re looking at a gym locker on Avenue C that costs $1600 a month. Unfortunately, I would wager there is no woman at least in the Tri-State area who is farther away from fitting that description than I am. In fact, my Native American name is “More Trouble Than She’s Worth.”
And it only gets worse when you live with me. I am notorious among my roommates and family members for 20 minute-long showers, never properly loading the dishwasher, and, oh yeah, having really loud, snot-running-down-my-face emotional breakdowns. As my brother Ethan said, “Why would anyone want to live with you?” So true, Ethan, so true. I’ve concluded that whatever dowry my parents were planning to offer a suitable mate must be presented, instead, to whichever Craigslister is willing to take me in.
What, Mom and Dad? You tell me now there is no dowry? That the 529 is specifically for educational purposes and not bribing the star of Mad Men/the Yankees’ shortstop to marry me? Oh well, thanks a lot for blowing my dowry on a liberal arts education. You threw your money behind the wrong horse on that one.
So, maybe if I keep my fingers-crossed, I’ll come across an ad for a not-so-trouble-free woman. Until then, if anyone hears of a fabulous place in the West Village, right near a subway stop, with a 24-hour security guard, a laundry room, and rent that won’t force me to turn into the world’s worst hooker (yeah, worse than that hot dog one), you know to send the info my way.
Passover 2012, Part 2: The Seder, or when the Children wrestle for the Afikomen
As almost any spiritually-bankrupt American Jew will tell you, Passover seders can be pretty long and boring. It’s supposed to make you feel like you’re reliving the exodus from Egypt, but most of the time you’re just trying to look alive in case your Uncle from Secaucus calls on you to read about the four sons or your cousin from Great Neck throws matzo farfel at you. Many American Jews rely on the Maxwell House haggadahs (Passover booklets) because it was determined many moons ago that a company that manufactures mediocre coffee should also be responsible for our spiritual guidance. These haggadahs make a lot of references to someone named Rabbi Gamliel who we don’t really speak of ever again and rely on retelling the story of Passover in grammatically incorrect old English, all of which is why seders are pretty painstakingly dull.
However, as you could probably guess from my previous posts, nothing done in the Shire house is ever dull; quite the opposite, it’s usually abrupt and filled with so much agitation you could vomit. In theory, my family’s seders should be very relaxing because it is a relatively small crowd of my grandparents and my mom’s sister’s family. We’re so close that everyone can be themselves, which, actually, is the negative version of a blessing in disguise. Without some outsider to force us to pretend to be normal, any principle of civility has lost hold and all hell has the potential to break loose.
Before the people can break loose, though, the furniture usually does. My family doesn’t really throw away anything. My mother and I share a belief that you never know when something might come in handy in the future, which is why I can’t force myself to throw away a pair of heels with a broken arch that I bought the summer before my bat mitzvah because they could possibly be of use if I … decide I want an easy way to purposefully sprain my ankle.
The day of the first seder, I helped my mother set up a folding table that was admittedly “iffy,” having caved in one Rosh Hashanah. As I struggled to figure out how to kick out the legs, I realized the woman in the directions looked ridiculously akin to June Cleaver and that there was a strong possibility this folding table was older than my mother. In the spirit of Passover, we decided to throw caution to the wind and put our faith in the Almighty. We also decided to willfully ignore the fact that my brothers and I are about as delicate as elephants that have done a few too many Jager bombs (BTW, would you not love to see an elephant do Jager bombs? PLEASE email me if this YouTube vodeo exists). Thus, it was really of no great surprise when the table collapsed as my brother Matt reached for a pre-Four Questions bottle of seltzer. I’m going to assume it was Elijah the Prophet’s way of telling the Shires it was time to go to Costco and spring for a new folding table.
There’s nothing like a table caving in on the grandchildren to break the mood of reverence at a seder, but a close second is my dad reading jokes that his Jewish middle-age co-workers emailed him. The adults seemed to get a kick out of the Shecky Green-style of humor about how hard it is to digest matzah, but that kind of subtle comedy is wasted on the under 18 crowd, especially when they’re both starving and embarrassed by their parents, a toxic combination if there ever were one.
And that’s not to say there weren’t plenty of times when the children acted like embarrassments, too. I don’t think it was my parents’ proudest moment watching their son elbow an 11 year old girl to snatch the afikomen. (BTW, don’t know what the afikomen is? The quick explanation is that we hide a piece of matzo in our homes because the Almighty commanded us to suffer rodent problems in exchange for our freedom.) In all seriousness, the real significance of the afikomen is that the child who finds it gets $10. The Klan would have a field deal watching the children in my family search for the afikomen; they’re swearing, tripping, and shoving all in the name of the Almighty dollar. By the end, the grandkids are foaming at the mouth and resembling a WWF match with at least two people in a headlock and the finder dancing on the others’ backs. Like the Thanksgiving touch football game, I’ve abstained from participation the last few years due to health concerns.
However, I endured a new and far more humiliating Passover tradition this year thanks to my grandma. A fun fact about my grandmother: she can find a ritual that will remind everyone that “Emily is STILL single” for almost every Jewish holiday. Near the end of the seder, there’s a part where you open the door for Elijah, the prophet who walked the earth thousands of years ago (yeah, religion is weird; get of our backs, atheists, you already know you’re cooler than we are). Although I was struggling to move in the cheap-ass peep toe heels I bought at Payless three years ago, my grandma insisted that I be the one to walk unassisted to open the door. She never explained why this tradition is supposed lead to marriage, but I assume it involves my wedding to a ghost prophet, which would be totally fun, but we’d never have any good photos to submit to the Sunday Styles.
My family made it through the rest of Passover like the old pros that we are, eating Manishewitz-mix chocolate cake every night along with copious amounts of fried matzo (yup, that tastes about as good as it sounds). As I discussed before, we spend the eights days of not being able to eat bread by eating everything else in our freakin’ site; marshmallows, macaroons, matzo kugel are all fair game, and if it isn’t nailed down, it goes down the hatch. Of course, this kind of reckless abandon has its cost, but I am going to brush off the extra pounds and the inability to button my jeans as the price for freedom.
Passover 2012, Part 1: In case you thought Jewish rituals made sense…
Dearest readers, although I’ve been known to Chatty-Cathy my way through middle school chorus concerts, national war monuments, and High Holiday services, I cannot seem to force anything coherent out of my mouth…or, more accurately, my fingers. For the past two days, I have alternated between staring at my blank computer screen and looking over my shoulder to make sure a coworker doesn’t rat me out for being on gmail (BTW, this back-and-forth glancing gesture is not unlike what I’ve been instructed to do when attempting a three-point turn). In spite of falling just shy of self-induced whiplash, all I can think is that I truly do not know how to start this post. With that kind of combination of ambivalence, ambiguity, and lack of mental energy, you know this is going to be a doozy!
The past few weeks have been a bit bananas, in no small part because of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Now, to be fair, Passover ended almost a week ago, so some good old Emily-laziness is to blame. Also, there is no “real” reason why Passover should have impeded my writing, although, I am suspicious of the side effects of matzo, the unleavened bread made of sawdust and ground Styrofoam (Think I’m kidding about the ingredients? If you haven’t been inside a matzo factory, you have absolutely no way to prove otherwise).
However, the whole preparation for Passover can flip your system into a different gear. Jews are known for being a touch neurotic (thank you Sigmund Freud and Woody Allen), but we seem like we’re just a few pushpins away from voodooism when you get into the nitty-gritty of our rituals. BTW, there could not be a WORSE time for me to make a “Jews have creepy rituals” joke than in the context of Passover because of the whole blood libel thing that led to the persecution of Jews for hundreds of years! Okay, so our rituals aren’t that weird (just wanted to clarify in the highly unlikely case Mel Gibson is reading).
Actually, I think it’s just my own family’s rituals that are weird. We’re a strange hybrid of observance and laxity that reaches a fever pitch when it comes to Passover. In theory, Jews are supposed to rid their homes of all leavened products and change their dishes and cutlery for Passover. In reality, the vast majority of American Jews maybe give up bread for the eight days … or at least the first two seders . . . and muffins don’t count as bread!
My family changes all of our dishes and cutlery, which means we (my mom) unloads two dozens cardboard boxes that for some reason we store next to a boiler that smells like Elizabeth, NJ. At the same time, we don’t technically throw out all of the leavened products. Instead, we put giant tablecloths over them and tape our drawers, which seem totally normal to our friends and do not at all resemble a high-security state mental hospital that prohibits sharp objects.
There are also a bunch of rules that I don’t have time to explain here/I don’t actually understand that keep you from eating a lot of other random stuff that aren’t leavened products. On the Nutty Religions Scale, when you explain to someone you can’t eat rice during Passover because your ancestors are from Russia and Eastern European trade routes centuries ago may have allowed for the mixing of leavened products and rice, you sound less nutty than the angry Christians with posters and fliers lining the Time Square subway stop more so than people who see Jesus’s face in potato chips and grilled cheese.
In addition to those dietary rules, for some reason thousands of years ago the rabbis determined that it would be a REALLY good idea to not only tell people to stop eating their favorite bread products, but to also force them into a confined space with their relatives to follow a long and intricate ceremony that involved eating salt water and horseradish. Really, rabbis, would a holiday with bunny rabbits or pastel-colored eggs hidden in a backyard kill you?
An Ode to Friends: Loving you through the Good, the Bad, and the Sloppy
Dear reader, I’d like to take a few moments to get a little preachy and PSA-ish on you: nothing in life is as important as good friends… okay, maybe family, but I’ve already scrapped every gem out of that diamond mine of dysfunction. Also, Passover is coming up, so G-d knows, quite literally, I’ll be writing about familial issues again soon.
In all seriousness, though, friends fill a special void in your life when your soul is lost in worry. There are times I’m convinced my writing prospects peaked with an unsuccessful expose of who pulled the fire alarm at Scarsdale High. There are times I’m worried I’ll never have an OkCupid date with someone who’s taller than I am and that any potential progeny will resemble members of the Lollipop Guild.
Reader, let me give you some advice for when you’re having these existential concerns. DO NOT speak to your parents. They will either:
a) get even more worried than you, then make you annoyed that they have no faith in you, which will lead to a fight about how no one respects your personal right to your Pad Thai leftovers.
b) tell you you’re great and have a bright future ahead of you, which we all know is bullshit.
The people you go to in these moments of life-crisis dread are friends.
Why? Well for one, if you’ve had even the most mundane of American college experiences, your friends have probably seen you at your very worst. You may break down and cry in front of your family (as I do, almost daily). However, some of my close friends have seen me at moments when my family either would have committed me to a mental health facility or disowned me. If they had been around that time I blacked out on a toilet in formal wear and started swaying and cursing like the creepy girl in The Exorcist, they probably would have done both. Instead, my friends kept their cool, made sure I was hydrated, and closed my legs so I didn’t inadvertently flash (almost) anyone.
Not for nothing am I waxing so poetically on friendship. I’m in a bit of a honeymoon mindset after a weekend reunion with college friends in Washington DC. Yes, I managed to spare a weekend in my suburban cave to visit the nation’s capital! Although I probably should have been more awed by our federal machinations and national monuments, my two main takeaways of the city were:
1) Pay an extra 5 cents for every Safeway grocery bag? That is environmentally brilliant, but I can only carry so many cartons of ice cream and jugs of $8 wine with my two little hands.
2) Wow! There’s no vomit or other bodily fluids on the subway. No wonder they can get away with carpeting.
The closest I came to traditional sightseeing was when my lovely host and dear friend Mark (see? I mentioned you by name) pointed out the Jefferson Memorial, and I said “You know, when it’s lit up red, it kind of looks like an infected penis.”
Luckily, because Mark is a good friend, he knows to take my inane comments in stride and to just keep me moving forward. Literally. Y’all know I get super lost, which is why Mark and my college roommate/ best digestion issues-confidante Andrea decided to surprise me by meeting me at the subway stop. I, of course, promptly blew by them wondering what the deal was with the two assholes laughing at me. After an awkward ten seconds longer than it would take a normal person, I realized who they were.
We proceeded to the nearest authentic watering hole, a Tex-Mex bar with $7 margaritas. Amendment: $7 margaritas on the rocks, $9 for frozen margaritas, which annoyed me at first, but then I decided it was worth the extra two dollars to help fill the childhood void caused by my parents’ ban on slushies.
We kind of drank our way through the weekend, but at a really classily slow pace, so I can’t say there were any drunken adventures. Plus, rainy weather is a total buzzkill. It is even more of a buzzkill when you’ve stepped into a muddy (at least I pray that’s what it was) porta-potty outside of RFK stadium.
It was there that two of my other college roommates, Tian and Patty, joined our little brew crew for ShamrockFest, the third largest national St. Patrick’s Day festival. Not unlike the best of biting hangovers, ShamrockFest managed to squeeze out the last bits of Guinness-soaked fun even after the actual holiday was over. Eventually, with one fraction of Irish heritage among the five of us, we gave up and petered out early. We were going to try to fight the good fight, defy our collective penchant for staying in and watching Steel Magnolias. It was game over, though, as soon as Patty and Tian suggested making mulled wine and I suggested changing into pants with elastic waistbands.
That’s great thing about a weekend with good friends. You don’t have to stay out at a party or pretend to like something. You can sit in silence and not feel awkward (the true test of a strong relationship in my mind). You don’t worry about eating all of their Tostitos and salsa (sorry, Mark) or rolling over them in your sleep (sorry, Andrea; sorry, Mark) or making them stay out late because you cannot imagine why you wouldn’t want falafel at 1:30 AM (sorry, Mark; sorry, Patty; sorry, Tian).
Then again, you know what? Love means never having to say you’re sorry, and what my friends and I have is the best kind of love: the non-biological, non-romantic, non-physical kind. It’s the kind of love that will tell you point-blank when you need to get your eyebrows waxed, but will still love you and your unibrow even when you don’t.
The Joys of Aging: In which I Write Too Much about Bladder Issues
Dear readers, I am tired and old, so I am going to make this post short and sweet.
Now, anyone who has ever shared a bathroom with me knows that nothing I do is “short and sweet.” My family’s ceiling is peeling like the dry skin of a teenager on Acutane (trust me, I’ve been there) thanks to my inability to shower in under fifteen minutes, and I shudder to think of how many women have suffered UTIs due to the random misfortune of falling behind me in a restroom line. Heck, anyone who’s read my blog knows I meander, and not like a cute, grandma spinning a yarn type a way, but rather, like a deranged, hyperactive kindergarten class bunny that you’re forced to chase through your backyard.
However, I am starting to feel more like the grandma spinning a yarn as I sense my age is catching up to me. That may not be the right expression for a 22 year old. If my age was really catching up to me, I’d be spending more time forging drunken relationships in Murray Hill and caring about The Hunger Games than popping Tums and complaining about how frigid it always is. Alas, in case you couldn’t tell from previous posts regarding my struggles with technology and love of TLC reality programming, I’m an old soul. Or at least a middle-aged soul.
Unlike my attempts with most of my character defects, I am not even going to try to irrationally blame this on moving back home to the suburbs. I was well aware of this trait in college. You don’t exactly feel like a spry, young thing when you pass out on your couch before midnight after drinking a vodka Red Bull.
Hell, the middle-ager has been lurking in me since I was but a young lass. Remember when Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creekwere really popular? Well, I don’t because I was too busy watchingFrasier after my bath. Let me tell you, references to Cheers spin-offs do not make you the most popular gal on the little league team. While most adolescents gamely stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning at slumber parties, I was the first to crumble at around 11. But for the grace of god did my friends choose not to prey on the naive heavy sleeper with acts of lewd facial drawings or dunking my hands in warm water.
Not that it takes much to make me have to pee. You see, even more than my middle age mentality, I have a middle age body. I don’t have to dye the gray yet. The menopause mustache has not yet arrived, though the waxers at Beauty Mania would care to differ on that one. My skin is as wrinkle free as someone who developed a stress-related ulcer in ninth grade’s could be.
However, on the inside, I bear all the hallmarks of an over-the-hill physiological system. As mentioned, I have the bladder of an octogenarian. I should pay Starbucks rent for all the time I have spent in their facilities—-and without buying a drop of coffee (yeah, I’m that kind of person; in my defense, the coffee just feeds the bathroom cycle!). I give myself 3-5 years before I am wearing Depends for extended car rides.
Now, I know many young people-and yes, especially my XX peers-are known for their copious bathroom trips, but there are other bodily-related issues that make me feel like an old fogie. By the way, the fact that I just used the expression “old fogie” has officially proved that I am one. As extra evidence, I’m including a non-exhaustive compilation of my elderly persons’ health issues, otherwise known as “List of personal qualities that I will NEVER mention in an OKCupid profile.”
For one, I have a trick knee. As if it weren’t bad enough watching senior citizens jog briskly on treadmills as I cling for dear life, it turns out I can’t even run while gripping with two hands. I haven’t even made it through half an episode of “Chopped” before I am vigorously massaging my kneecap and wishing I had some extra IcyHot on me.
This condition may or may not be related to my weak ankles and corn-ridden feet. My grandmother and mother instilled in me the value of sensible shoes. I am probably the only girl who wore orthopedics to her bat mitzvah because her grandmother feared she’d topple over on the bimah. Well, lo and behold, before I could ever afford Sex and the City shoes, my feet are ruined. Forget platform pumps or Jimmy Choos. I can’t even wear flats. Instead, I wear Anne Klein oxfords that seem to scream “Hello, I have three children, love Fifty Shades of Grey, and live in Massapequa.”
I was just about to start writing another paragraph on my bad back (oh, what four years of high school textbooks will do to a pubescent girl’s spine!), but then I realized I needed to stop the kvetching. Vey iz mir, even I, who lives in a house where medically-related complaints are the focus of most of our dinner conversations, know my limits. I may be an old soul, but I am not such an alta kocker yet that I don’t know when to put a kibosh on the complaints. So, dear reader, I am going to sign off here, pop a little Pepto for my tummy, and rest my weary bones.
Driving, Doctors, and Other Things that Make Me Feel Incompetent
Dearest of dear readers, I cannot begin to convey how truly sorry I am that it has taken me such an unjustifiably long time to write another post, especially since so much of that time was spent watching episodes of Say Yes to the Dress and drinking Caramel-flavored vodka.
I know I made a New Year’s resolution not to start any of my posts with an apology, but just as with my other goal of doing Pilates every night, the uniquely dulling chill of February broke my will. My octogenarian ankles and calf muscles’ tendency to Charley Horse didn’t help, either.
February was a shaky month for my mental and physical stability. As my last post indicated, Valentine’s Day marks a trying time of year for yours truly. The overwhelming sadness and boxes of Russell Stover usually leave me incapacitated for one to two weeks. Then, as fate would have it, just as I was crawling out of my Valentine’s hibernation, non-chocolate-related illness struck my weary bones. So sick was I that I had to pay not one, but two visits to my pediatrician.
By the way, in case you were wondering, being a 22 year old and going to a pediatrician is as precious as it sounds. You get to stand in the waiting room with your arms crossed because you’re too afraid to touch or sit on anything the sneezy toddler with the crayon up his nose has been near while simultaneously realizing that all of the other patients are young enough to be your grandchildren by Appalachian standards. The silver lining is that the nurses are far more understanding when you hysterically cry at the sight of shots and/or butterfly needles. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think grown-up doctors would have enough patience nor Justin Bieber stickers to medically cope with me.
Really, though, even illness is a cop-out because it truly does not take that much physical energy to write. Writers generally fall somewhere just above middle-aged CPAs on a physical fitness test, so unless you’ve broken all ten of your fingers, there’s no good reason not to write. As my fifth grade teacher would say, “No excuses! And work on that long division, you blithering idiots!”
Unfortunately, I am so good at making excuses and letting myself off of the hook for things. (Why, yes, Emily it is absolutely imperative you watch another episode of Cupcake Wars). However, there is one thing I am committing to for 2012. I’ve told family and friends, but I am stating it here to reaffirm my dedication: I am going to get my driver’s license.
Being 22 years old and not being able to drive is only slightly better than being 22 years old and seeing a pediatrician. My top three biggest issues with not having a license are: 1) you’re completely dependent on the kindness of your parents and friends to get you places; forget about ever feeling like a remotely competent human adult 2) you lose a boatload of money on cabs-conversely, you get to become friends with cab drivers, 3) you have to carry around your passport if you want to get into a bar; in case this was not completely obvious, alcohol and pocket-sized government forms of identification are a TERRIBLE mix.
In my defense (see? more excuses), I descend from a long maternal line of female non-drivers; we’re three generations of anti-feminist car jokes.
Let’s start with Grandma Hazel. Her husband, a World War II navigator who guided plans with failing engines over the Atlantic and safely landed them outside of Nazi territory, tried super hard to teach her how to drive, but to no avail. Grandma Hazel claims she was very close to passing her exam, but sped up and got nervous at the end because she really needed to go to the bathroom. I pretty much believe this, since the weak bladder has been passed down my maternal line, as well.
Then, there is my mom, who can actually drive, but prefers almost any activity less excruciating than a double root canal to the act of driving. My mother spent the first twenty some odd years of her life residing in places where she had no need for driving. Then, in 1987, she persuaded my dad that they should ditch their apartment in the Village and move to the suburbs (and what a swell idea that was) and her public transportation world caved in on her.
She was a trooper, navigating the suburbs without the ability to drive and with two kids in a tow-and let the record state these were two kids that did not like walking! I don’t know if this is the official straw that broke the camel’s back, and thereby paralyzed her last form of non-automobile transportation, but not being able to drive my dad to the ER when he fell down our stairs and broke his wrist was a likely factor in her learning to drive.
And learn she did! She practiced with my father and her father, and she passed the road test. Yet, while New York State has faith in her driving abilities, she does not. My mother drives really well, but driving with her is like taking out a loan from Bank of America; there are lots of restrictions and hidden fees. She does not drive on highways, outside of Southern Westchester, or in parking garages. If you want to go to the mall, be prepared to park at least two kilometers away and hoof it.
By the way, I am in absolutely no position to judge; she’s the one I am most dependent on for lifts. I’m just happy she’ll get me within vision of the mall.
I was able to scrape by through high school and college without driving (how? by having no sense of personal dignity and groveling for rides from any manner of acquaintances). However, now that I am back home, learning to drive seems like a necessity.
Unfortunately, I’ve tried learning to drive in the past. A person of average, baseline driving capacity could have passed the road test at least two to three times with all the hours and lessons of practicing I’ve had. However, when it comes to driving, I am all thumbs. Literally. Please, get out of my way if you see me attempting a three-point turn. Years of terrifying driving experiences have also taught me that I am really, really bad at guestimating spaces. My visual-spatial skills are just not all there.
G-d bless my father. He is the only bloodline relative who will get in a vehicle with me at the wheel. He’s seen me manage to straddle three head-on parking spaces and nearly killed us both at a blind turn, and yet he keeps telling me I don’t need anymore lessons. Then again, this may have less to do with his faith in me than his efforts to cut his losses on paying for over five years of driving instruction.
As I am making what is hopefully my final stab at getting my license, I am trying to channel my father’s inner calm, patience, and ability to parallel park. Dad, if I ever pass the New York State road test, you get the first ride-and I totally understand if you want to take a pass on that offer.
Here’s One for the Lovers
“Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! I hope you’re doing something fun with your loved ones to honor and cherish this remarkably wonderful day, be it your friends, family, or a SPECIAL someone!”
Is exactly what I would write, if I had fallen down our outside stairs and impaled my frontal lobe on the tip of the Tetanus-inducing rusty banister, while simultaneously doing whip-its.
Shocked that I don’t love Valentine’s Day? Maybe I should switch that icon from Sally Brown to Lucy van Pelt to convey the frustrated, bitter single girl sentiment a little more clearly or, better yet, Peppermint Patty-wouldn’t that set tongues wagging? (See previous post on purchasing a black iPhone to read more about my younger brother’s suspicion that I’m a lesbian). I have not enjoyed Valentine’s Day since I was in third grade. Mrs. Absgarten’s class had a completely awesome internationally-themed party in honor of the 1998 Nagano Olympics, and it was the last year before I reached that painful stage of self-awareness that forced me to realize that I looked absolutely nothing like Michelle from Full House.
In a few moments, I will elaborate on my ire towards the “holiday,” a term I use VERY loosely (I’m going to have to note that both National Popcorn and Penguin Awareness Day are two celebrations thus far in the 2012 calendar year alone that are more deserving of the title of “holiday”). But first, I’d like to take a few swings at all these reasons why people usually hate Valentine’s Day.
One reason many people complain about Valentine’s Day is because it promotes commercialism, corrupting a loving, pure, romantic holiday with greed and profit. These are likely the people who make the same materialism lament come Thanksgiving, Christmas, and any other holiday that Duane Reade carries decorations for six to eight weeks too early.
To those people, I say go move to an organic agricultural cooperative in Portland, leave the heart-shaped Russell Stover boxes for me, and shut the hell up! Look, I love Free to Be…You and Me as much as (or way freakin’ more) than the next person, and my Hippie tendencies run pretty deep for a person born less than a month before the fall of Communism. But, dude, wake up and smell the Folger’s coffee and while you’re at it, pop a Xanax (or in my house, a boatload of Benadryl).
What harm ever came from a few boxes of mass-produced Looney Tunes Valentine’s cards… except to the workers in Indonesia being paid four cents a day. Okay, the workers have my sympathy, but not you, annoying people who like to complain about commercialism! Do you realize you’re the living, non-ironic embodiment of “Stuff White People Like”? You hate the little boxes of Sweethearts and Hallmark cards? Why don’t you lament the fact that you can’t speak another language while you’re at it? I want the record to state that I am NOT in this camp and that I adore all boxed pharmacy chocolates, regardless of the shape or holiday.
Another and far more annoying reason that people complain about Valentine’s Day is because they think it is silly to have one single, arbitrary day for romantic gestures when this should be practiced throughout the whole year. 99% of the time these are smug couples that love holding hands and walking together slowly, particularly when this involves blocking the entire width of the stairs for exiting the subway station and crushing you against a hipster who doesn’t believe in deodorant. To them, I simply say I hope you have a lifetime of love that endures even through that case of the Syph, over which, I am sure, you can manage to bond and grow.
Whew, now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, I can get to the meat and potatoes of why I hate Valentine’s Day. It may sound odd, but the thing I so dislike as a single person on Valentine’s Day is having to pretend to be really nonchalant about the day. There is a surprisingly narrow range of emotions you’re allowed to display on Valentine’s Day if you’re a single person in the presence of non-single people, even the ones that aren’t total d-bags like the couples described in the above paragraph.
On Valentine’s Day, you need to be as independent and self-confident in your singleness, which many women are. Just be certain you’re wearing your “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” t-shirt to make sure everyone else around you doesn’t shoot pitying glances. This includes sending a message to friends and relatives who genuinely love and care about you; in fact, it is especially in their presence that you need to seem fine and dandy.
You see, they are the ones who are going to be most on the lookout for your feeling a tad despondent or forlorn on this day, ready to catch any signals to cheer you up. They may have incredibly kind intentions, but it often ends up feeling patronizing. So, even if you want to make Valentine’s a fun day with some girly drinking of Andre to playfully drown your single sorrows, you will not only be branded the jilted, bitter girl, but people will sorry for you, too.
I genuinely don’t want people feeling bad for me because I don’t have a date on Valentine’s Day. I have so many actual struggles that I would much rather cause others’ pity. My frightening lack of depth-perception makes it impossible for me to head-on park and pass the New York State roadtest. I can’t eat a bowl of oatmeal without spilling and making my clothes look like they came out of the Monica Lewinsky collection. By all means, empathize with these challenges I face and try to raise my spirits!
But, if Valentine’s is the one day when people cart out the tea and sympathy, it is hard not to feel like you’re missing something and, more importantly, you should rectify that missing thing NOW. Maybe you’re already a headstrong, confident woman who is happy exactly with how things are; maybe you’re not. You’re going to want to avoid unwanted pity in either of those cases, which means you’re going to have to waver somewhere between casual and perky.
But not too perky. If you’re running around handing out Hershey kisses to everyone at your office and dressing in pink and red, you seem a) like an eight year old high on helium and cotton candy and b) deluded, as if you’re trying to cover up for something. I hate to admit it, but I, too, find it hard not to be suspicious of someone who just LOVES Valentine’s Day in a pure, unadulterated way.
I just read an interview with the author of The Catholic Girls’ Survival Guide for the Single Years. She suggests throwing a Valentine’s party for the neighborhood children because it’s hard feeling depressed when you’re watching little girls in pretty dresses sip cocoa. This seems both a little creepy and a lot pathetic and not wholly unexpected for a religious guide to enjoying being single. It also hits at the issue that zealous love and planning for Valentine’s Day is a sign of overcompensating and distracting yourself,. It can be emotionally difficult to pull it off, and even if you can, it’s still pretty obvious what you’re doing and will trigger the same cycle of pity described above.
My single ladies, I guess we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. So, screw it. Pretend you’re Gloria Steinem, cry in the fetal position, or pour yourself a glass of wine. I’ve done all three in the past hour.
A Really Weak Apology to My Family for Using Them as Blog Fodder
Dear reader, if you’ve been kind enough to travel along with me on this blogging journey, two things have probably become obvious: 1) I don’t proofread for typos well and 2) maintaining my privacy is not high on my list of priorities. It’s certainly well below avoiding confrontations with giant rodents. I would not be writing to you in the first place if not for the simple fact that I am a Chatty Cathy with a big fat mouth that’s a little too willing to disclose the first thought that hops into my head, which 99% of the time is about food, random odors, or how awesome it would be to birth Derek Jeter’s children.
If loose lips sink ships, then that Costa Concordia thing was totally me and not the skeezy conductor. Too soon to make mediocre jokes about it? Damn it! Well, see, I’m shooting off my mouth again.
If my friends from college are reading this post, I can picture them nodding along in understanding, remembering the Emily who would waltz into the dining hall and happily announce she wasn’t wear any panties because she was out of clean pairs. They’ll recall the lass who couldn’t wait to be asked a probing question in Truth or Dare, sitting herself just a tad too hard on the old college futon and snapping the wooden legs with the force of her derriere, a tale she then shared with her academic adviser later that week.
For better or for worse, I am particularly loose lipped when I’m writing, or as the great Carrie Bradshaw would say “emotionally slutty.” I couldn’t help but wonder… nope, not copping to a Sex and the City cliche yet!… well, actually, I really can’t help but wonder if there’s something about not having actual face-to-face contact that enables me (and many others) to disclose over the internet things that go in the “not even appropriate to share on a third date” category.
A quick run through of the things I have revealed on this blog; aside from the general concerns regarding unemployment, body issues, and slowly wrinkling into Little Edie of Grey Gardens (of the 1975 documentary, not the 2009 HBO special), I’ve discussed incidents of horrifying drunkeness, my weak bladder, my willingness to let my younger brother freeze barefoot outside our home, and my love of Glee.
It’s all well and good if I want to tarnish my own reputation and thwart all potential for future babysitting jobs (yup, I know I harp on babysitting-take that as a reflection of my financial/social state). However, I’ve come to realize that I have been exposing a few other folks along the way, namely the two people who gave me life, and the two people most likely to be kidney matches. Kudos to me for exploiting those precious and potentially life-saving familial relations for the sake of a few pithy comments!
In all honesty, I’ve felt a little uneasy writing about my family for a while now. That was not my initial plan when I started this blog, but a few things make it difficult not to write about them. For one, now that I am living at home, they are the people with whom I spend a large chunk of my time, so they’re inevitably going to pop up in a post. For another, if you had a younger brother with a penchant for Ebonics and a father who almost killed you changing a light fixture, you’d write about them, too. Just as it says in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Every Brady Bunch family is super boring, but every funny/neurotic family is funny/neurotic in its own way. BTW, Mom and Dad, please take note that I am quoting Tolstoy; even though I still can’t correctly read a Metro-North train schedule, I’m finding a way to put that expensive college education to use.
On that note, Mom, Dad, my two little future kidney donors, I want to apologize. Most likely, only 25% of the Shire clan is reading this, but I still want to use this time to say I’m sorry for taking permission carte blanche to write about us. I’m even sorrier that I may not be using “carte blanche” correctly and am further sullying the family name. Most of all, I am sorry because, whether it has sunken in or not, you’ve taught me to value privacy. This goes beyond the fact that my father always instructed me not to disclose my social security number on College Board exams because its “none of their freakin’ business,” or that when I wrote a complaint letter about my fifth grade teacher, it wasn’t enough not to sign it anonymously; my mother wanted to copy it over in different handwriting, lest they perform a graphology exam or match it to my ELA test booklet (Ironically, as a result of my grandmother’s pride in how eloquent a complainer I was, the letter was never submitted and is in safekeeping in her apartment).
My family has taught me how to appreciate and love trustworthy people, the ones you can expose the truly devastating, embarrassing, vulnerable things about yourself to, things even worse than admitting you cried during Disney’s Tarzan and had to pee six times during the course of it. Thus, I hope they are not too offended and will forgive me if the elastic waistband around my sense of discretion snaps, and I share a little too much.
Fingers-crossed they will. Because when I do fully evolve into batty and bald Little Edie, I’m relying on them to subtly hide me in the guest bedroom and tell the neighbors I’ve moved to Boca.
Vermin Come to Westchester, Leading Me to Reevaluate My Life
Dear readers, I am once again horrendously late writing this post, but I have an excellent tried-and-true excuse: I’ve been suffering from an existential crisis. For those of you who may not have been on a college campus recently, the existential crisis is as common among undergrads as Mono. Sartre seminars spread the malady like shared Solo cups at an environmentally-friendly Frat party. As with most things other than developing ulcers and a penchant for hard candies, I am a late-bloomer, so perhaps, this is why I have been struck with a case of existentialism almost a year after graduating.
I think it’s just that there were always concrete worries and legitimate concerns to occupy my thoughts in college-like how was I going to fulfill my natural science distribution requirement or find a burrito place open past 3 am. Now, though, I get more regular sleep hours, and I sit at a desk in a generally calm workspace with ample time to let my mind drift. While my blood pressure and bowels have gratefully improved, my emotional health has hit the skids.
With more time to ponder and smell the daisies, I’ve wracked my brains with worries about life that are pretty much impossible to answer: How do I lead a fulfilling life? Where do I find my happiness? Is George Clooney starting to get on my nerves and am I emotionally ready to admit that to myself?
Moreover, I am starting to worry that the baby steps towards independence that I made in the stark wilderness of dorm life are escaping me. Doing my own laundry, procuring my own alcohol, and (infrequently) remembering to pick up rolls of toilet paper from the mailroom all built the miniscule amount of practical self-reliance expected from an Ivy League graduate.
And just as I’ve learned how to hang a curtain rod, I’ve lost my sea legs on the ship of life. I am grappling with the fact that when the chips are down, I am absolutely futile. Not only futile, but as absolutely weak and useless as a seven year-old. And no, not the crazy cool seven year olds that climb Mount Everest or Kiernan Shipka (my role model), but the super annoying, helpless kind, the ones that cry when you drop them off at Hebrew school and still struggle not to wet their pants. And yes, in case you had a single second of doubt, I was of the latter category.
Lo and behold, I am regressing! The cushy life of living at home with people who make you tea when you’re sick, fill your drawers with plenty of clean underwear, and are always eager for a drinking buddy to take to expensive sports events and/or Dead concerts (hi, Daddy) have led to my sorry state of cotton candy fortitude.
In the cruelest twist of irony known to mankind or Alanis Morissette, what set off this brutal self-realization was actually a critter attack in my own home… the very kind of vermin infestation for which I had criticized New York City in my last post. Let me tell you, nothing confirms your worst fears about your immaturity and mental instability like surrendering your house to a creature based solely on a screeching noise.
Wait, dear reader, I am getting ahead of myself without properly setting the scene. It was a serene Sunday morning as my brothers and I were gathered on our couch in our pajamas. We were like a Saturday Evening Post cover if Norman Rockwell had included Chris Berman’s head glowing on a 60-inch screen TV and everyone wore bar mitzvah sweatpants.
I must admit that I was feeling a particularly strong surge of sisterly authority. My mother was out visiting our elderly grandfather in the hospital, and our father was engaged in the equally noble act of a paddle tennis match. I was left in charge and became Erma Bombeck for half an hour. I made fresh French Toast and omelettes, I sort of loaded the dishwasher, and then I began on the one task my mother actually asked of me: getting my brother Ethan to do his homework. I felt like Ali, ready to step into the ring, which is the kind of delusional self-confidence needed when interacting with Ethan.
I got up in front of my brothers and launched into a Brady Bunchspeech about the importance of doing homework. The blank stares in response led the speech to go increasingly in the way of The Sopranos. After spewing premium cable-level profanity and banging my shoe against our coffee table I went to my last option. In a move that some might call daring, others suicidal, I turned off the television.
At that first moment of silence I heard it. The squeaky screech, then a squaw. Never has a more terrifying sound been heard in the Shire, except the chandelier-breaking shriek I then unleashed. In my state of blind terror, I screamed, my brothers claim, “Did you see that?!!!!!” rather than “Did you hear that?!!!!!!!” I stress this because no, I never actually saw this creature, but that’s a good thing because considering how I reacted to the sound of it, the sight would have sent me into an irreversible catatonic state.
Apparently my stress-induced loss of cognitive capabilities was highly contagious. As I screamed and ran up the stairs as fast as I could, my brother Matt sprinted up shortly behind me deciding to take a laptop on 1% battery, but neglecting the charger right next to him. Ethan one-upped him by deciding to eschew his two older siblings and run out the door barefoot. BTW, it was less than 20 degrees outside. I did not notice any of this though until I slammed the door of my parents’ bedroom and realized I was missing: a cell phone, a phonebook, a working laptop, and a little brother.
I was up a you-know-what creek without a paddle…and as my fellow Troop 1972 Girl Scouts can attest, I can’t hold my own in a canoe even with the best oar.
In a time like this, I decided to call the one number engrained in me since I was in nursery school, 9-1-1. At the same time, I chose to actively ignore Ethan’s cries to open the door, which had locked behind him. Yes, I know this is the point of the story when I am officially disqualified from the Sister of the Year award, but you know what? In these stressful times, it is every man for himself. Blood may be thicker than water but it’s no match for irrational fear.
Besides, in my defense, I banged on our window to try to get Ethan’s attention and let him know that I was too afraid to open the door and to give up hope … for a sister with a backbone, for a house that doesn’t resemble the Bronx Zoo, etc.
Before you get your panties in a bunch, my brother Matt completely manned up and got Ethan while I was on the phone with the 9-1-1 operator. That conversation was a real gem as I spiraled from fake calm into pull-out-all-the-stops desperate pleas, which the assuring 9-1-1 operator ignored.
Nothing kills your faith in civic government like speaking to a 9-1-1 operator. It’s not fair to blame them-don’t shoot the messenger. But damn it all to hell, speaking to this fool made me wonder where my/my parents’ tax dollars were going. Here’s the rundown:
INCOMPETENT, HEART-OF-STONE OPERATOR: Hello, this is 9-1-1.
ME (frantic but pretending to be calm): Hello, Sir, I have a slight problem. I heard an animal in my fireplace, and I am very nervous and taking care of my two brothers.
INCOMPETENT, HEART-OF-STONE OPERATOR: Well, I’m sorry, Miss, but there’s nothing we can do.
ME (phase one of losing my shit): Wait, what? I could really use Animal Control or someone to come help us out.
INCOMPETENT, HEART-OF-STONE OPERATOR: I’m sorry, but we only send Animal Control when it involves a dog.
ME (a glass case of emotions): Who said it wasn’t a dog? Please, sir, I am very, VERY scared and need help.
INCOMPETENT, HEART-OF-STONE OPERATOR: I can give you the name of an animal trapper. He probably won’t pick up, but leave a message, and he usually calls back pretty quickly.
ME (pulling my best Fatal Attraction Glenn Close “I will not be ignored”): Sir, our parents are gone, and we are three children, left alone and terrified! Please, I don’t know what to do!
INCOMPETENT, HEART-OF-STONE OPERATOR: The trapper’s number is 428-3178.
Click. Not even a “goodbye.”
Now, reader, you may have some fair bones to pick with your trusty narrator, such as “Emily, a 22 year old fails to count as a child, and neither does the 18 year old college freshman. The 14 year old offensive lineman is pushing it, too.” To that I say, a) desperate times call for desperate measures-did you not read the part about my leaving my brother outside to rot barefoot in freezing temperatures? and b) at that moment, I honestly felt like a child. Sitting in a room, cut off from helpful technology and left to my own resources, I could do didley squat.
What kind of adult was I? I could not deal with a woodland critter, and I could not protect my family. If I was so inept when dealing with a mouse/mole/mutant Brooklyn rat (heaven forbid), how would I hold my head in the world and deal with a robber, a landlord, or IRS agent (in that order of scariness)?
As my brothers and I insulated ourselves in our parents’ bedroom, I kept thinking how is this any different from the way we would have reacted ten years ago? I probably had slightly better phone skills and we couldn’t all fit on my parents’ bed this time around, but that was it; the bottom line was that we, ultimately, bolted ourselves up as we waited for our parents to come home, just as we would have a decade earlier.
Ethan blocked the door with chairs and heavy frames, assuming the critter was at least four feet tall and had opposable thumbs, and I had no idea what to do next. I stood there in my PJs feeling absolutely and utterly pathetic.
I take comfort knowing that a lot of mature, fine, and completely functional adults would not react well to domestic vermin, but they also would probably know when to grow a pair and not surrender their entire house to a rodent. This isn’t France, for goodness’ sake!
It was not until my father VERY begrudgingly came home that I braved returning to the scene of the critter’s crime. As I sit now writing this, I wonder why his presence made it okay. Yes, part of it was that his total lack of fear was reassuring. However, even more, I realize how much of a sense of protection I feel when I am around him and my mom. Even after being at school and traveling abroad alone, it’s taken just a few months to soften the weak backbone I grew.
I know this may sound overly dramatic, and I am projecting a lot of my own fears. I’ve often said my mother and I can be a little Grey Gardens-ish, and I would be lying if my inability to successfully cope with this rodent didn’t raise some of those anxieties (in regards to both attachment issues and the crazy amounts of cats and critters living in their house).
I used to want to move out of my parents’ house to have my own space and freedom. As I have grown more accustomed to the comforts of living at home, I think moving out may be a necessity, a kick in the butt to drive my independence into high gear. At the very least, it would certainly give me practice with dealing with rodents.
See Ya, NY, and Your Giant Rats!: California Dreamin’
Dear reader(s), as I sit here writing this post, grateful that my coworkers don’t realize that I have spent the last three hours reading reviews of organic Asian-fusion restaurants I’ll never be able to afford and wikipediaing 1980s sitcoms (how did I miss out on The Hogan Family), I am coming to the sad realization that New York may not be the city for me. Well, actually, it already isn’t; I live in the freakin’ suburbs. That technicality aside, though, I have discovered a concrete reason why I should not live in NYC. Among the hours spent reading non-work related materials, I saw an alarming article about how giant mutant rats have the potential to infest all five boroughs. EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In contrast to the excessive amount of capitalized letters and exclamation points in my previous sentence, no, I am not being an overly dramatic teenage girl. It’s no secret to those who know me that the tiniest of vermin scare the bejeezus out of me. One of those little black rats that run along the subway tracks could mug me and receive far less resistance than an offensive lineman armed with an AK-47. However, I’m not even talking about those little bastards. Remember that enormous weird species of rat they had to kill with a pitchfork in Brooklyn (what, you don’t know? you mean you’re not obsessed with creepy and horrifying stories about rodents)? Well, the same species, the Gambian pouched rat, was recently found in the Bronx. Guess what “true” New Yorkers and all who mock me for living in Westchester? Shit’s ‘bout to get real.
Although my family is currently dealing with a fly infestation and I risk getting sticky trap tape in my hair every time I reach for a box of Waffle Crisp, at least those suckers aren’t as big as a human toddler and spread monkey pox! Decision to live at home validated!
Truth be told, my brother once saw a mole in our basement, which sent me running for the hills…even though I was away at school in Massachusetts. I need to move farther away. I need to find a new city, a new coast free of all species of rodents, vermin, and the like. I must go to CALIFORNIA.
Cue my mental montage! Turn up The Mamas & The Papas “California Dreamin’” and cut to me skipping along a beach, jogging over the Golden Gate Bridge, and surfing in the Pacific… stop the reel! No one would believe I’d have the upper body strength or balance to stand on a surfboard (yup, it requires both of those physical abilities-I speak from experience).
My inability to surf aside, I am not stopping my California dreamin’ for two seconds, even though I have already been informed that there are still mice and rats there. You see, I have returned from a magical vacation in California (or perhaps you have not seen since I haven’t quite figured out how to upload photos from my iPhone). Although the original intent of this trip was to watch the Badgers in the Rose Bowl, I was lucky enough to travel throughout the great golden state. Even better, I conducted my sojourn while mostly avoiding Los Angeles!
Now, those of you who have been reading my blog for a while now (and thank you! thank you! thank you! whoever you are; I owe you lots of chocolate and/or beer), might be thinking “Emily, you just get huge crushes on every new city you visit! Get a hold of yourself, geography-floozie!” Okay, maybe I do… just a little bit. However, I must admit that although I was, and still am, completely charmed by Madison, it is difficult to picture myself living there year round, or specifically between mid-November and April. Yet, I felt I could groove to California’s rhythm year-round.
A few problems with that statement. One: “groove”? Why do I keep talking like I am in a Partridge Family episode? Two: I keep referring to California as if it is this homogenous, confined space that I have thoroughly explored; it is pretty much the opposite. As I have already indicated I don’t like LA, which could partially be explained by the fact that a race riot tends to break out whenever my mother or I visits. Three: it is really, really hard to “groove” to California without a car to drive around the ginormous state. Public transportation isn’t so much a thing there thing as much as freeways. Actually, California may be the worst state possible for a 22-year-old girl without a license to live in.
HOWEVER, those issues aside, I am still in a Cali afterglow. It certainly did not hurt that I was picked up at SFO by one of my best friends who had “California Gurls” playing in her car. She says it was by chance-I say the divine was sending a message through the radio. And the trip only got better from there. Here is my highly abbreviated list of delightfully cool and awesome things about California, or specifically the Bay Area, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Pasadena:
-Fantastic frozen yogurt. After a toe-curling drive down Webster Street (the streets in San Fran are terrifyingly steep but also fun in the hands of good drivers aka not me), we had delicious fro-yo. Not only was it delicious, but it was healthy-probiotics and all that other good crap that I assume is totally absent from my beloved Tasti D-Lite. A few days later in Pasadena, my entire family become converts to the cult of frozen yogurt after discovering a chain that would take an entire slice of cheesecake and deliciously mix it into your own frozen yogurt flavor. Needless to say, we were mystified.
-Dogs. Here’s a not so shocking reveal: I’m usually kind of afraid of canines-not the same kind of fear that giant mutant rats inspire, but some visceral reflex causes me to tense up around pooches of all shapes and sizes even when my head is telling me to just hug and cuddle them. Well, dogs are EVERYWHERE in California. There was not one family I visited that did not have a dog, and lucky for me, they were big, gentle dogs that could smell my fear but chose not to exploit it. California gets bonus points in my book not for the sheer amount of dogs, but for making a dog lover out of me. I even held a dog, a white Pekingese, in my arms for the first time! Yes, I am nervously laughing in the photo, but laughing nonetheless with my new friend Peek Peek. Unfortunately, you can’t hear my friend Andrea shouting “Hold it normal! Like a baby!” (She knows that I was raised in a house in which humans fare okay, but we’re frightened of and confused by every other species). My one big regret from my trip is that I did not adopt Peek Peek like the people of the Castro animal rescue shelter encouraged me to… but then I think of my mother’s would-be reaction, and I know it was the right one.
-Alcohol. From any random paragraph of this blog you’re likely to figure out that I loves me some giggle juice! To quote the great San Diegan Ron Burgundy “I love scotch. Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch.” Guess what? In California, you can buy Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch at the supermarket! It is incredible, mind blowing, earth shattering to walk into a regular old supermarket and see aisles and aisles stocked with all of the Kahlua, Smirnoff, and Bacardi your little lush heart could desire. No wonder the people here are so tranquil and happy! Don’t even get me started on BevMo, a supermarket filled entirely with liquor! Genius! In New York, I have to schlep my ass to the Trader Joe’s in Union Square just to get two-buck chuck-and I still have to walk next door if I want to buy some food to line my stomach before a swig.
There’s also a refined side to drinking in California (and a not-so-refined side—-check out The Silver Peso in Larkspur if you want to know that part). The state is famous for its wines, and oh boy, I got to enjoy them. The best day was driving around Sonoma in a Toyota Sienna with five wonderful women, spanning three generations, and getting tipsy on sparkling wine by 11 am. Oh, if only I could spend the rest of my days in such a fashion! Any place that encourages day drinking in beautiful surroundings is a modern day Garden of Eden in my book.
-Even cities that aren’t as awesome as the rest of the state usually have multiple Inn-N-Out Burgers. Ladies and gents, I am hear to preach the gospel of Inn-N-Out, even as someone who can’t actually eat the burgers. I am of the kosher persuasion, and although I had heard of Inn-N-Out’s greatness from far and wide, I was not ready to break ancient rules for it, though perhaps I should have. My 90 minutes in Los Angeles were lovely due to the fact that most of my time was spent in Inn-N-Out. Even the grilled cheese there was highly pleasing because of the Special Sauce. I am starting to think that the Special Sauce has a little something extra in it-like a sprinkling of crack cocaine-because it took an otherwise uninspiring bun with lukewarm American cheese and questionable slices of tomato and onion and made it delicious. So delicious, in fact, that my father insisted on ordering a second even when Ethan and I had a flight to catch. An Inn-N-Out trance could have caused us to miss our red eye, and with hindsight, I can say it might have been worth it.
-The people. I know all the really cool and slightly cheesy commercials for California depict how awesome and talented the residents are… excluding the presence of Kim Kardashian, these commercial are not really lying. Of course, I am biased because I was visiting one of my very best friends and then visiting family friends, the kind of people who would have been understanding when my dad fell asleep and spilled champagne on their couch even if they weren’t from sunny Santa Barbara. Still, even the strangers I encountered were warm and kind. The morning of the Rose Bowl was a low point, mainly because it involved the highest concentration of Shire family alone time. By the time my brothers and I had made it out of the hotel and were looking for breakfast (our father has abandoned us for the Rose Parade), we were at each other’s throat. When we finally settled down enough to pick a restaurant and sit down, our waitress informed us in a very kind and helpful voice that we were so stressed, we were stressing her out. A cloud of shame descended over the New Yorkers. In all honesty, she wasn’t trying to be mean, and she told us what we needed to hear, “You’re on vacation, it’s 80 degrees outside, your team is playing in the Rose Bowl. Dude, be happy.” And we were.
Even considering the many, many things that I have left off my list because I am too lazy and eager to eat the cheesecake waiting in my kitchen, I have to be honest with myself and come to terms with the fact that I probably won’t be able to claim I’m a California Girl any time soon-at least not until I get my license.
So yeah, not any time soon.
May 2012 be a Year of Panic
Dear reader, I’m getting sick of myself apologizing every damn time I begin with one of these annoyingly sorry remarks. Oh wait, I started my penultimate post with an apology about apologizing for being late? Well, old habits certainly die hard, now don’t they? I guess I’ll have to add this to the New Year’s resolution … right behind learning how to drive, finding a boyfriend, figuring out what I want to do with my life, teaching myself to do a single push-up (girl/octogenarian version allowed), and finally completing a needlepoint pillow that was originally intended to serve as my parents’ 13th wedding anniversary present (BTW, since I’m 22 and my brothers are 18 and 14, I’m a little behind schedule).
Therefore, seeing as every item on my list has been there since January of 2007 (reread that list and think of one thing on there a 17-year-old girl doesn’t want), I’m not holding my breath on the “stop annoying apologies” or “write more frequently” resolution. And seeing as I still feel like vomiting when I buckle the driver’s seatbelt and have to look down to remind myself which is the gas and which is the brake, the learning how to drive resolution doesn’t look so promising either.
However, what I lack in work ethic and goal-oriented planning, I make up in … style? Well, my penchant for jeans that go above my belly button and lack of sweaters without coffee and/or mustard stains suggest otherwise. I make up in … confidence? Wrong again, Jeeves! The jellyfish handshake my fifth grade teacher/tormentor Ms. Reetz criticized me for has been a decade-long marker of my spinelessness. I make up in … poise? Well, somewhere in Roxbury the middle-aged lady I accidentally flattened when I lost my balance on the Boston T is still shaking her fists and cursing me in the same breath as Carl Crawford, so I’m going to have to say that’s not it either.
No, style, confidence, and poise don’t usually come to the mind of friends, loved ones, and injured acquaintances when they hear “Emily Shire,” but, you know, dear reader, we can’t all be freakin’ Kate Middleton! If I were a tall, leggy brunette who simultaneously charmed the British Empire and brought back pantyhose, I wouldn’t be writing to you all, mainly because I’d have passed out from the dual combo of having had no solid food since puberty and siphoning all of my mental control into never passing gas in public.
Actually, what I lack in work ethic, goal-oriented planning, style, confidence, and poise (boy, what a catch!), I make up in my ability to panic. Now, I know you’re all thinking “Emily, panicking isn’t really a skill, in fact some people, like your father, would argue it only makes a situation worse.” But, au contraire, my dear readers and Daddy! I’ve come to the realization that getting yourself into a state of panic gets shit done, so if anything, my goals for the New Year should involve panicking more often
Now, there are some caveats to this theory. One is that panicking doesn’t work well when it comes to existential crises, like, just as a run of the mill example, when I am worried that I have no future or, specifically, that my parents wasted $200,000 on an education that would have been more wisely spent on exotic parrots and cockatoos. Let me save you the trouble and tell you in advance that panicking does not tend to result in productive solutions when you run into a mother of a former classmate in CVS bragging about their progeny’s FABULOUS new job/apartment/boyfriend while you’re sweaty and slightly bruised from falling on a treadmill at the gym. The panicked response after such encounters involves both a tremendous amount of swearing and referring to said mothers as Shih Tzu-faced demon women as my father wonders when the girl from The Exorcist replaced his daughter.
However, when it comes to day-to-day goals, panicking really can be quite effective. It can focus your mind, rally your energy, and sharpen your senses like a wildebeest hunting prey, which is actually a highly ironic simile since contact with such a creature would send me into a state of panic.
For example, realizing with great anxiety that you have no idea how much, if any, money is in your checking account after you’ve just used your debit card to purchase eye shadow that you’ve also realized you don’t know how to apply is a good thing. You feel the blood pressure rising, you recall the parental scolding from the past overdraft experience(s), and you get your butt in gear. You spring into action, running into a Chase while beating your chest and ready for battle with the old lady teller. You reach a new level of mental agility, finally remembering that your PIN has something to do with either your college mailbox number from freshman year or Derek Jeter’s number and year of birth.
Even when your state of panic is not in and of itself effective, it will generally result in some level of productivity. As I have witnessed on MANY occasions, panic drives the people around you into a whir of activity, if only because they’re terrified and will take any sort of action to get away from you.
For example, my 14-year-old brother and I were scheduled to take a red eye flight from LAX back to NY (more to come on the Shire trip to Cali-that path of destruction will get its own post). When there were issues getting my brother’s boarding pass from the Delta kiosk, I hit panic mode. Although I am perpetually running 20 minutes late for meeting loved ones, I am a Timex Ironman when it comes to planes, trains, and automobiles not driven by my parents. You see, JetBlue won’t give two hoots if you wanted to watch the last ten minutes of Say Yes to the Dress and just take off, but loved ones have to wait and forgive you … particularly if you’re the only one who knows how to pay the phone bill online (Hi, Mom and Dad).
Anyways, due to an extended trip to Inn-N-Out Burger we were already running later than I would have liked for our flight. Upon hearing that you couldn’t do express check-in with a mistakenly-labeled unaccompanied minor, my face crumbled like an origami hat in a second grade art class. Apparently, reacting like I had just seen my dog shot by my best friend so freaked out the Delta attendants that they printed my boarding pass for me and rushed us to the front of the line.
Before I knew it, I was taking off my shoes and being whisked through a metal detector. And, no, that was not because I was being carted off to a mental institution. So, Dad, say panicking does not help to the girl who had enough time to relieve her nervous pre-flight bladder AND buy a box of See’s candy. Booyah!
And on that note, I hope you’re all enjoying a panicked start to the New Year. I know I am.
Hungover at Home: a (Hopefully) Not to Be Repeated Experience
I know I usually start off with how sorry I am for being remiss in keeping up with my blogging, but apologies are boring and lose a lot of their meaning after they’re repeated for the same mistakes. I might as well embrace honesty; dear reader, I suck. I am a shiftless young lady who has been gallivanting around Manhattan and making unproductive use of her time with activities that include: going to The Muppetsmovie, eating self-serve frozen yogurt in Koreatown, having my eye brows waxed (they’re still smarting slightly from the process), and, just one night, getting hammered.
That’s right. Even after graduation, you can take the girl out of the college house party, but you can’t take the inability to adequately judge alcohol limits out of the girl. Although I know this candor has just cost me all future babysitting jobs, I would like to add the disclaimer that this is not a regular occurrence. As much fun as it would be to break out the Jose Cuervo and run around singing “Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! EVERYBODY!” the suburbs is not really conducive to that. Actually, in college, I was not a particularly robust party-girl, even by Ivy League standards, which is setting the bar for fun really, really low.
As with many things, what would be considered typical social behavior in college gets lost in translation when you move back home. And as with many things, nothing is typical in my house. For one, I have a little brother whose views towards alcohol are not unlike Senator Joseph McCarthy’s views towards fraternizing with communists. I am 22 years old, and if he sees me drink a glass of white wine at a family bar mitzvah, he’s got Betty Ford on speed dial. To be quite honest, since he’s 14, I much prefer him be the responsible little narc that I and my other brother were at his age and wait for college (or in my case sophomore year; see past discussions of lame New England college) for the alcohol floodgates to open.
While my younger brother may berate me (for any number of reasons), now that I have moved home after college, my parents treat me more as an equal-if one’s conception of an equal includes not being able to drive herself to the gym, buy her own groceries, or do her own laundry. Again, keeping with candor, as much as I want to have my own place, Iam the one who is a parasite on the family, draining it of resources and having the occasional emotional outburst (my fairly uneventful adolescence is making a My So Called Life rebellious comeback).
In addition to the fact that I am fortunate enough to have a mom who will buy the salsa I like from Trader Joe’s and a dad who will pick me up from New York Sports Club even in the middle of a Jets game, I was lucky to be spared too much censure the morning after my night on the town, even as it disrupted my whole house.
The morning after started off bright and early at 7:15 am when my mother received a call on her cell from a lady who had found the phone that I had left some hours earlier in a cab home from the train station (BTW, to all my dedicated readers, this was my old phone, NOT the new iPhone. By some force of divine intervention, I hadn’t transferred my contacts yet and left the iPhone at home). Upon receiving this call, my mom stormed into my bedroom like Jack Bauer busting a terrorist cell and, obviously, was not exactly brimming with motherly pride at her hungover daughter.
Yet, even when I’ve acted like a total idiot, my mother quickly ran in with a neat notebook and sharpened Ticonderoga to take down the woman’s contact information. I can imagine what my groggy conversation would have been like had I still been in my dorm room: for one, I would have lacked any adequate writing utensil and gone scrambling for a lip gloss tube and a napkin to write on; then, I would have accidentally hung up on the person and been up a you-know-what creek without a paddle.
Best of all, not only did my mother save my behind, but she ended up blaming my dad for the lost cell phone! How did this twist of logic occur, you might rightfully wonder? When asked how I had lost the phone, I told my mother I remembered picking it up in the cab ride home when my dad called and probably left it there by mistake. My mother, therefore, concluded, ”Damn it, if your father hadn’t called you, you never would have lost your phone in the first place! Why’d he have to do that?” and her anger was channeled towards him.
By the way, my dad called me because he had stayed up late to pick me up, and instead, I had gotten off at a different station and taken a cab. Yup, puttin’ that Ivy League education to use right there in another brilliant move! So, my poor father who went out in the cold, drove to a train station, and was waiting by his lonesome because of his soused daughter was credited for losing my cell phone.
This is not actually an example of my mother’s favoritism towards me, but her preference for blaming my father. In the Knicks mini basketball fiasco of 2003, after trying to balance on said basketball while holding onto the poster of my parents’ bed, my brother Matt lost his balance, fell, and broke his arm. A related side note, I have never seen something so hysterical in my life; it was like watching a dad get hit in the crotch with a Wiffle ball, but times one thousand. Anyway, four hours after waiting in the ER, instead of blaming the clumsy blonde fourth grader, my mom directed her ire toward my dad because he had bought my brother the basketball at Madison Square Garden a day earlier.
With my father blamed for my lost cell phone, my mother having to drive to the cab hub to pick it up (because in case you forgot, this kid doesn’t have a license and is absolutely freakin’ useless), and my brother wondering when his sister had turned into Lindsay Lohan (and not in a good way), I want to make sure this over-drinking is a one-shot deal. The dual combination of hangover and self-inflicted Jewish guilt really packs a punch. The liver function thing is important, too, I guess.
iBuy an iPhone: Not as Cute or Easy as it Sounds
Dear readers, I have finally made the technological leap out of the aughts and into the teens, though perhaps using the phrase “the aughts” has also nudged me a few rungs up the douche ladder. Then again, it might be my sophisticated, stylish, techie purchase rubbing off on me. That’s right: I have finally bought a smartphone.
A caveat: by “bought” I mean my parents got me one as a birthday present via my stealing my brother, Matt’s, phone upgrade on our Verizon plan. Another caveat: by “finally” I mean I have debated getting a smartphone longer than the writers of Friends’ stretched out Ross and Rachel’s relationship (am I dating myself here? I should have used a Twilight reference, shouldn’t I?).
Like my inappropriately loud voice and love of dive bars, I’ve inherited my father’s inability to simply buy something. I say this with a level of admiration. My father is a smart consumer. He puts his sharp, legal mind to work, researching and comparing products, visiting stores, and interviewing neighbors’ about their levels of satisfaction. This is his standard method from purchasing mini vans to basketball pumps. An impulse buyer he is certainly not… except that time in 1999 when he bought another TV when he said he was going to get us our first computer.
Indeed, like my father, I surfed the net and scoured the streets, determined to make the smartest purchase of smartphones. Did I read through several articles under the technology headline of Google News? Yes! Did I understand the differences between 4G and 4S? Eh, not so much. All I really remember is that there is something called “ice cream sandwich,” whose delicious name belies how incredibly freakin’ boring it is to read about.
To say I have limited technological acumen is like saying Kim Kardashian’s marriage was a skosh on the short side. I break into a hot sweat when I try to sign into Skype. When my friend gave me her Blackberry, I randomly banged keys and shook it until my friend, sans corrective lenses, said I “looked like a monkey.” Except, a controlled study would probably indicate that a primate adapts to technology better than I do.
However, at the same time, there are probably few people more in need of the aid of a smartphone than myself. As I have discussed in previous posts, I get lost really, really easily in New York City-like senior citizen tourists from Omaha kind of easily. If anyone needs to have on her person a tiny little machine to zap out directions, it’s me. Also, I have an incessant need to confirm random facts and Wikipedia things at all times. I am kind of like Cliff from Cheers (dating myself again/revealing I watch far too much TVLand on my Saturday nights).
For all these reasons, I decided upon an iPhone-that, and when I feel lonely, I want Siri to tell me I won’t quickly morph into a spinster (“Siri, where can I buy a cat and several cans of tomato soup?”). In all seriousness, my friends told me that the iPhone would be a little more accessible than the other smartphones. To corroborate their recommendations, I began asking any and everyone I saw on the streets of New York City with an iPhone if they liked it. This is like going around a giant kindergarten birthday party and asking the guests if they like cake. Yes, of course, I love it! What an obvious question, and why are you talking to me, weirdo?
Still, despite all the firsthand praise, I was a little anxious about my ability to handle a touchscreen. I can type on a keyboard as fast as aMad Men secretary and often feel secretarial school would have come in handy over my degree in American History and Literature (I can smell the future welfare checks on that one a mile away). However, my texting is notoriously terrible. They keys are so damn tiny and T9 screws me over each time! Messages like: “Lets go for ice cream!” become “Lets in dpr had cream?” My texts even prompted my ten-year-old cousin to ask, “Emily, are you drunk : )” No, sweetheart, it’s 10 am on a Tuesday; I give myself another hour before I get started.
Thus, after deliberating this smartphone decision with the same gravity as if I were purchasing my first house or donating an organ, I decided to bite the bullet and force myself to get used to the touchscreen. With my parents kindly offering to get me a smartphone as a 22nd birthday present, we made our way to the local Verizon store. On Black Friday.
Now, maybe because we went after 8:00 PM when most hardcore Black Friday shoppers had passed out, been injured with pepper spray, or arrested, the store was surprisingly tranquil and organized. Leave it to the Shires, though, to be the bull in the Verizon shop!
In the first sign that I am not ready to handle a smartphone, I struggled to sign into the computer kiosk. Once that was settled with the assistance of a Verizon employee, we went about exploring the shop. This mainly consisted of my brother, Ethan, going around drawing giant penises and writing “I ❤ Farting” on all of the iPads on display.
My name was called, and all was going as planned until I was had to make another decision: what color iPhone did I want. As anyone who has gone to a restaurant with me knows, I have a crippling inability to make decisions over the smallest of details. Thank goodness I am kosher and usually 70% of the menu is off-limits; my head implodes when we go to the Second Avenue Deli. In the Verizon store, I broke into a minor panic. Black or white? Black or white! My heart was struck with terror-what if I made the wrong choice? How would I live with it? I ran back and forth to the display case holding up the phones and scanning them for any noticeable differences.
Finally, ever helpful Ethan shouted, “Emily, you cannot get a black iPhone! Everyone is going to think you’re a lesbian.” Wow. Okay, then. That certainly gets the award for most illogical, homophobic statement of the day. Although I was intrigued by the theory behind his assessment, I decided to spare the confused Verizon employee and not ask for an explanation. Instead, I settled on black.
The last hurdle was figuring out the phone upgrade. In navigating our family plan, we had all taken each other’s upgrades at different points. Actually, to be perfectly honest, my brothers had taken mine and my mother’s upgrades, Ethan twice after brilliantly jumping into a pool with a Droid in his pants. The only upgrade available was my brother, Matt’s. A small civil war was about to erupt within the Shire family clan, but all trouble was averted when I promised Matt my firstborn male in exchange for his upgrade.
Now, with all of those stressful details settled, we were ready to cross the “T’s” and dot the “I’s.” I was ready to get the iPhone 4S in my hot little hands, to start downloading WebMD and Scrabble apps, to start asking Siri for life advice… and was told I had to wait three weeks for the phone to be shipped to my house. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to keep my shit together for just a little bit longer until the iPhone can take over.
The Shires Go to Madison, 2011 Part 3-Ending on the Brewskies
Dear readers, I am sorry it has taken me longer than I would have liked to write the last part in my ode to Madison. As anticipated the greatness of Badgerland could not be contained in a single post, and it has now achieved a hat trick in my heart. A quick recap, the triangle of Madison awesomeness is as follow: 1) friendly, Midwestern people, 2) delicious food, particularly the awe-inspiring cheesy bread, and now, ladies and gents, 3) beer.
Actually, I think this last point connects very much to the first. In Madison, is there such a strong beer culture because of the amiable, jolly people, or are the people affable and good-natured because the beer flows like the mighty Mississippi? As with the great enigma of how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.
Now, I know some of you are probably thinking, Emily, Madison is a college town, of course, there’s lots of beer. To that, I say, a) you’ve never attended an uptight Northeastern college, and b) you’re partially right. My first encounter with Madison’s drinking culture was when my family waited in my brother’s dorm Friday night while he picked up a jacket.
This is going to come as a shock to no one who has read any post involving my family, but we Shires have a knack of placing ourselves in situations that are completely inappropriate for families. We’re not so good with “boundaries.” Case in point, when I was studying abroad for a summer in Australia, my dad and brother, Matt, visited me, but my father also got tickets to go on the tour bus of the Blue Mountains with me and 68 other American college students. In a proud family moment, my father slipped and nearly wiped out three juniors from Michigan State. In an even prouder one, I threw a tantrum and burst into tears on a monorail through a UNESCO World Heritage site. Good times.
Unsurprisingly, as we all walked into my brother’s dorm at 11 pm on a Friday night, none of us thought, “Hmm, this is not really a family-friendly zone. We should stick to the Hillel bagel brunch and head back to the hotel.” Within ten seconds, I saw a dozen drunk blond girls stumbling like defective Barbie dolls. Again, in the Midwestern spirit, the less drunk helped their more inebriated pals, walking them and encouraging them to eat. They were caring and supporting, like Girl Scouts, had they given us Jello shots along with Thin Mints (ahh, if only-and really, so much more fun than sewing a sit-upon and making ants on a log).
In all honesty, there were a lot of sober(ish) kids looking out for one or two not-so sober ones. I was impressed they were this mature and in control for freshmen. Having only left college a few months ago, all of this seemed very typical to me. My parents, however, took two different reactions. My father was only too eager to rock out at a college party. “I could drink your friends under the table,” is a boast I’ve heard more than once (it’s probably true-see above about uptight Northeastern college).
My mother, on the other hand, was mildly horrified. Things didn’t help when my brother came down and nonchalantly announced that someone had puked near the elevator. I thought this was gross, but normal. My mother took this as “Oh, dear Lord, what alcoholic baboons have I allowed my son to live with!” As Matt walked us to the hotel, my mother asked several questions about the vomit: Could he step around and/or over it? Would someone clean it up? Did he know that under no circumstances should he touch it? It was quite the riveting conversation, and it totally didn’t make me feel like retching.
Madison is more than the typical college drinking town, though, because, as I saw the next day, beer is a family affair. I don’t mean it’s like when in Mean Girls, Regina George’s mom not-so-subtly encourages her daughter and her friends to drink cocktails in their living room. It’s just that people are chill and enjoy having a few brewskies together before the game. Look at me, I’m sounding Midwestern already! (Though not spelling like one-I had to google the word “brewski”).
Matt had asked me if I wanted to go to some student tailgates with him before the Wisconsin game. A chance to relive/ just live my all-American college football experiences? You bet! Now, Matt was a little wiser than his old sis and knew to draw the line and not invite the rest of the family.
The student tailgate my brother took me to would have been incredibly sketch if we weren’t across from Camp Randall stadium, basking in the Madison sunshine (mid-fifties in November, that’s like God, Himself, smiling on Wisconsin). I was directed to a back window where I paid five dollars for unlimited beer. The litany of illegal things going on in this house was endless: a) they didn’t ask for my ID, b) I’m pretty sure they didn’t have a liquor license, c) they charged for parking in their driveway, which I am also pretty sure they didn’t have a license to do, d) they probably exceeded the fire safety capacity. All that was missing were some hookers stashed in the upstairs bathroom to give them a full house of misdemeanors.
Yet, it all felt like a country fair. People were out on the front law, listening to music and playing beer pong. And then I realized that the incredibly adept beer pong player was beating the pants off of her son. Yup, that was a full-on Midwestern mom schooling all the undergrads. I kid you not, decked out in somewhat faded Wisconsin gear (this was clearly not her first rodeo) that mother proceeded to chug beer from a tube hanging from a second-story window. A regular Erma Bombeck that woman. And my new hero.
She wasn’t the only one. Parent and child flip-cupped the afternoon away together. So moved was I by these Hallmark-Budweiser moments, I called my dad and Ethan to come over, having deemed this an appropriate situation, totally uninfluenced by my beers. My dad was only too happy to come by. Ethan, on the other hand, can be a little bit of a narc. Like the Delta Burke character in a Lifetime movie, he went around shouting “You’re drunk!” and knocking the beer out of my father’s hands.
This is why it was so funny when the father of one of the girls living in the misdemeanor house asked Ethan to help him lift a keg. My father and this father, a native Sconsie, of course, had been chatting famously as he showed us around the house. When his daughter shouted for help lifting a keg, the man grabbed Ethan saying “We could use a strong young man.” “Young” is the operative word, as I wondered why he chose a 14-year-old out of a room full of college students.
Still, I could tell Ethan enjoyed being picked. If there is anything he enjoys more than demeaning his immediate family, it is getting favorably singled out for a special task. And boy, it only got more special. Somewhere in my head I was thinking “Is it appropriate for him to help lift a keg?,” but then “Is it appropriate?” is not a question that usually runs through our heads. However, when I saw the father hand him the tap, part of me thought I should interfere. That part of me was silenced when I saw Ethan accidentally spray beer foam as he struggled, and finally succeeded. Teaching 14-year-olds how to tap a keg sold me on Madison, hook, line, and sinker.
The football game was the cherry on top of the whole Madison sundae. Ethan and Matt jumped around. I was too much of a wimp and sat with the adults because Matt warned me that if I saw down in the student section, the kids would call me some very obscene names not to be repeated even in this rag. I still randomly shout “First and ten Wisconsin!,” or rather than shout, I project in slightly flat, Midwestern accents.
I could go on and on and on. But, I think I need to close this chapter on Madison, seeing as I’ve already been back for two weeks. I know it’s not healthy to ruminate on what I miss. And I’m already doing the countdown to spring visiting weekend, anyway.
The Shires Go to Madison, 2011 Part 2-Cheesy Bread, ‘Nuff Said
Before I continue with the second part of my Madison fairy tale, I realize I never fully explained why my family was going to Wisconsin in the first place. I mentioned that kin was involved, but specifically, it was visiting weekend for my brother, Matt, at the University of Wisconsin. This is actually an integral part of the story, because in addition to my new adoration for the Midwest, I’ve also fully embraced Big 10 Football, albeit with poor timing.
Now, part of the reason I may have also loved Madison so much is because the bar was set pretty low. My ever-optimistic mother embarked on this visit with the high spirits of someone about to undergo gall bladder surgery. She warned us that the campus was overwhelmingly big, the town was devoid of charm, and the hotel was a “shithole.” To be fair, if Madison were not the city where my mother deposited her firstborn son about 1,000 miles from home, I think she’d have had a more positive impression of it.
Even if I did find all of these same deficiencies (which I most certainly did not!), Madison’s cuisine would still override them and raise the city’s esteem. Dear readers, I am a total foodie. I don’t know fancy stuff; I am no Rachael Ray (if only I could comport myself with such grace and cheer). However, I know good food when I taste it-and ladies and gents, Madison’s got it.
I could probably construct an epic devoted solely to my adventures exploring the culinary treasures of Madison. Unfortunately, my ancient Greek narrative poetry is a little rusty—-and, honestly, it would be kind of pathetic. Nothing says I am going to live the life of a spinster plagued by cardiac disease like writing a really long, emotional poem about food.
Okay, I can’t help myself. Like Odysseus beginning his long journey home to Ithaca, I had my first taste of Madison at Ian’s Pizzeria on Friday night-I feel like someone there must have worked at NASA to engineer such an ingenious combination as macaroni and cheese pizza. BRILLIANT! I would make the controversial argument that this is an even better pairing than peanut butter and jelly and twice as likely to make Dr. Atkins roll in his grave.
Saturday morning brought a new pinnacle of dietary delights at the Madison Farmers Market. I had a feeling that this was going to be a highlight of the trip. I had a specific jewel in mind: cheesy bread. My father had mentioned the discovery of cheesy bread months earlier when he and Matt went to an orientation weekend. I could not quite fathom would this modern day Midwest manna would be like-cheese and bread, but not like grilled cheese? How would that work? It’s inside the loaf, but its not melted? What crazy talk is that?!
My mother had tried the said cheesy bread when she dropped my brother off, and like much of the Madison charm, dismissed it. To be fair, my mother had not tried cheesy bread when it was hot and fresh and straight out of the giant portable oven at the Farmers Market. When the cashier handed it to us, I could feel the warmth the giant round loaf emitted. It was like a challah, but softer and warmer—-and dripping with cheese.
My father, brothers, and I ripped into that like a pack of hyenas devouring an antelope carcass. Or, perhaps, this is a better analogy: the cheesy bread was the Beatles coming to America for the first time in 1964, and we were the screaming teenage girls at JFK Airport. For three minutes we did not talk, look at each other, or breath out of our mouths. And then it was gone.
Alarmed that she had married and given birth to these Neanderthals, my mother excused herself and offered to go get some coffee. While she was gone, we decided to buy another loaf of cheesy bread and a six-pack of loaves to bring home. At least every half hour for the rest of the trip, I randomly screamed “cheesy bread,” and my father reiterated (several times) that Matt needed to take a cab to the bakery five miles outside of Madison to pick up cheesy bread for Thanksgiving. This latter fact is only outstanding when you have the background knowledge that my father would rather sever one of his own digits than pay for an “unnecessary” cab.
We proceeded to explore the rest of the Farmers Market and pick up other nutritious items like cinnamon rolls, maple rolls, slices of cheesecake, and kettle corn for about a fraction of what we would pay in New York. During this time, my other brother, Ethan, asked two profound questions: “How do people here make money if everything they sell is so cheap?” and “Why isn’t everyone fat if the food is so good?”
I’m no economist nor dietician, so I still can’t answer those questions. I can only chalk it up to the magic of the Midwest.
The Shires Go to Madison, 2011 Part 1-Why I love the Midwest and the Badger Bus
Between my desire for kosher Tex-Mex, my impatience with tourists, and my willingness to flip off law enforcement officials, I am pretty much built only to live in New York. Now,I don’t want to paint the wrong picture. I am still very much a bridge-and-tunnel girl. Raised in suburbia has left me aimlessly wandering around Manhattan wondering why I couldn’t find Fourth Avenue right after Fifth (hint: it doesn’t exist!). However, I do feel the City has left its mark on me. Case in point, I refer to it as “the City.”
There are other ways I am kind of New Yorkish. Mike Myers once told a story about when his former wife, who’s from New York City, was hit with a hockey puck, she screamed “I’ve been shot,” and in turn, when a girl from Canada gets shot, she screams “I’ve been hit with a hockey puck.” Similarly, when we felt the rumbling of a subway running under our dorm in college, my friend from San Francisco thought there was a mild earthquake; when a mild earthquake briefly rumbled through New York City this summer, I assumed it was a terrorist attack.
I am proud of being from New York, and in all honesty, I have never really thought seriously about living anywhere else. However, that has all (slightly) changed after this past weekend because I have discovered … the American Midwest. Somehow, in the almost 22 years I’ve been on this earth, I have never experienced its delights.
I’ve wanted to visit the American Girl Place in Chicago since it opened when I was in fourth grade. However, shortly thereafter I developed an intense fear of flying (thank you, Al Quaeda), and even American Girl goodness could not lure me to the heartland. I’ve gotten over that fear (sort of…not really…no), and I desired to visit the Windy City, now motivated more by my love of deep dish pizza and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
I still have not visited Chicago, but hope to soon; it is my Everest. However, I am not sure it could top my weekend visit to Madison, Wisconsin the most perfect and AWESOMEST city in America.
Okay, I may be going a bit overboard, drunk on my first sip of the Midwest, but I found Madison pretty freakin’ amazing. Let me tell you, I know already as I write this that the Shire family trip to Madison will be at least a two-parter to explain its greatness.
First things come first: why the Shire clan ventured to Madison. It took one of our kin to get us on a plane ride to a place that is both colder than our current location and does not include an all-you-can-eat resort. In typical Shire family travel tradition, flights were analyzed, discussed, and debated for weeks, as well as ultimately booked last minute and incoherently. Three separate flights for four people; the math speaks for itself. I was on the last of these flights, and I was a wreck, this time not out of my fears of a plane crash, but missing the Badger Bus.
What’s the Badger Bus, you ask? Oh, I guess you have not traveled to such exotic locales as Johnson Creek Premium Outlets or Goerkes Corner. Sucks for you! The Badger Bus will transport you from the Milwaukee airport to any one of these high-demand places. Unfortunately, due to my flight’s late takeoff thanks to those NY a-holes at Laguardia, I was worried I was going to miss my Badger Bus to Madison. The New Yorker in me was getting angry and the complimentary pretzels, though a pleasant surprise, were not calming me down.
And that is when I got my first taste of Midwestern charm, nee magic! I flew a Midwestern airline. The flight managed to shave off about fifteen minutes of the estimated travel time, and then the lovely flight attendants had me off the plane in about 30 seconds. Even better, I heard that they were holding people’s connecting flights! The only time I had witnessed that was in Australia-another nation of friendly people who enjoy their beer. Coincidence? I think not.
But, still, I had less than ten minutes to find and catch the Badger Bus, and I knew navigating an airport would be difficult (I refer back to above comment regarding Fourth Avenue). However, General Mitchell International Airport is incredibly well-marked, unlike other NYC transportation hubs *cough* PENN STATION *cough.*
I ran off of the plane at full speed, uncomfortably willing to sideswipe the elderly in wheelchairs. I was not going to miss this damn bus. After I had left those old fogies in the dust, I noticed that nobody in Mitchell Airport was running; everyone else seemed to move pretty calmly and orderly. This could be why the janitor was taken aback when a girl struggling to breath asked him where the Badger Bus was.
Another New York/Emily is crazy moment was when I finally reached the appropriate gate but saw no Badger Bus. I saw two girls sitting quietly waiting for their luggage, and began shouting at them “WHERE IS THE BADGER BUS? PLEASE, TELL ME WHERE IT IS? WHY ARE YOU NOT TELLING ME?” Stoic Midwesterners that they are (I assume they descended from Vikings), they were not frightened by the lunatic and kindly pointed me to the bus, which was about 15 feet away outside. BTW, if a screaming, red-faced crazy person asks you a question in New York, you avert your eyes and pretend you heard nothing. Ten points for Midwesterners!
The kicker was when I ran across traffic to catch the Badger Bus. Actually, I kind of ran, stalled in the middle of the roadway, and began running again. You see, I made eye contact with the Badger Bus driver, and he waved to let me know I was in the right spot. However, my NY mindset was telling me “Public transportation waits for no one, bitch!” and decided to run in front of several cars. When I reached the Badger Bus, the bus driver smiled and said “You know, I would have waited! I don’t want you to get hit by a car!”
And that’s when I knew arrived somewhere magical.
Yup, this may actually be a three-parter.
I’m Back and Navelgazing
Hello, reader-you still there? I am not even going to pretend there are multiple ones of you out there, and Dad, you can go back to watching the Rangers game.
I have been absolutely abysmal about keeping up with the blog. Like the trail of dead, neglected goldfish from my childhood, this became one of the many projects I began with zest and soon forgot to maintain, nourish, and change the water of weekly (okay, I guess the analogy stops there). But, I have been feeling an unshakeable sense of guilt every time I go to click on another gossip link and feed my insatiable thirst for details of Kim Kardashian’s divorce or Bieber’s paternity suit. The last figments of my moral compass that hours of Real Housewiveshave not obliterated were sending signals to my gut to start writing. Where these signals were when my Purim carnival goldfish’s lives hung in the limb, I’m not sure.
Also, to give credit where credit is due, my younger brother Ethan has helped me redirect my focus and to remember my sense of responsibility and commitment. Wow, no one in the Shire family ever expected to read that sentence. So, thank you, Ethan, for hurling insults at me as you iChat with friends and mocking my other activities until I got back to writing a blog post. There, that’s more like it.
Why did I fall off the writing wagon? Surely, exciting new career opportunities, fairy tale romances, and big city adventures must have been responsible for stealing my attention and energy. What, not convincing? I lost you at “fairy tale romances,” didn’t I? Though, I was told/shouted at “you’re my type” by a man who looked homeless but was actually just poorly groomed and mentally unstable.
No, I cannot claim any of these breathtakingly glamorous things as distracting me. I have odds and ends of things going on. I have begun working on the side for a woman to help publicize her book via social media, which in retrospect, may not be the best fit, considering I break into a rash when I attempt to launch google video. I have written about vegetarian cholent for a Jewish food blog, which you know, is pretty much as big a deal as breaking the Watergate scandal.
Taking on these different side projects have been part of an effort to make me feel like my life is moving forward. I’ve been feeling a sense of stagnancy creep up on me the past few weeks/since senior year began. It’s only gotten worse every time I read about another one of my classmates simultaneously leading an Occupy Wall Street protest, winning a Pulitzer, and losing twenty pounds. It’s a little like Bar Mitzvah season all over again where everyone went to Panama and built a new orphanage, and I forgot to fill out the Mitzvah project form.
You’re not going to believe this, but I don’t actually seek out this other information about my peers. It’s not because I don’t love gossip (see above paragraphs regarding Bieber). Rather, the honest truth is that my personal mantra is ignorance is bliss. My father can attest to how many times in high school an envelope from the College Board would sit on our kitchen table for weeks, until I banished it to a drawer or closet, never to be opened. (This is where he would chime in that he “does not support this unhealthy behavior,” and then blame my mother for “indulging” me).
However, blissful ignorance is impossible to achieve with the internet. I don’t want to turn into one of the many curmudgeons who laments the web’s culture of overexposure and then subsequently brags about how she doesn’t own a TV set as she turns her radio to NPR. I would rather reserve my douchy tirades for more important things, like resenting Pinkberry. The reality is that with linkedin, facebook, twitter, and the like, it is nearly impossible to avoid constant updates about all the fantastic things those people from high school you hated have now achieved. People are so concerned about losing privacy and becoming overexposed through social networking; you can have my social security number, I just don’t want to know about the new hotshot law firm a girl from my freshman soccer team works at.
At the same time, if any of you have been on my facebook page recently, you know I pretty much word-vomited all over my friend’s newest photos-and I adored every minute of it. I love being connected instantly and seeing these new developments in their lives. So, I pretty much want to have my cake and eat it, too.
Actually, I’m worse because I am a hypocrite. Again, I direct the jury to the facebook wall. Again, those last figments of my moral compass are urging me to note that I publicized something I wrote on all the same social media outlets I just complained about. So, why’d I post it? Well, aside from the fact that the editor asked me to, I wanted to show it to my friends and family who aren’t near me. Instead of sending emails, I was really lazy and just shared a link. I wanted to get their reception and feedback-just like I like to observe and comment on all the same things they share from their lives.
Thus, in conclusion, I am a back to being a hypocrite. Maybe facebook should develop a new newsfeed so you’ll only see updates from youractual friends, and not the over-aggressive a-hole from Introduction to Comparative Politics. Or, you know, come to terms with my insecurity issues.
Yeah, I am going to bank on the former solution. Hurry, up, Zuckerberg!
An Examination of My Extreme Pessimism and Anxiety, or On Being Satellite Mom
Reader, I have a confession to make. Although I enjoy regaling/pinning down anyone who will listen to my very exciting tales of living at home and online dating, these stories belie my lack of adventurous spirit. On the contrary, I actually have a tendency to be a downer or a worrywart. Or, as my father so often says, “Emily, you’re just like your mother.”
I am starting to think that in addition to inheriting her paralyzing (literally-don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s a metaphor) fear of driving, my mother has bestowed upon me what I prefer to refer to as sensible pessimism. Seeing as my maternal grandmother bears a more concentrated vial of this form of anxiety, I think we’ve proved it’s hereditary. Yes, I know this theory has no scientific evidence. But you know what, neither does our firm belief that we can’t find out remote control because someone has given us the evil eye.
My brothers have long accused me and my mother of not only being alike, but in cahoots. “Satellite Mom” is one of the kinder nicknames they’ve given me, and certainly preferable to “Queen of the Red Dots,” a moniker created during one of my more vicious bouts of facial acne. (BTW, little bros, thank you for boosting my already fragile adolescence self-confidence.) It was in this hostile jungle of trying to avoid the perils of left-up toilet seats and stray athletic cups that I clung to my mother. To be more apt, we clung to each other, knowing that when it came for someone to set the table or take down an important message, we were better off relying on a fern than the men in our house.
(Side note, this is where my father, if he has chosen to read my blog, will object and say that he helps out. Not for nothing has my father succeeded as an attorney, so to avoid potentially getting berated at home, I want the record to show that I fully acknowledge that he helps around the house in many ways. I also want it to show that 9 times out of 10 he yells “telephone!” when someone calls, as if he is deciphering for the family some mysterious language we’ve never heard before, instead of actually getting up to pickup the damn phone).
To be serious and scientific for a moment (boo! that’s no fun!), I have seen a few studies about oldest children, and we tend to be more responsible. Oh, and WAY more neurotic. More informally, I have heard people discuss how if the oldest is a girl, she tends to step up and fulfill the maternal responsibilities if the mother is temporarily absent. So, perhaps it is unsurprising that my mother and I share the worrying trait when I’m the one yelling to put on sunscreen and stop eating so much damn candy when my dad takes the kids to a ball game.
I wouldn’t say my mom and I are grouchy (maybe the rest of our family members would), but rather, we get anxious for ourselves and our loved ones in situations that don’t always necessitate such concern. For example, when we went apple picking this weekend and a tractor hayride skimmed a little too close to some pedestrians, my mother deemed it “stupid-ass and dangerous.” When my friends coaxed me into ice skating freshman year, I made sure to show every single one of them where my health insurance card was located in my bag. I stressed to them that they needed to call the number on the back, should I fall unconscious and be unable to care for myself due to injuries sustained while ice skating.
My mother and I both get pretty miserably nervous when it comes to athletics, or more accurately, athletic spectatorship. My mother is notorious for her inability to be physically present in the stands if one of her children is at bat or on the mound because she gets far too anxious on their behalf.
I distinctly remember that during my brief foray into high school sports, my mother would drop me off at practice and say, “Emily, don’t be a hero.” No worries there, Mom, ‘cause I sucked at it! Really, though, I know that was code for “Emily, please do everything possible to avoid getting hurt.” This was freshman girls’ softball, where the balls are as big as grapefruits, almost as soft, and let’s just say none of these ladies were Jenny Finch or Mariano Rivera.
I am no better, though. Yesterday, I sat at my desk knowing it was my younger brother’s football game that my father promised to send me updates of every so often. A half an hour into the game, my father hadn’t emailed me; so, I calmly concluded he must be too busy taking my brother to the ER, which didn’t have phone reception anyway, rendering him unable to contact me.
Thus, in this state of panic, I emailed him asking what was wrong; in general, this is the way my grandma responds when we answer the phone. My father happily wrote back that my brother’s team was winning 6-0, to which I responded, I don’t really give two hoots who’s winning; is that boy, you know the one who bears half of your chromosomes and eats all our pigs in a blanket, hurt? After that, I calmed down a little, sending periodic emails of “Is he still unhurt?”
So, I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…but it does so terrified that someone is going to get injured along the way.
The Wrong Kind of Reflections after fasting for Yom Kippor
Shalom, dear readers. For those of you who were unaware and wondering why the line at Buon Amici’s was so much shorter (shout out to the bridge and tunnel readers!) or why Joshua Tree was empty on Friday night, this weekend saw the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippor, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippor is a pretty somber day, during which Jews pray to be cleansed and forgiven for their sins (which, when compared to the precepts of Biblical Judaism, we pretty much commit constantly in our daily life) and sealed in the Book of Life. It is kind of like the Christmas story of children hoping Santa Clause will put them on the good list, except instead of worrying about getting coal, it’s us pleading with the Almighty to kill us. Yeah, no amount of frog and locust finger puppets is going to make this holiday not terrifying for the kiddies.
The silver lining is being encouraged to wear tennis shoes to synagogue and having an excuse to scarf down food much in the same way woodland creatures prepare for winter hibernation. This year wasn’t so bad for me hunger-wise, possibly because I spent the hour before the fast refusing to make eye contact any person or thing that was not food. Alternatively shoving glasses of seltzer and slices of pumpkin pie down my gullet proved to be a toxic mix of trapped acid and gas that left me reeling in pain whenever I laughed. I proceeded to get myself into the same physical situation after the break fast Saturday night. I OD’ed on food and was marooned on my couch, much like a stranded manatee. There is the food baby, but I resembled the food octomom.
I spent yesterday trying to re-evaluate my behavior in the sober light of the morning after. This is not the typical morning after associated with a 21-year-old. A girl my age should be waking up on a Sunday morning and regretting a poor choice in male suitor or not adhering to her personal alcohol barometer. Those misgivings, though, are inherent to a specific age and culture. My regrets over lack of control and bad decisions in the way of food have lasted a bit longer.
I have struggled with my weight and my self-consciousness about it in what I gather is a pretty normal and typical way. Maybe joining Weight Watchers at age eight was a little less typical. I remember my poor mother, very pregnant at the time, sitting with me through meetings after my pediatrician was so concerned about my weight that he stressed I should join. My mom was (and is) amazing and always made me feel like I was the prettiest girl in the room, and when I look back at some photos from that time, I realize how incredibly lucky I am that she made me feel that way.
Weight Watchers didn’t last long at that age. Try teaching the Points system to someone who is still trying to learn her multiplication tables (for that matter, try teaching it to someone with a PhD-Weight Watchers, please, dumb it down a bit!). I think the only thing my brain could process from those meetings was never, ever eat a banana.
For those of you who have never gone to your local shopping mall, stood on line to get weighed in front of two dozen other people, had a discussion over how to substitute grilled chicken for every entree on a restaurant menu, and then paid $12 for this lovely experience, then you wouldn’t know of the dreaded banana, the most caloric of all fruits! Off the top of my head, I think I remember that a banana is between 80-120 calories. But, the way our leader, a peppy post-menopausal woman whose veins pumped Red Bull (presumably sugar-free), shook her frosted hair and wagged her press-on nails when she talked about the yellow-fruit-that-shall-not-be- named, it was as if it were a Guinness, sundae, and chili cheesedog rolled into one. BTW, that lineup is what the people at Weight Watchers refer to as heroin. Anyway, I can tell you I did not end up in those meetings from eating too many bananas. Or shooting heroin. At least when I was eight.
I was lucky that I got down to a somewhat healthy weight when I was older. But maybe because food was a struggle when I was little, it is hard to remember a time in the past few years when I wasn’t somewhat dieting and/or regularly preoccupied by what I ate. Yet, when it is a holiday, I go whole hog and eat everything I like/in my line of vision. I love food, and I absolutely and completely distrust people who claim they don’t. How could you not like food and eating? It would be like saying you didn’t enjoy sleeping. This is a terrible, embarrassing confession, but for that matter, I distrust people who are really skinny. If you can’t enjoy food at least a little bit, then you’re cutting a certain color and fun out of your life. And if you have such a terrifically fabulously fast metabolism, then I may have to stab you with my fork in a rage of jealousy.
In all seriousness, I have rarely met a girl, nee a person, who hasn’t struggled with food, regardless of how they look on the outside. As with so many things, I feel the words of the ever-wise Rhoda Morgenstern say it best “The first thing I remember liking that I liked back was food.” And how could a relationship that’s lasted so long ever be uncomplicated.
Notes from the Real Suburgatory
Happy New Year, dear reader! Now, as I mentioned in my last post, I spent the second half of last week in a food stupor, resembling the lazy Australian koala; chulent is my eucalyptus. Aside from the intra-family debate over which distant relative we like the least, nothing really roused me from my dietary satiation.
This peaceful apathy towards all things that were not consumable and delicious, however, was rudely punctuated. As I stood in my kitchen eating cold turkey and slices of honey cake (try to keep yourself from judging/vomiting), I excitedly saw that ABC was doing a second airing ofSuburgatory, which I had meant to watch earlier that week. For those of you just tuning into this program, I live in a suburb, and I don’t exactly adore it. And by “don’t exactly adore,” I mean duck out of vision behind cars and large planters when I see former classmates and neighbors. I was completely on board, nee thrilled when I heard about Suburgatory and was all for lampooning the suburbs on television. Yay, suburbia sucks! Bring it on!
Actually, it wasn’t just my own personal experiences and critiques of the suburban life that drove my interest in Suburgatory. One of my favorite shows is (or was) Weeds, which thoughtfully made fun of a wealthy California suburb. I stress “thoughtfully” because even when characters seemed materialistic, competitive, and incredibly dramatic, they all seemed like averagely intelligent human beings-which, is more than I can say about the characters on Suburgatory.
Well, except for the annoyingly clever redhead Tessa Altman from New York City who is so clearly more intelligent, genuine and considerate than anyone who voluntarily lives in a suburb. She is the protagonist narrating this series. The incredibly shaky premise is that her single father has moved her from the Village because he found a box of condoms in her nightstand. Yes, the suburbs are famous for their abstinent teens! Perfectly sensical plot line! The quickest way I can sum up Tessa is that she provides good evidence for why people hate gingers. Or, she is your run of the mill smartass-the kind that makes you just want to shove your remote control into the television set and knock her in the pie hole, so she will stop trying to be the “that kid” of the suburbia classroom.
A related side note, I love that Suburgatory relies on the tried and true rule that hair that is not blonde is a good way to signal that someone is edgy and doesn’t follow the pack. “Pack” is actually a kind word for the blond drones trolling through the suburban high school and whose dearth of personality is only exceeded by their lack of empathy. The leader is Dahlia; her voice is as flat as an Atkins cookie. This is played up for humorous effect, but it falls (no pun intended-I just literally cannot think of another word to describe it) flat. Dear lord, didn’t someone on the writing staff of Suburgatory watch Mean Girls? Not to harp on this, but that is yet another great example of making fun of suburbia that is actually funny. And the secret is not that Regina George is occasionally and randomly cruel, but rather, that she is delightfully snarky.
I am going to have to pretty much whole hog blame this Suburgatory mess on the writers. I gather that they have never lived in a suburb, or at least a suburb of New York City in which the show purports to take place. To briefly digress into another criticism of the show, something that might be discussed or explained in future episodes, are these people wealthy, middle class, poor? America is a pretty class-stratified society in many ways, and our suburbs reflect that. Some are really tony and are the homes of bankers, billionaires, and commissioners of professional sports leagues. Some are pretty dangerous and filled with crime and poverty. Sometimes, these two examples are only fifteen minutes from each other by car. There are a lot of flavors and colors in between, but the show could just be honest and clear about which kind this suburb is supposed to be.
Another great thing about Weeds is that the show was clear that the community residents were really wealthy and lived incredibly different lives from their gardeners and servants. Their opulence was a source of humor, but also helped us pick up on the driving concerns of the characters, what they did and did not spend their time worrying about and scheming to attain. I am guessing from the many rhinoplastied teenage girls roaming the halls of Suburgatory’s high school that we’re supposed to assume it’s pretty wealthy, but other pieces of setting suggest it’s more middle class. Whatever it is, the writers should be clear and work it into the text of the script and the lives of the character just to give a cleaner sense of reality to this show.
Because based on the sets and plot twists I have seen thus far, I am pretty sure they just watched the crappy remake of The Stepford Wives and presumed they did not actually need to visit a real-life suburb of New York City. There are some glaring errors, the first one being that it is too freakin’ sunny. Much of the episode revolves around the oh-so-important suburban country club. Yes, there are country clubs in the suburbs of New York, but pretty much unless it is June and/or a really kind May, you cannot have people swimming outdoors while school is in session. This is the Northeast, not southern California and not Dallas. This problem was actually brought up by a friend of mine from Texas who has never lived in a Northeast suburb, but could also tell the show seemed incredibly inaccurate.
Also, I know the writers must be working off of impressions of the insanely cosmetically-driven mothers of Real Housewives of New Jersey, but even those women are not as blond and plastic as the uniform barbie dolls lining the pool. I don’t know if the writers and producers were going for hyperbole, but it just looked too fake. The rest of the sets got worse. The houses were either so oddly bad looking that again it was hyperbole missing the mark, or people lived in McMansions. Guess what? New York suburbs are not known for McMansions-rich or poor and everything in between, most of the houses are too old (Levittown was kind of the most recent, widespread construction boom in the area). It is why we often enjoy really poor, relatively old electrical systems that go out at the drop of the hat during the many rainstorms and bad weather that does not exist in Suburgatory.
These inaccuracies don’t bother me because I am a stickler for details (okay, that is clearly a weak attempt to mask my blatantly anal tendencies). Really, though, I find these false details more annoying because there is so much actual fodder in suburbia. Make fun of overly competitive parents at little league games, kids who get other kids to take the SATs for them, cynical teachers who believe they’re too good to be stuck in the blase suburbs, or even ponder the basic question of why everyone adores North Face? Not to harp, but for reals, yo, it’s chilly the majority of the year here. There should be overpriced, colorful jackets over the bikinis of Suburgatory.
What disappoints me the most about the show, aside from the fact that the producers wasted a cast of some really great comedic actors, is not that suburbia is depicted with trite generalizations, but that the city is depicted as the antidote, a beacon of pure, genuine, unpretentious living. If you’re only knowledge of New York City parents came from Suburgatory, you would think they were all artists who spent their days bravely choosing to live off the beaten path in order to raise their children to be original and respect all. Thank goodness there are The Nanny Diaries and NYC Prep to dispel these lies! Or, check out urbanbaby.com.
The bottom line is that Suburgatory is written without much tweak on the conceit of the most annoying of New Yorkers: that Manhattan is the center of the universe. And according to Suburgatory, not only is everyone else boring, fake, and dumb, but they are all exactly alike, whether the non-Manhattan is twenty or twenty thousand miles away. All the details that falsely depict a New York suburb are grating because they are a further reflection of the writers’ assumption that anything outside of New York City must all be alike.
So, mazel tov, Suburgatory. You’ve actually made me appreciate suburban living.
Happy (Jewish) New Year, Guys
Hello, dear reader(s), or perhaps I should say shalom. For those of you who have never watched a television series with a “special” episode dedicated to the Jewish sidekick’s customs, “shalom” means hello, goodbye, and peace in Hebrew. And that, ladies and gents, has pretty much exhausted what is left of my two years of college Hebrew. Other than the secret handshake, shalom is how we Jews identify each other.
Shalom seems a more fitting greeting because the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is approaching-ie, under 24 hours. I love Rosh Hashanah because growing up this ancient holiday meant getting two days off from school and eating copious amounts of delicious food. It is kind of like if you extended Thanksgiving and made it two and a half days. Oh, and if you spent four hours a day in the gymnasium of a suburban synagogue and, in my family’s case, stood next to the Jewish incarnate of Ethel Merman. (A related side note, this is especially funny because the real Merman apparently HATED Jews.) Actually, this year we’ve been assigned the nosebleed seats as punishment for registering late, so we might be just out of earshot of old Ethel.
Truthfully, though, there is a nice element of spiritual renewal in the holiday for me. Yes, I feel like a hippie-dippy, phony douchebag for writing “spiritual renewal.” But, I do feel a positive sense of connection, or something. It is like having the opportunity to make New Year’s resolutions again, but something a little more substantive than saying you want to lose ten pounds or learn to speak another language (and no one ever achieves those things, anyway). Better yet, more than a specific, definable goal, Rosh Hashanah is a great time for reflection. Something about gefilte fish and kugel induces deep self-evaluation.
And lucky for me, I am already mulling over some things, one of which I wanted to write about because I am simultaneously a little confused and a little angry. I apologize if the rest of this post is not so funny; my humor needs to begin a gradual reduction, so that I am fully ready to mourn and find myself wretched in time for Yom Kippor, the Jewish Day of Atonement (all you need to know is that if you put “Jewish” and “atonement” together, it is going to be one hell of a Debbie Downer day).
As I have already discussed in some previous posts, I formerly interned at a wonderful organization that serves people with special needs, and it was not easy to leave this place, even for a paying job in an industry I am trying to break into. I don’t miss working for said organization, but I do miss feeling like my work was purposeful. I had predicted that I would feel this way when I left. Even though I have only been at my new job six weeks, sometimes I worry that I am out to sea and should be doing something else to get this writing thing off the ground (which I probably should). I have had frustrations with pitching ideas and trying to get my name out there.
More importantly, I sometimes feel my heart tug in another direction. Every time I read an article about individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, their caretakers, I miss my former work. I am approaching the start of my first out-of-school, school year since 1992, and with it, the first time in eight years I will not be working with people with special needs. Now, there is a void. I am not so confused about how to fill it (about a thousand places need volunteers), but rather about whether this is more like a cavern than a mere void. I felt a guttural passion for writing, but maybe it just takes a little tedium and rejection for me to think otherwise.
The confusion is on the backburner, though, compared to my anger. I do not know what it has been about the past week. On multiple occasions I have found myself enraged and disappointed by people’s lack of sensitivity towards the special needs community, from stories I read in the newspapers to people I talk to on the street. These are not mean or ignorant people; on the contrary, they are often kind, wonderful, intelligent people. Some people carry misconceptions, some people are frightened, and some are just so lucky that no one close to them has ever struggled to communicate and interact with their environment. I strongly believe ignorance is bliss, but the same ignorance that shades people from the frightening pain of truthful experience also inhibits human sympathy. Empathy is impossible when you’re blind to hardships.
As I write this, I realize this message applies to me as much as to anyone else. I volunteer with people with developmental disabilities. I know how hard it is for them and their families, but there are a thousand of other cases where I don’t have that intimate knowledge and, subsequently, do not feel the same obligation to help or even sympathize. Hell, I don’t even have the intimate knowledge for the special needs community-I volunteer for a few hours; I don’t live it every single day of my life.
I am not sure where my logic is going, and my wrist is awkwardly cramping and physically impeding my typing. The only thing I can say before carpal tunnel sets in is that it never hurts to be a little more empathetic. Recognize that people are dealt different cards-really recognize and accept that-and then, you can feel how lucky you are with what you have. Then, grow some sympathy-and maybe actually do something concrete to help lighten the load. I am getting a little hopey-changey, and frankly, I think that approach is often schmaltzy BS. But, in all honesty, we cannot let ourselves off easy by assuming we’re incapable of understanding a difficult situation or extending ourselves to help bear a tiny bit of the burden.
I so often escape my sense of obligation by trying to rationalize my way out-that it would be too awkward or rude to interfere, that nothing I could do would help, that I would put myself in danger, emotionally or physically. I’ve got to lose that attitude. Maybe by writing this down, I can begin to change. So, maybe I actually do have a New Year’s resolution.
Welcome to the Frat House
Dear reader, I’d like to return to something I mentioned in a recent post regarding my familial/domestic situation that has subsequently struck me as a little ridiculous: the fact that living in my home is far more distracting and damaging to my work ethic than living in a dorm of a hundred plus college students. Now, to put this in context, I did attend a frigid (in temperature and personality) Northeastern college;Animal House we weren’t. A related side note, this is the point in a conversation when someone from Dartmouth will proudly tell you for the third time that Animal House is actually based on her alma matter, then return to her eighth beer and continue thinking she is better than you.
A neighbor of mine who observed my dad and youngest brother together on vacation, told me, “Wow, they’re like two frat brothers running around.” Though my experience with Greek life is admittedly limited, I am starting to think that living in my house might be akin to living in a fraternity, if only because the toilet seat is always up and I am perpetually trying to determine whether a wet spot is pool water (Dad), urine (brothers), or vodka (Mom).
Other reasons: I regularly walk into my bedroom to discover that someone else has passed out in my bed, and Solo cups line our kitchen counters in disarray. Just to clarify, I was not raised by the pledges of Sigma Chi, but in an incredibly loving, nurturing, supportive home with a family I adore. There are rational explanations behind the above mentioned fratty hallmarks, like my mother’s fear that plastic cups are toxic to our health. Instead of throwing them out, they remain piled in our sink, as we nervously sip soft drinks out of coffee mugs. The fact that on more than one occasion I have found family members relieving themselves in our backyard is a little harder to explain…
I don’t know if this is because it has been a while since I have been home for a long stretch, but I must say that the house is beginning to resemble a rundown frat house of questionable hygiene. Our fridge is filled with dairy products that expired sometime cerca the Fourth of July weekend. My ceiling is peeling and actually rains paint chips over my bed and clothes. We are currently suffering through a maggot problem in our pantry. In an incredibly bold and awe-inspiring move, my mother actually killed one of the suckers with her bare hands.
More like a warehouse than a frat house, papers and boxes line every available counter space and table. My grandmother calls this a “fire hazard,” because she believes in her heart of hearts that old mail will spontaneously ignite and combust, leading to our flaming demise. When I try to tell her that in the awful case a fire started in our house, we’d be crisp, papers or no papers, she shoos me away and continues her worrying.
I must say that if we are a fraternity of sorts, then my grandmother is the den-mother from hell. I say this with the greatest love and esteem for my grandma. However, she tends to call our house every half hour, and instead of saying “hello,” screams “What’s wrong?” Her favorite thing is to call in a panic after the six o’clock news announcing the new thing we have to get rid of because they might kill us (see aforementioned plastic cups issue). To put it lightly, she can be kinda a buzzkill.
Despite these concerns, the fraternal spirit of brotherhood and revelry does prevail in my household! We fall asleep watching Netflix, my brother Matt and I played beer pong with water, and we have broken our microwave, not one, but three times attempting to make popcorn-can you say PARTY?!!!
I am regularly told by my father that my plans are “lame” and “BORING,” to “not to be such a wuss,” and “stop being a doodie.” My brother Ethan recently told me that I “smell like bitch,” and when I asked what bitch smells like, he kindly explained “It smells like Emily.”
That kind of supportive and logical discussion actually does sound pretty much like a frat.
Self-Confidence and Free Cheese Platters
So, in case you have been kind of enough to follow, I have not exactly lived up to my promise of writing more for the blog. However, the stars aligned to produce a series of not-so-subtle signals to get me back to the blog. One was that friends have written to me, noticing the dearth of recent posts, and I am grateful to these folks for showing support. The other was that I happened to participate in my first college alumni mixer.
If you have skimmed any of my earlier posts, you know how much I enjoy bumping into people from the past and having to explain my embarrassing financial, domestic, or romantic status. Thus, you are probably wondering, Emily, why the hell would you decide to go to an event that consists almost entirely of your fellow peers who enjoy more prestigious jobs and substantial salaries? My Achilles’ heel: free food, of course.
A side note, I have come to realize that many of my decisions in college were determined by the promise of free food. Did I choose my major because I seriously weighed all the academic options, or because my department gave prospective students free sundaes? Did my involvement in Hillel reflect my reconnection with Judaism or my inability to resist free falafel? I think we all know that in each of these cases, it was the latter.
Therefore, in spite of the fact I was clearly chancing the opportunity to spiral into round two of what the fuck am I doing with my life, I decided to jump in the emotional piranha tank, otherwise known as Harvard Class of 2006-2011 alumns. In my own defense, I think it is fair that I disclose the fact that not only free food, but an open bar was promised, as well. Offering me an open bar is like cutting Sampson’s hair; I become powerless, lose all sense of dignity and foresight, and ultimately regret my decision.
Of course, the only thing I noticed when I walked into the mixer was, OMG, they have real Jack Daniels! and is that a real elephant mounted on the wall? Not only did I order my favorite drink, Jack and Coke, twice, but I decided to go old school Ivy League for once and get some straight-up hard liquor. Nothing says I am an overly-educated, moneyed, and possibly racist/anti-Semitic/sexist/homophobic WASP like drinking scotch on the rocks.
Of course, if I was really trying to emulate that sentiment, I probably would have needed something nicer than Johnny Walker red label, but hey, I never expected more than a few bottles of two buck chuck and a cheese plate from my college, anyways. This is an event for recent alumns, and we haven’t had kids yet to motivate us to donate and attempt to pay their way in.
Other than the fact that my body is going to wake up wondering why its owner is such an irresponsible bitch, where’s the real harm in going to town on a cheese platter and trying to drink enough to make up four years of tuition?
Nothing, except exposing myself to a lot of negative comparisons. For some reason, and I mean this quite honestly, I did not feel that competitive with my peers in college. That’s not to say I wasn’t competitive at all or wasn’t hard on myself; but, there were actually fewer means of self-comparisons in college to make you think of yourself as lagging behind the crowd. Some people got better and some people got worse grades; some people gained the prestigious leaderships positions and some didn’t. But, at the end of the day, everyone went to bed in a dorm and ate the same crappy cafeteria food.
Now that we’re out of school, there are more visible markers of success and difference. These are not necessarily superficial or physical things, like someone wearing an Armani suit and another wearing a two-year old dress from Target (me). It’s in the way someone sighs, looks confused, and then quickly changes the subject when they ask what you do. Conversely, it’s the way people wince a little when you tell them that this mixer is your half hour break and then you’re heading back to work.
Whether it is on purpose (and I certainly don’t think it is intentionally hurtful), you can feel the judgment-or at least I do. I know I notice these things because I am feeling insecure about many things in my life. From what I gather, this is hardly an unusual sentiment. I (we) are so unsure of what I am doing that it is easy to feel that my peers and the rest of the world already know that I have somehow taken the wrong path. Yet, I also feel now is the time to gird your loins and try to stick to your guns, or figure our what your (metaphorical, I hope) guns are.
Of course, being confident is a lot harder when you’ve accidentally smeared goat cheese down the front of your dress.
Adjustment: Looking for that swagger
I am getting a little concerned that every time I write another post I start off apologizing for the fact that it has taken me so long and make a vow to myself that I will write one much sooner next time. Well, that old work ethic I used to pride myself on certainly has faltered at the wayside. Somewhere Ms. Phillips, my beloved fourth grade teacher, is shaking her head, eyes filled with disappointment, sighing “Oh, but Emily, you showed such promise with your diorama of the giant panda.” At the same time, my middle school guidance counselor is problem thinking “Wow, that little chickey who cried in the middle of sixth grade science finally loosened up.”
In all seriousness, I am starting to get a little disappointed in myself and the way I am living my life. I am in the middle of what, for all intensive purposes, is my first real job. A job I took because it did not send me running for the hills in fear and offered delicious free coffee. But, another big thing that the job had going for it was that it had decent hours, allowing me, what I thought, would be ample, ample amount of times to write! Home by 7:30? I can eat, shower, adn write twelve pages by three in the morning! This will be just like college, that thing I did perfectly competently like millions of others not three months ago. But, au contraire! As my grandma would say, “The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.”
By the way, in case any of you were wondering based on that snippet of my grandma, she is not a cowhand cerca 1950s Hollywood Westerns.
I crash during a formerly unheard of hour now that I am home: midnight. I have heard that feeling the need to go to bed earlier is pretty common among recent college grads. I am assuming it is part of some larger evolutionary/maturation process that explains why senior citizens must eat dinner at 4:30 (and also wake up at 5:00 in the morning). However, unlike most college grads, the other issue is that I am actually more distracted living at home than living in a dorm with a few hundred twenty somethings running around, hopped up on Four Loko (such a brief sweet time, damn you, FDA).
If you have met my family, this is unsurprising. For starters, my mom and I are somewhere between Gilmore Girls and Grey Gardens. We’re extremely close and incredibly chatty, though I think we’re just one or two cans of cat food away from becoming destructive. My youngest brother is a less wrinkly Don Rickles-just glance at my facebook wall and see the array of insults he launches at me (and I think he actually likes me some of the times). It is hard to miss his personality and ego, especially when he goes around screaming, “Bitch, looks like I got my swagger back!” when he does well on a Spanish quiz.
This is just half of the household. It is unendingly entertaining living at home, but when you’re part of my house, you are a part of this giant organism/hydra of sorts. You can’t shut out people or shut off distraction-it would be like cutting off an appendage-incredibly painful and pretty impossible to do yourself with only your average household supplies.
Which gets me back to where I started. I am disappointed I haven’t kept up with my blog more. I am disappointed I haven’t written more in general. I think there was a scrappy optimism in me at the beginning of the summer, a faith that I would write about all the things I wanted to, that every single thing would fall into place once I had a day job, that it was just a matter of time. Well, now I have the job. (By the way, to a degree, I feel less secure because I am almost as worried about losing a job as I was about getting one), but little things I wanted to accomplish have not materialized. I feel stuck and worried that I have already settled in a stagnant pool, and I need to jumpstart things. I lost a little bit of my bite and preparedness when I got this job. I rested a little, but I am always worried things will wizz by me before I can grab them. There is something so nice about feeling secure, but maybe I need a little instability to get my swagger back-Somebody, please, cue “Otis” for me.
Where are the Real Life, Genuine Pasty Men?: Singledom Part 4, IvyDate Part 2
Hello, dear reader(s), if any of you are still out there, and the few of you who have had the patience to read my dribble are still following along. I have taken an embarrassingly long hiatus since my last post. If the past four years of studying the liberal arts has taught me anything it is how to form an eloquent excuse to justify inactivity. These past few months must have dulled my skills, probably because I live in a no bullshit zone (cue the music to The O’Reily Factor and replace the word “spin” as we open the door to the Shire household). What has been occupying my time, then, rather than writing and kvetching? Well, I can tell you what it certainly was not: some hot IvyDate outings.
I hope you were all waiting on the edge of your seats to find out if the kind people at IvyDate were willing to accept me into their prestigious institution. To be quite honest, my impression had been that this was all a done deal and was surprised I then had to wait for approval. I mean if my Ivy League degree was not going to bring me wealth or fame, then goddamnit, it should at least get me a date. Worse, I worried, if an Ivy League group deemed me unfit or too weird, then I had no freakin’ prayer for mainstream, normal dating. I assumed IvyDate would be like dating with training wheels to help those of us who can’t seem to balance and pedal forward in real life. Incidentally, despite years of trying, buckets of tears, and seriously disappointing my father, I can’t ride a bike. Wow. Revelation. It all comes full circle.
Although I was told an extensive review process needed to occur before I could be approved and that said process could take several weeks, the next day I received an email congratulating me on being blessed with their stamp of approval. Not only that, but I had a three-month free trial membership, which is fortunate because apparently three-months would normally cost me $200. No thank you, IvyDate, I will buy an iPhone, instead. In line with the theory I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would take me, I became immediately/even more dubious of IvyDate. Their quick acceptance of me just wreaked of desperation. Replace, “their” with “his” and reread that sentence: another layer is peeled back in the onion of my dating frustrations.
Unlike other websites, IvyDate does not let you search their database of singles and strike up a conversation with just anybody. There is something a little 1984 about the site’s complete distrust of individuals’ ability to make decisions for themselves. Then again,Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger shares this same fear, and of the many things for which I would criticize her, fascism is certainly not one of them.
Skeptical as I was of IvyDate clientele, I assumed my “matches” would be slightly less stylish versions of Steve Martin and Dan Akroyd’s “Two Wild and Crazy Guys” (If you do not know what I am talking about, a) feel ashamed, b) for the love all that is good and pure, look these clips up online). But oh, how wrong I was when I looked at my “matches.” These men were the Hollywood version of Ivy League a la Warner Huntington III in Legally Blonde (again, if you do not get this reference, follow the above outlined steps). Aside from a handful of imported European crew recruits and one ridiculously attractive Israeli who locked up the Hillel House, I never made eye contact with guys who looked like this on campus.
I was in a state of shock looking over these matches, wondering if they were fronts for pale, near-sighted versions of the real McCoy. I decided to assume these were semi-accurate photos. Why, I am not sure, since it was far more likely that a computer science genius would carefully doctor and improve his photos to attract a potential mate. Or any old schmo would upload a picture of Patrick Dempsy in an effort to get laid. Relatively computer illiterate that I am, both of these lie beyond my technological bounds, and I remained stunned that IvyDate had attracted remotely appealing, let alone some gorgeous, clients.
Now, to be fair, even taking into account the little personality that you can gather from these dating websites, all these men were completely devoid of any. It was hard to write a message to any of them because it was hard to tell what they liked to do or were passionate about-other than making money. Despite having studied an array of different majors, all of them listed jobs in the financial industry. Also, a few said outright that they liked neither children nor pets. Really, sad-sack, you can’t find enjoyment in anything that is soft and cuddly and does not make obscene amounts of cash for you? Only retrospectively do I realize that the questions going through my head should not have been about how these men were so attractive, but rather, if they were so damn attractive and had more than stable jobs, why the hell could they not find dates on their own? That should have been a red flag right there.
That being said, I did message a few, three to be exact. Well, woe and behold, it is a week or so later, and I have not heard a response from any of them. I am not exactly losing sleep over this predicament. I have a tendency to be attracted to douchey types from afar that would result in an oil and water interaction if we ever came within ten feet of each other. I recently received an email from IvyDate saying that they were having an event where, if I paid $60, I gained entrance to a yacht filled with other Ivy singles. My parents have spent the past four years paying close to 200 grand for me to mingle with that same crowd, and I don’t think it’s worth spending another dime.
Because the past four years weren’t frustrating enough: Singledom Part 3, IvyDate Part I
The great Carrie Bradshaw once said that in New York, everyone is always looking for a job, an apartment, or a boyfriend/girlfriend. Well, now that I am somewhat employed, yet still not financially stable enough to pay rent in a non-crackwhore district, I will focus my energies on the latter. By the way, as many New Yorkers/young urbanites of America know, regions indigenous to the crackwhore are often the best and hippest. Before you all think I am a prissy little snob, I would like to make it clear that I couldn’t even afford that and would have to set my sights on Queens. Plus, my parents have made it clear that they would not help facilitate any move-out at this current juncture/salary. See, I am too poor (financially and in strength to defy my parents’ wishes) to find my own place at this moment. So there.
Well, even if my dreams of a life modeled after the opening theme ofThat Girl will have to be put on hold, awkward first dates can abound! Plus, I have been getting subliminal and blatant messages right and left from JDate advertisements that as the dog days of summer are running to a close, I should be getting my last digs at a summer romance. They range from emails saying that LetMyPeopleGo is organizing its last “JWeekend” of the summer to flooding my inbox with an array of profiles of eligible Jewish singles in my neighborhood, men and women alike; kudos to JDate for not biasing against sexual orientation in its quest to make people fear ending up alone and romantically destitute.
As I have noted before, I am not in the financial position to join a dating service that costs $34.99 as JDate does. However, I am exploring another dating service, one with a client database more elusive than the Jewish male twenty-something (seeking a fellow Jewish woman). Welcome to IvyDate!
A warning to the dear reader: IvyDate might be a two-part post because the site is a goldmine of ridiculousness for anyone with average common sense and a remotely realistic sense of self; which, apparently, describes no one who attended an Ivy League school. The website was created by two alumns of Harvard Business School, an institution known for housing the highest concentration of assholes in the New England area other than Fenway Park in the summer. There is a lovely little pitch on the homepage about how IvyDate is a “new concept in dating for discerning men and women” for those who find that “the bar scene is limited.” Well, let me tell you, if you are tired of the dating scene not living up to your standards of pretension, self-aggrandizement, and all-around douchines, then IvyDate is a must!
There are a few/infinite things I find funny about IvyDate. One is that it is not exclusive to alums of Ivy League; the website also lists MIT, Stanford, the London School of Economics, Cambridge, and Oxford. I mean, who let those bums in through the backdoor? What if I only want to date someone who also went to an overpriced, pompous institution in the Northeast that is more than a hundred and fifty years old? Way to mislead me with the labeling, “Ivy”Date!
The second thing is something you will only find out if you and your friends drink too much wine and decide to have someone be the guinea pig that goes through the IvyDate registration process for a lark. To my lady friends from last Sunday afternoon, if you’re reading this, you know who you are, and you’re welcome. Anyway, the secret thing that IvyDate doesn’t advertise is that you can sign up as an Ivy Alumn or “Ivy Seeking.” To the “Ivy Seekers” out there, I can only assume that you really enjoy conversing with socially stunted individuals who are not particularly attractive. In the sage words of the almost-mediocre baseball announcer Michael Kay, “You don’t get into Harvard for good looks.” Or, you’re hoping to meet and marry someone really rich. If you’re the latter, let me save you some first dates and a heavy dose of surprise; you’re barking up the wrong tree, as told by a girl who is living in her childhood home and can’t pay her phone bill. Please, just go to a bar in the financial district and spare everyone involved a whole lot of trouble. I am sure you will meet someone who is wealthy and so enjoys speaking about him/herself that it will meet all of your conceptions of a date with an Ivy Leaguer.
As I filled out the IvyDate registration, I kept thinking that this site may be trying to market itself with Ivy League appeal, but it has thechutzpa of a Jewish mother. One of the first questions it asked me was how many children I want to have? This is a slightly terrifying question a 21-year-old like myself. If a guy asked me this on a first, second, or third date, I would politely excuse myself to go to the bathroom and climb out through the window.
Well, you’ll all just have to wait and see if after filing out far too many and inappropriate personal questions, IvyDate decides to approve my membership application. And I certainly hope it does because the website is holding an online lottery for members with the chance to win a case of Andy Warhol special reserve Don Perignon. If that prize Don Perignon is any indication of how well IvyDate’s creators can boil an individual into a stereotype, I am sure they will provide me with excellent matches.
Maybe not technically funemployed: the end of an era?
I apologize in advance for taking far longer than I intended to write this latest post. I am going to take a page from the Sarah Palin playbook and blame someone/thing in a nonsensical way for an error that is totally and completely my fault; the gotcha-media in this is case is my little brother. He went to Cape Cod this past week and took my laptop charger without telling me! Yes, by “my laptop charger” I mean his that I took when my broke and he was away at sleep-away camp and couldn’t stop me. But, still, I am indignant! Yes, my family has another computer. However, using a desktop sequestered in my father’s “office,” the tiny wood-paneled hovel covered in enough piles of old newspapers to make a lovely bed and living room set for a hobo, was no match for watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
To be honest, though, it has been more than my battery-dead laptop that has kept me from writing a post. It has been a rollercoaster of a week, and yet, I find it completely difficult to put into words and tie up into a pretty little blog bow. On the happier side, I received a job offer-a job offer at a place I actually like.
Of course, because I am a natural Eeyore and find it impossible to take any good news without a heaping teaspoons of worry and insomnia, I am not exactly experiencing undiluted pleasure. That’s a lie. For about forty minutes I felt as happy and carefree as when my oral surgeon gave me a double dose of laughing gas; then, I spoke to other people. One of the things I adore about my family is that we are really good at keeping people grounded. The Australians call it “tall poppy syndrome,” essentially when someone is a little too big for her britches, and they feel it’s a personal obligation to chop the tall poppies down to size. Somehow, tangled in my purely Ashkenazi, Eastern European heritage, there must be some Australian blood because my family can chop those poppies like machetes. When I called my dad and brothers in Cape Cod to let them know about the job offer, my little brother said, “How much will you be making?” When I said more than expected, he said„ “So, like six-figures, right?” I don’t think he really knows what the average 21-year-old not in the financial industry makes, but his comments were like a sledgehammer to my tiny, Precious Moments paperweight of happiness.
By the way, I should clarify that this gift lies only within my immediate family. My grandmother, on the other hand, tends to balloon tiny accomplishments into the Hindenburg. My cousin and I won a raffle contest earlier this week after we earned the privilege of submitting our names by volunteering to sing karaoke. My grandma told all of our cousins who hadn’t seen us at ten years that we had won a vocal performance contest, regular Pavarottis that we are. Did I mention she did this all at a funeral?
And in all fairness to my family, I have been fortunate enough to become conditioned to their unconditional love and support. When I am feeling worried or (ir)rationally depressed about my future, my parents are the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders on ecstasy. I consider myself so incredibly lucky that they have been so supportive of my unemployment and soul-searching. As I have said many times before, it is a financial luxury, but even more importantly, it is an emotional one. After a few days of reflection, I can say that my family was really very supportive, youngest brother aside; they just wanted to make sure it was the right thing for me to do. Instead of blind support or, for that matter, intense pressure to finally take a damn job, I got good, important questions, like is this salary standard for the field?, do you have to sign a contract and make a certain time-commitment? are there health benefits?
And I know these questions pierce me because I am always worrying if I am making the right decisions. Making decisions make me physically ill. In college, picking classes left me sleepless for weeks. When I had to decide whether to study abroad, I developed a stomach ulcer. I am currently battling a case of indigestion and lack of appetite, which is only unusual when you consider my steel drum stomach and my competitive eating capabilities. There is always a voice inside my head wondering if I am making the right decision, and I know it can be crippling. The bottom line is that I find it really hard to trust myself, and that is my problem-no one else’s.
College Gets Better … JK: Singledom, Part 2
I left off in the last post about how high school was pretty sucky in terms of dating. I know a lot of girls who happen to be from similar demographic backgrounds that had similar dating frustrations in high school. Guess what? We were told the same age-old adage by our mothers, “It will get better in college.” If by better you mean boys may be a little more brazen in their attempts to drunkenly grope you at parties, then yes, it does. However, unless your mother is Tara Reid, that is probably not what she had in mind as the foundation for a healthy relationship.
To be fair, it certainly got better for some people, but in rather extreme manifestations. Reporters, sociologists, psychiatrists, worried parents, and the like have spent the past few years writing and speaking about how my generation perpetuates a “hook-up culture.” Way to go, Sherlock! Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for realizing young people participate in casual physical relationships at an above average frequency. Extra points for constantly noting in your articles and news reports that a high-alcohol environment contributes to this “new trend.”
What I have in mind is far less noted and far more annoying. Perhaps because this really was just a trend on my college campus (though, I doubt it), the “college-married” couple is more under the radar in the press. This is the couple that has actually had a few illusive, real dates, and after two weeks acts like they are married. They eat all their meals together, go shopping together, and, a trademark, sleep together in the same bed every night before they (and, sometimes, they never actually do) have sex. All of these activities, the latter especially, are meant to prove to the world how inseparable they are. They are the Incredible Hulk Universal Studios rollercoaster of relationships: 0 to 40 in under two seconds flat.
The benefits of having friends who are college-married are many: why wait to identify with Bridget Jones’ fears of spinsterhood in your 30s when you can feel that self-conscious and lonely at 20? Nothing boosts your optimism for a romantic future like having friends who speak in “we” and can’t make plans to play beer-pong before checking with their better halves!
Bitter jesting aside, I think this is an interesting phenomenon. If I had a degree in sociology and gave two hoots about people in relationships, I would examine it more thoughtfully. But, alas, I am single and a student of American Studies, which has given me ample time to study the works of my fellow single ladies-Jane Addams, Gloria Steinem, Emily Dickinson, Wendy Wasserstein. I figure that at the very least, being single puts me in the same category of these American figures, which is nice because in no other situation or measurement of skill could I be compared to any of them. This academic decision was actually probably a good life choice, as well. My fellow uncoupled sisters, and brothers, let me tell you, reading The Bell Jar or The Feminine Mystique will empower you in your singleness just as much as doing Beyonce’s Single Ladies dance. You’ll still probably desire to trip the couple that blocks the stairs to the subway because they insist on walking down holding hands. But just remind yourself, that doing that would be illegal, and there are a lot of witnesses. Just kidding! Okay, in all honesty, remind yourself that Carrie Bradshaw would always hold her head high, even when she didn’t have Mr. Big.
Just like Carrie Bradshaw but without the sex: Singledom, Part 1
Between discussing cover letters, going on job interviews, and holding down two fake jobs, I think I am forced to write about something else. Also, I have already used the word “job” three times in my first sentence and a half, and about a thousand times throughout the whole blog. So, I feel I have hit the word quota that psychiatrists will use to mark the line between “area of interest” and “unhealthy obsession” when I am on trial for breaking and entering the headquarters of linkedin and mediabistro. Thus, I will have to rely on another area of expertise. In addition to my studies in the nuances of funemployment, I have a doctorate in being single.
Haha! I jest and cover my loneliness in self-deprecation. Seriously, though, I have no doubt that I could teach at least a semester-long, intro-level course on the topic, which would actually be significantly more practical than the mandatory writing class for freshmen. I walked into high school with visions of Grease and secret dreams of being a cheerleader and, more importantly, a John Travolta-cerca 1977 boyfriend. Well, let me tell you, I was one of four Emily’s in my class: there was pretty Emily, slutty Emily, batshit crazy Emily, and studious Emily. I was the latter. The pros: I didn’t get suspended, contract an STD, or rationalize that drinking rubbing alcohol was a great way to try getting drunk. The cons: no boyfriend! Yes, even batshit Emily got some love, while I ate my feelings and spent my weekends studying for a calculus class that was at an inappropriately high level for a girl with a limited mathematical aptitude.
The one normal social high school experience I had was going to prom, but this was not exactly the bacchanal night of fun, pleasure, and romance one thinks of-no crepe paper, no white gloves, no Rydell High gymnasium (yes, Grease is also the template for my bacchanal night of fun, pleasure, and romance-what? Do you think I am the kind of girl who would say American Pie?). I had just gotten into college, and I was thrilled, but I quickly fell into a mental state necessitating Prozac when I realized all my friends had found dates without me. I vividly remember one afternoon sobbing and thrashing about like an old widow at a Sicilian funeral as my mother waved college acceptance letters in the background. It was the first time I realized that little gold stars like those mean jackshit if you don’t feel honestly good about who you are and figure out what accomplishments mean something to you. I can tell you that being a slipped a phone number by a British solider in a bar in Australia left me feeling more confident and satisfied with my life than any grade I got in class or other gold star I have received.
This, actually, may be the problem and explain why I am trolling through okcupid profiles, trying to find love. I would be on JDate, but considering my current state of joblessness lasting for the foreseeable future, it would be financially imprudent to start paying $34.99 in an attempt to find someone. Really JDate, help a broke Jewish sister out. Okcupid proves the old adage of interior decorators and boutique retailers everywhere: cheap is cheap.
It is slim pickings on okcupid. There are some weirdos-I think a lot of them must think I am a weirdo, too. I keep going through profiles and thinking, this person seems normal, but why can’t he find someone on his own without realizing the stench of hypocrisy I am wreaking. Actually, and this is complete gender bias, but I am suspicious of any boy who openly lists himself as looking for a long-term relationship. I assume all guys my age are looking just to be casual and are commitment-phobic, or at least, the normal ones with a good sense of humor and a sense of what society expects of men in their twenties; I am, apparently, looking for a Judd Apatow protagonist. In case you were wondering, there are no Judd Apatow protagonists on okcupid. But, there’s a Persian guy who is 5’6” and about to go to dental school and an office manager from Buffalo. And they both seem sweet and thoughtful. Maybe these are the kinds of guys I should be looking at.
Or maybe I should get over my fear of cats and start bunkering down for the spinster future.
This is only part 1, dear reader. Perhaps, there will be some romantic improvement by the final chapter of this series, from my Mac to G-d’s ear.
Adventures in Unemployment Part #6, Sleep Deprivation and Social Networking
I am not sure when this post will ultimately hit the great world wide web, but let me tell you now, dear reader, that it is 7:45 on a Saturday morning, which is a ridiculous hour for me to be awake. It is especially ridiculous because I woke up naturally, and even earlier, in fact, at 6:15. I can be pretty notorious in my house for sleeping until noon on a Saturday (unpaid internships will really take it out of you). However, today I have been tossing and turning. I tried sleeping an odd horizontal position where my body resembled an L or a sock, I got a glass of water, and 12 hours from now, exhausted version of me tried to mentally argue with my present state of mind and rationalize myself into sleeping. But, I can’t it. It is simply imposible.
Part of the reason for this may be that I drank and ate far too much last night. Lovely Nell, if you’re reading this, thank you. I had no idea a vegan/vegetarian feast could pack such a punch. I also tend to hit a “breakfast for dinner” party with the energy of the Tasmanian devil, the agility of the gazelle, and the gullet of an underfed, ornery orca whale. I think I found a shred of praline french toast in my shirt when I got ready for bed last night. I was also running on Dr. Pepper and coffee and thought it would be a fantastic idea to balance out all that caffeine with alcohol. I write with tremendous pride that I only dropped flatware twice-a new record for drunk-version of me!
So, the fact that I ate and drank in three hours about as much as I do in a week could be the reason my body is punishing me and not letting me sleep. I can almost picture the muscles of my jaw, the acids of my stomach, my surprised liver, working overtime, mad as hell, to process all that food and drink. And now, the body is seeking revenge, much in the way my feet torment me the day after I wear heels, screaming “Bitch, why do you treat us this way?”
The other reason my body is awake is fueled by anger, not food, issues. And as so many of the frustrations in my life, it is related to the wonderful job search. I can be blithe and pithy about many of the frustrating aspects of the hunt. Even this week when I received a rejection from a Jewish book organization that was possibly the one job for which my college education had actually prepared me, my real anger was limited to about an hour or two, which simmered into a general resentment and disrespect for the organization (very mature I know, but everyone needs some coping mechanisms-right? right?).
This anger carries a different gravity because it involves family. As anyone who knows me, I am intensely close with my family, love them, and feel incredibly grateful to have born into this clan. Clan makes us seem like The Kennedys, which we certainly ain’t; perhaps insane asylum, of course, in the most loving sense of the term would be the more appropriate description. A member of this insane asylum who is responsible for half of my DNA and heretofore shall be referred to as parental unit or s/he, did something that inadvertently enraged me. When I emailed my parents letting them know I was called back for an interview at a place I really like, s/he mentioned it to another one of my relatives, a relative I have not been close to in years, a relative I find incredibly phony and find difficult to trust. It turns out this relative has a working relationship with the company I am interviewing for, and he offered to contact them on my behalf. This was what enraged me, set me flying off the handle in a public place (which, actually isn’t difficult: see reaction to B+ on math test in 7th grade for further details), and is responsible for stealing my ability to sleep like a half-normal person.
Why does said situation bother me so much? It is not that I am opposed to using contacts. I don’t really have any in most of the areas in which I am applying to jobs, but if I had them, I would use them. It is uncomfortable for me to write this, but I think I have lost some naivete over the past year and have to come realize that contacts can, and often do, count a lot more than talent and skills, which no one will see if you can’t get your foot in the door. I sort of hate schmoozing and networking. I should have graduated from college sixty or seventy years ago, so it wouldn’t seem outrageous for me to marry some shmoe and raise babies. At the very least, I should have been born before social networking was the biggest, freakin’ career buzzword, before people made websites, organizations, and jobs out of “facilitating social networking.” Something about it all sets off my bullshit radar a little bit, but I have accepted it as a reality, much as I have the growing number of reality TV shows about cupcakes.
No, the reason this bothers me in the worst way is because of the relative in question. As I mentioned before, I really do not trust him. Even more of an issue is that he is kind of an enormous braggart. He does a lot of wonderful things, but he has a tendency to swoop into family events, drop a few names, and be on his way. This is the last kind of person I ever wanted to rely on or take a favor from. I can be insanely private and a little too headstrong about certain issues, like jobs, romance, and friends.
This is all incredibly ironic because I am fast to give up and holler for help when I don’t understand Microsoft Excel or throw my hands in the air (metaphorically) with my struggle to learn how to drive. But when it comes to something like getting a job, I cross my arms, plant my legs, and refuse to take it on the chin. Would it be worth having a job, even if the price were spending every Chanukah party with a jackwad bragging about how he got the Ivy League grad her first job? Actually, as I write that, I am not so sure. Beggars can’t be choosers, and I am a certainly on the begging end of the stick, but I wish I could have a little selective control…just a teensy bit…maybe…please
Adventures in Unemployment, Part #5 Torn or Get Ready to Hate Me
Well, dear readers, it has been a while since I have written about my adventures in (f)unemployment. This is, in part, because I have tried to spend the last week rectifying my job status, otherwise known as scanning through mediabistro and mandy and obsessing over typos and weak grammar in cover letters. A brief but related side note, I hate proofing resumes and cover letters. Finding errors is not always a good thing. If you’re like me and use pretty much the same resume and slightly-adjusted cover letter, catching these typos is like finding half of a worm in your apple; at least you realize it now, but the damage has been done. It is minorly gut wrenching to realize you have kind of totally fucked up the previous thirty or forty or hundred odd jobs applications you’ve sent prior to this one. As Scarlett O’Hara says “After all … tomorrow is another day.” And indeed, there will be another seven jobs for assistant editor positions at publishing houses posted tomorrow that will be just as unattainable with my corrected resume as without.
If you haven’t noticed already, I am very confused about what I want to be my next big step-and I am starting to think this may be the problem. I see things as “the next big step.” I like my unpaid internships because they don’t feel like big steps-they’re (sometimes) interesting ways to not sit on my butt and watch Real Housewives all day in my suburban living room, but I can also fly the coop from these internships when the job that feels right comes along. What is this “right” job, though?
I have been asking myself this question a lot because last week, I got a job offer from the Jewish nonprofit. I actually like my work more and more at this place, but I don’t feel ready to commit to a job there. I feel my work is incredibly rewarding and that my time is really well spent when I am there. This is a rarity and a true gift to find in a job, I know that already, even from the little work experience I have. A job that makes you feel this way does not come along everyday.
At the same time (and I feel guilty and silly and all the more talentless as I write this) while I am young and find living at home bearable, I want to give a more creative, hardscrabble career a shot. I love writing. I am not really sure how I will support myself on this, but I decided I would give myself a year or two to give it a shot. I don’t feel guilty over wanting to pursue this passion. I do feel guilty over the fact I have come to realize this is somewhat incredibly selfish.
I was raised with a belief that you should help those who can’t help themselves, and college only magnified this sense of commitment. When I get lost in the paperwork and the many empty hours at the Jewish nonprofit, I wish I were at home writing. Lately, though, I have had a lot more contact with the client, young adults with developmental disabilities. I have been assisting them with job applications and job preparation skills. Another related side note, A&P, why must you ask three different times “what does customer service mean to you?” and Target, one hundred online personality questions? Really? Who do you guys think you are? Within ten minutes of working with these individuals, I am hooked, emotionally committed, and absolutely determined to get them jobs. They are great people, and all they want is a sense of purpose and pride from work. I want a job to explore my passions, to support myself financially, to help me figure out the person I want to be. And these individuals, who may not even get minimum wage and many of whom will never be able to live independently, want a job so that they can have something to hang their hats on.
The clients I work with and I share a common unemployment in this economy, but, as I have written about before, mine is somewhat of a choice. I still live with a little bit of the mentality that the world is my oyster. I get a little choosy because I am young, because I have a liberal arts degree from a good school, because I was taught and believe(d) that I was capable of any job I wanted- and so I continue, in a somewhat futile act, to scour through jobs on mediabistro. My clients are suffering through a bad economy in a very different sense. I call local supermarkets and restaurants that cannot afford to take on more staff. Even local food pantries don’t want to take on volunteers because they do not have enough donations.
I think about my clients when I am not at work, hoping that an interview at P.C. Richardson or Trader Joe’s will go well. So, why am I not taking the job that has been offered to me at the Jewish nonprofit? They clearly need help, and I do love a lot of the work. This is where the extra level of selfishness kicks in; a little voice in me still wants to give that crack at writing. The thing is, I don’t think writing does concrete good for the world. Let me rephrase that, good writing can bring laughter, provide emotional understanding and intellectual enrichment, and help us understand the world around us better. But spending my time writing is not going to help someone find a job or sue the Board of Education to pay for special learning services. It’s not going to secure a job interview for a gentle, overweight 22-year-old young man with an unfortunately severe case of Tourette Syndrome that, in spite of his reliability and tenderness, will always make him a liability to an employer.
Everything, especially writing, feels insufficient and flagrant compared to the work I could be doing. And yet, my gut is telling me otherwise. I do not know why this is the case. I don’t know why I am making both the financially impractical and selfish decision not to take on this work full-time. I can’t explain it. I wish I could, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I ultimately regretted it. My grandmother read me my horoscope yesterday. For Scorpios, it said “Don’t worry if you think you are on the wrong path. You can always turn around.” Here’s to hoping theNew York Post is right, and that if I need to do, I can turn myself around.
Adventures in Unemployment, Part #4: Researching Different Versions of Death for Free
I think I have waxed a little too poetically and favorably about sleek kitchen internship in my penultimate post. As much as a shiny chrome fridge full of Diet Pepsi and vegan butter can brighten up one’s work environment, nay, entire day, it can ameliorate only so much. Yes, while others are on the streets approaching very pissed off urbanites to sign petitions for Free the Children or (and I honestly don’t mean to make light of this) just out on the street because of the worst national economic state since the Great Depression, I find something to complain about sitting in an air-conditioned office in front of a computer.
What could I possibly kvetch about? It is silly really to whine about this, except that I do possibly the most depressing research possible, short of working in the DA’s office for the Special Victims Unit. My last three topics have been: driving hazards and the resulting fatalities, asylum seekers denied medical care that subsequently die, and treating HIV patients in the Rhode Island state penitentiary system.
You can only google search high resolution images for “texting car deaths” and watch scary advertisement with bloody hands clutching cell phones without getting a little freaked out. Also, a little known but defining fact about this author: I have been trying to learn to drive for the past five years, but suffer from a crippling fear of killing myself, loved ones, and innocent bystanders with my vehicle. I am one of those people who the moment I sat behind the wheel felt that the car was a deathtrap. Actually, more accurately, I went about 3 miles per hour, felt like my face was going to fly off, burst into tears, and refused to drive for the next eight months. It has been an uphill battle getting me into the driver’s seat. Reading articles about how most driving accidents have nothing to do with drugs and alcohol, but rather the sheer inability to handle the mechanical machinery is kind of overkill me for me. I have the urge to shout at my computer screen, “Preachin’ to the choir, my PSA brother!”
The other topics hit me hard in their own ways. When I was six, I cried myself to sleep one night because on an episode of the long-forgottenGrace Under Fire, a bland, but kindly adult man was yelled at unfairly. I have yet to see the end of Titanic because. My family once rented the DVD, and when we hit the part where the mother says good night to her children when she knows is going to die, I began to sob uncontrollably, and we had to shut it off and immediately return it. So, it is fair to call me a little sensitive. I am also paranoid as all hell about disease and illness. Hypochondria does not even begin to cover it. I am pretty much convinced I have every deadly disease possible, and every ache in my head assures me brain hemorrhage is just ‘round the corner. A few months ago I felt a tightness in my chest in the middle of the night; I tried to keep myself up awake because I was pretty sure if I fell asleep I was going to cross into that great threshold of light. Not only am I so convinced that I am doomed to develop some terrible disease or chronic condition that I am too afraid to get tested or go to a doctor, so I live in a state of panic, wondering far too often what is the likelihood I am walking around with cancer, HIV, Ebola. Okay, maybe that last one has some more obvious symptoms.
Suffice to say, it does not do my mental state much good to be researching cases of horrible medical conditions all day long.
I leave this internship every day more aware of mortality than I ever have, with the possible exception of that time I made it halfway through Titanic. I think it is fantastic this company is devoted to creating documentaries that educate people about the dangers and tragedies of this world. I would expect nothing less from a progressive, socially conscious, politically active media company, but jeez louise, it is bumming me out. Also, would it kill them to give us a lunch hour for a brief reprieve between the assignments on Haitian diabetics and kidnapped reporters in Central America? Oh well, at least I have the French Press to help me through.
The One That Got Away: My One Chance of Employment Declined
I feel a little guilty about this, but I turned down the one job I was offered this summer because the hours and the work environment sent me running for the hills. The pay was decent, though, and if I weren’t so fortunate with my family, I wouldn’t have the support of turning it down. Moreover, I am lucky that I had the full approval from my parents not to think twice about declining and trying to find something I actually liked doing. It didn’t hurt that my mother held this same kind of job right after she graduated from college and said, “the one good thing about it was I met your father in the office.” I reasoned the one redeeming aspect of this job was that I had the potential to meet my future spouse and father of my children; and frankly, that was putting too much pressure on it, even with my tendency towards secretly high, overblown expectations. I also think fulfilling this potential would have involved violating workplace sexual harassment codes that apparently were fairly lax in 1981.
Even as I write this, I feel spoiled. I have been reading a lot of memoirs late that are mainly by upper-middleclass white women apologizing for the privileges they’ve enjoyed; they do this almost as much as they rail against the hardships endured as a result of their sex. I actually have loved reading these memoirs, and I think these women adroitly handle the socioeconomics of their existence, but I still sound ridiculous and patronizing. The bottom line I guess I am trying to convey is that the unemployment I am enjoying, and yes, I actively choose to use “enjoy,” is a luxury. Furthermore, unemployment has its own unique benefits, and I have actually come to realize that I don’t want to give it up too hastily.
I just reread that last sentence. Sex Ed teachers throughout the South, you have my permission to steal that sentence and sub in “virginity” for “unemployment.”
In all seriousness, I get to take unpaid work in areas I want to “explore,” and I get to come home to a comfy bed, cable television, and Vitamuffins. In fact, I am not sure I want a paying job yet. No, that’s a lie. I do want a paying job; I just don’t want either of the internships I am currently working at to be paying because, to be honest, I already know I don’t want to be there long. Part of the reason I didn’t take the one actually, salaried job put forth was because it was at least a one-year commitment. Yes, that is just a year, and yes, I have plenty of friends who took jobs with built-in commitments and still quit. But, I couldn’t in good conscious take a paying job when I know I couldn’t live up to the commitment, stated or implied, that I needed to make. With my unpaid internships, I can be brutally honest in my evaluation. I know I can leave whenever I want to because, and this may sound bad, I don’t feel like I owe them anything other than two weeks notice. I don’t have to fool myself into enjoyment because I am stuck there for another year or two or convince myself that it is a good building block when it isn’t. And all of this somewhat objective assessment of the good and the bad will, hopefully, help me figure out what it is I want to do. Emphasis on hopefully in that last sentence.
I am desperately clinging to the fantasy that careers can potentially be fulfilling and not to grab a job just to say you have a job. I feel like this is precious time, that I should only do this “exploring” before living at home becomes beyond awkward and I hide form the neighbors more than I already do. Or, to keep me from having a mental crisis, which I am sure I will have anyway, when I have my own family to worry about supporting.
Of course, all this musing and freedom now will, ideally, guide me by providing the soul-searching data and figures that I never really took stock of in high school and college. And then, there is the real question: figuring out what to do with all that personal knowledge. Maybe I will discover that work sucks all around and trying to find fulfillment in a job is fruitless. Maybe I will finally realize what I was put on earth to do and have a sense of a larger life plan to chart my future profession. I am pretty sure neither of these extremes will occur, and I can say with certainty that my old TI-89 will not help process any of it.
Adventures in Unemployment, Part #3 The Redeeming Values of an Office Kitchen
I think it is only fair in the name of equality, blind to race, sex, or creed, that I do a rundown of the other place where I am working for free, too. I am sure I will be back to writing about my other locale in the next post. I am so certain not so much in my commitment to equally devoting space but because an Orthodox office that preaches the dangers of mixed dancing is a little more interesting than your run-of-the-mill start-up, which pretty much describes the television and media company I go to two days a week. It’s sleek and cool and not very big, basically all the things my other office space isn’t. Actually, that’s not true; neither one has any pig meat product in their fridges. One in deference to the ancient holy laws of kashrut; one to honor the great vegan film editor who controls our invoice with Fresh Direct.
One thing I adore about the television/documentary/media/what have you development company is that the kitchen is the focal point of the room. There is a large open space with marble counter tops and a lovely table with something resembling a den with couches and records on the other side that I haven’t really explored. The rest of the kitchen nook is surrounded by computers. No cubicles, no dividers. Yes, maybe they are trying a little too hard for the sexy, Dumbo warehouse-turned-office, particularly for being a building about a stone’s throw from Times Square. But, compared to my other office that has so many unpacked moving boxes and dividers that I feel like I am perpetually stuck in the board game Mouse Trap, I’ll take it.
And did I describe to you, dear reader, what a beautiful, beautiful kitchen the what have you development company has? Fresh coffee beans that you grind and use a French Press to brew your morning java in. If I learn how to use that contraption, I will have already earned my salary in wisdom! (If anyone from this company is actually reading, that was for literary effect; please, I would much prefer traditional monetary compensation). Can of Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, hermetically-sealed bags of almonds and raisins, and humus! It is unclear what we are supposed to put the humus on or dip into it, but it is thrilling, nevertheless.
Did I also mention there is a shit ton of alcohol that no one ever seems to drink? Oh, I didn’t. Odd, because I am consumed with wonder over why they have copious amounts of liquor that they keep ordering and that remains untouched. Everywhere I turn, I discover something new. Five different six packs of beers lined up neatly in the fridge, two more waiting in the cupboard, a bottle of tequila in the freezer (why it’s there, I’m not sure), a bottle of vodka in the pantry, and three not insignificant bottle of red wine on the counter, staring me down. As an utterly devote Mad Men fan, I have long dreamed of the day of working in an office stockpiled with alcohol, but this office lacks the charming, sexy secretaries and the inimitable Don Draper. Thus, the melange of alcohol seems out of place. I am hoping to witness firsthand the higher-ups crack open a bottle and, ideally, offer their unpaid friend a glass or two.
Adventures in Unemployment, Part #2 Free Sushi
Remember that little voice I mentioned, the one that asks me every morning why the hell I am at this office. Well, it gets a lot freakin’ louder when I work between the sons of two executives who are getting paid for their part-time work. One is the Jewish version of Michael Cera. Heretofore referred to as JMC, he gets a little nervous and awkward, tries to give instructions, mumbles, and shrugs. The other is the Jewish, gay version of Tony Manero (John Travolta’s character inSaturday Night Fever, for those of you born after 1975). Heretofore, he will be referred to as JGTM Whenever I see him, he’s in bright purple button-down that is a little too button-downed, he wears a gold Jewish medallion, and his fun fact for icebreakers was that he is “obsessed with unicorns.” I got the impression that his dad was trying to set us up on my first day, but if we would numerically describe my love life as zero, I think that hypothetical date would send it into the negatives.
I do a lot of filing and drafting of business letters that I actually like and tend to have ample time to read articles on Yahoo. Facebook, Gawker, and the like are blocked, though apparently not Hulu, as all the receptionists seem to be curled up in their long skirts watching Top Model on their computers every time I walk by. I nearly choked on my sushi when JGTM told me I always looked like I was working so hard that he felt guilty he wasn’t doing more, though if he likes Tyra half as much as those receptionists, I am not really surprised he admires my work ethic. A quick but important sidenote, did I mention that that sushi was free? Yes, my friends, the one perk of this job was the free luncheon for interns!
I found out about the free food a day earlier, and oh boy, had it occupied my thoughts, captured my dreams. At first, I thought of it in moods of joy and excitement. But, as the morning churned on, so did the bile, and the anger of not getting paid in this freezing office. There was a fire in my belly, and I decided the only way to extinguish it was to smother it with food. That’s right. I was going to eat my way to redemption. Now, this was not the typical eat my feelings sort of thing, though I am very skilled at that. No, I thought if I get one free lunch, I am going to attempt to eat a salary’s worth of food and hit ‘em where it hurts. This is impossible with one tray of sushi and one tray of sandwiches, but I gave it the old college try! I was the only person who went up for thirds, consumed sandwiches I had complained about only minutes earlier, and got some disgusted stares. Stern girls, let me show you how I can pack it away!
Of course, as any seven year old with average reasoning abilities will tell you, eating too much hurts your stomach. And gives you indigestion. And makes you generally unpleasant to work near. So, I can’t say I have managed to ingratiate myself to the staff members and higher-ups at my office just yet. But Lord knows I am trying . . . sort of … no, not really as much as I should.
Adventures in Unemployment, Part I
I almost titled this blog “Adventures in Unemployment,” but I decided against. Mind you, this was more because I thought writing about looking for jobs would get tired pretty quickly, rather than because I am ashamed of admitting I am unemployed. In fact, I probably wear it a little too proudly on my sleeve. Like a child who boldly announces to everyone her parents are getting divorced with a smile on her face, people become a little uncomfortable and quickly attempt to reassure me when I tell them yes, I have no permanent job and I am living at home in the suburbs. All with the toothy grin, the grin of someone who has only been technically unemployed for five weeks and does not know the real hardships of paying bills, making rent, and/or manual labor.
There are some caveats to my peaceful inner core of unemployment. For one, this core erupts like Vesuvius when I see high school classmates or, even worse, their parents. My mother and I have always had the tendency to avert the eyes and avoid meeting the gaze of our townsmen. Some of them are lovely, but others walk their big ugly black poodles up and down your street to pee on your lawn and ask you your SAT scores. You would think that I had matured enough during college that I could handle the momentary, appraising glances and grilling by my fellow neighbors. Oh ho, you would be so wrong, my friend! Instead, I adopt a “duck and cover” maneuver a la the 1950s ineffective bomb raid training and hide in the backseat of my family’s car to avoid being spotted and questioned. Or, I hop on an exercise machine at the gym that I have no idea how to use to avoid making eye contact, reasoning that tripping over the steps on a Stairmaster is easier than explaining how you haven’t been able to find a damn job.
The other main caveat is that I am currently floating in a somewhat unemployed gray zone, if you will. I recently started an internship, two in fact, but neither one pays and has no prospect of doing so any time soon. I am actually losing money buying a monthly train ticket and paying for the subway, but I technically go to an office, have an id card, a file to save my documents in on the company computer. Essentially, I have all the trappings of employment without the actually earning an income part to go with it. Aside from the whole “I am actually losing money schlepping into the city” part (a little voice in my head shouts this at me when I step into my freezing office), the other difficulty is now trying to explain to people what I am doing. No, I retract that, the more difficult part is having enough energy when I get home to still apply and look for jobs that may actually give me a salary and/or, more importantly, I find more fulfilling.
Well, that penultimate statement is a little easier to tackle at the moment, so I may try to shed some light on one of my unpaid jobs. I “work” at a Jewish nonprofit, and not just any Jewish nonprofit, an Orthodox one! There are a few funny things that you may only find funny if you are a somewhat religious Jew, like the fact that all passwords have an 18 somewhere in them. Some other things are funny just because, like a Hasidic man almost knocked me over by mistake because I was struggling to remember the punch code, and he misjudged how long it would take me to open the door as he was rushing to afternoon prayer service. By the way, there are punch codes for everything, even the bathrooms. So, this internship may not only cost me money but the health of my urinary tract system.
Post #3, Just Like the Kardashians
I apologize that this post is already later than I originally intended, but fear not; the memories of familial tension, nay “tension” is too delicate, fracas are still quite vivid. I think my 11 year old cousin Samantha summed it up best when she turned to me, ashen and somber just 12 hours after her arrival in New York, and said, “Oh my god, there is so much drama. We’re just like the Kardashians.” Indeed, sage cousin Sam, we are just like the Kardashians. Certainly, the similarity would be more obvious if Kris Kardashian were not ambulatory, and Kim challenged family members Pilates exercises during Passover seders (BTW, Kardashians, there’s still time, and I have a limit on how many times I will watch Kim fake complain about posing naked; that last part was a lie).
I truly do wish I had timed this because it may have been a new family record of under a minute flat before my grandma and aunt got into a fight. Things began tumultuously when my grandmother reached over to hug my aunt, and she warned, “Don’t touch me. I spent the train ride covered in dog crap.” That actually wasn’t my aunt’s strategy to block physical contact with my grandmother. Cousin Sam had accidentally stepped in some canine mess (welcome to NY) while rushing to catch the train after already taking a seven-hour bus ride. I imagine that my aunt was in a state of mind similar to the last remaining contestants onSurvivor when they dramatically hurl only slightly veiled insults at each other: exhausted, covered in too much fecal matter, and looking for a kill. My aunt is the teensiest bit of Weight Watchers, diet nut, and she lovingly shoved South Beach brownies and Crystal Light packets at me that she brought from Virginia. This was, of course, necessary because we don’t carry any of those items in New York. In fact, we don’t have supermarkets. Aunt Nora came off of the train with about as much patience for my grandma as there were natural ingredients in those pelted food items.
Thus, it only took something innocuous like my grandma saying she had dinner ready, for my aunt to come swinging with a sharp jab to the face. “Oh really, Mom, you cooked? Because you look like you haven’t eaten in months.” Some color commentary: my aunt and grandma have an ongoing battle over who has a bigger eating disorder. As I picked up falling packets of various artificial sugar supplements, Aunt Nora’s shot heard round the world reverberated in my ears and the battle had begun.
Before you start feeling bad for my grandma, let me make something very clear. Skilled, stinging, with a flair for the dramatics and a tendency towards histrionic, my grandma is the Muhammad Ali of verbal assaults. Throw in a pinch of stereotypical Jewish mother guilt, and you’ve got a toxic combination of illogical anger and misplaced vibrato that is impossible to combat if you’re remotely sane. A brief sample of her sparring style from this weekend:
Aunt: I am worried about Dad’s driving.
Grandma: Why do you always have to make your father feel like a goddamn invalid? You’re making him into a vegetable, and I won’t take this in my house!
Grandma pauses to breath/refuel
Me nervously grabbing the sharp utensils up from the table and gulping raspberry Crystal Light: So, I bet that bus ride was-
Grandma: Never, never again will you stay in this house, if you insist on treating us with such disrespect! Only, only agita you give me!
“Agita” is my grandma’s favorite word. I used to think it was Yiddish because she was the only person I knew who used it on a regular basis. It seems more fitting a description for heartburn or an ulcer; apparently, we tend to have the same effect on my grandma as greasy Mexican food.
The wildcard in this mélange of relatives, though, was actually my own littlest brother, Ethan. I feel uncomfortable typing what exactly he said to my grandma because it would have made the writers of Entourageblush. Like my grandma, Ethan gravitates towards the theatrical, so he interacts with others as if he is putting on a show, attempting to draw laughter—-or tears. I wish he had gone for the former the day of the graduation for our brother Matt. While I waited over an hour in advance in the high school auditorium, having been forced out of my house too quickly to prep the screwdrivers I had intended to sneak in (I didn’t drink in high school and had every intention of making up for lost time), Ethan said some very ugly things to my grandma. This was the equivalent of ripping out my grandma’s heart and dancing the Macarena on it. In the middle of the auditorium filled with my local neighbors that exhale judgment, Momma clutched me, choking back tears, claiming she would never enter our house again as long as Ethan was there. Let me take this moment to remind you dear reader that Ethan is 13-not yet in high school. My parents and brother have grown accustomed to tuning Ethan out, as he resembles a schizophrenic, swearing puppy when he’s on a mean streak. Shocking, odd, and with great youtube potential, but hard to take seriously.
Grandma, though, takes everything as if it were an intimate, personal blow—-including comments and actions that have absolutely nothing to do with her. That was Friday (Cue the Rebecca Black hit that, yes, I did groove out to in the minivan and, subsequently, hit my head). Today is Tuesday, and Grandma and Ethan have finally fully made up. I would opine on this conciliation further, the power of blood and family to tie us together, the importance of forgiveness and flexibility, but my brother Matt accidentally hit himself in the balls with a water bottle. And although this happened two hours ago, I am still shaking with laughter and must excuse myself to go to the ladies room.
Greetings from Amtrak, Dear Reader
I sit here on the Amtrak Northeast Regional, trying to think of something coherent to write, and already I am off to the auspicious start of having initially spelled “write” as “right.” My degree in History and Literature is being put to good use already. Actually, my clean punctuation and tight grammar come from my parents. I come from a family in which my mother goes through my younger brother’s middle school yearbook, chastising his poor choice in friends because they confuse “your” and “you’re.” Shi-baby, your always tryin’ to make a move on me, just come on ovur-Yo, Shi, my (fill in racial slur that does not remotely match my white, Jewish brother), its two bad your so gay. With the little tart who gives head on the buses shuttling pre-teens to bar mitzvahs and the future Klan member my mother finds these grammatical errors most egregious. She has developed her own unique set of criteria for judgment; to each his own.
As always, I find myself talking and thinking about my family when I had never intended to, but they will be the subject of many more future posts (assuming I stick with this, which is unlikely if Bravo keeps feeding my addiction to The Real Housewives of New Jersey like a cruel dealer teasing his junkie with free samples to hook her). But let us return to the present Amtrak journey, dear reader. Ooo, how nice it feels to employ a fake Charles Dickens Great Expectations voice. On a mildly related side note, that was one of two books I read for my spring English class that had a syllabus of twelve. Focus, Emily! Anyway, what actually inspired me to write this, whatever this distracted, meandering ranting is, was the fact that about half an hour I sat in the cafe car and watched a slightly older than middle-age man sway a little before careening into the overhead storage and breaking the fall with his hands as his torso continued falling into a booth. Using every ounce of self control, I waited a solid four seconds before he got back to walking upright and was a proper 10 inches out of what I assume to be earshot before I burst into a fit of poorly stifled giggles.
I sounded nothing like the mature 21-year-old I assure you I am, as evidenced by my suspiciously stained Old Navy business pants that raise the question “toothpaste or cum?” in the mind of spectators. (It is then patently clear from the ill-fitting Chico’s blouse and unplucked eyebrows that it must be toothpaste). No, instead I sounded like an ailing hyena, which wasn’t helped by the fact that my upper body shook a little feverishly in my effort to contain my giggles. I then imagined what my booth-mate, a serious-as-a-heart-attack girl in horn-rimmed glasses using a fancy graphing calculator must think of this shaking, snorting chick that has found humor in an older man losing his equilibrium. I hear her on her smart phone mention that she is a volunteer. She could be a volunteer for a shelter with kittens or for Dog the Bounty Hunter, but I can tell from the way she says “volunteer” she is most certainly judging my sophomoric sense of humor.
Anyone who has known me for more than an hour knows that there is nothing I love more than watching people trip and fall down. I can watch marathons of America’s Funniest Home Videos and never tire of watching children hitting wiffle balls into their fathers’ groins or old ladies slip on dance floors at weddings. Even really miserable and sad stories that could only possibly be misconstrued as having an element of comedy in the mind of a masochistic psychopath I find unfortunately hilarious. A friend was telling me about how his eighty-five year old aunt fell down the steps of his backyard and hurt her neck and was in a rehab facility for weeks. Guess who laughed uncontrollably for fifteen minutes and proceeded to laugh at least once every hour at the thought of the toppling octogenarian? This kid. To be fair, I consider myself an equal opportunity offender. In attempting to climb up a bunk bed with my upper-body skills a notch or two below that of my friend’s great aunt, I hit my head on the ceiling and fell back and laughed so hard, I wet myself. Suffice it to say I was not asked to sleep on the top bunk again. Score!
So, why did this falling man and my spurt of ugly giggles cause me to put down the charming, and slightly annoying, British romantic comedy novel I was reading to write? I am asking myself the same question. Honestly, for weeks I have been meaning to write. I am home and unemployed, and as draining as changing the addresses and salutations on cover letters are, I have been meaning to use some of this free time to write. I have donated two summers of work to the great charity called Metro-North, and I bring a little notebook on the train ride into Manhattan to brainstorm ideas. It has been almost entirely fiction, and I do hope I will start actually developing some of them into stories. But, I started writing blog posts instead. Maybe it was the reminder of my ridiculously skewed sense of humor that I would like to explain to the serious horn-rimmed glasses girl sitting across from me so she doesn’t think I am a cruel lunatic, or at least waits to deem me as such until she knows me better when we arrive in South Station.
Unfortunately, although I keep sketchily glancing up at her, wondering if she can tell what I am writing, she will most likely never read this and understand my awkward looks and random outbursts of laughter (yes, every time I have recalled this physically unbalanced man I have giggled very annoyingly again). However, I am really glad that this got me writing, for whatever reason, because, dear reader, it feels good and right. Although that kind of rationalization won’t hold as sufficient justification in a court of law, it seems strong enough for starting this blog. As I have repeatedly mentioned, I would bet dollars to donuts (though I prefer donuts) that I fizzle out pretty quickly. I also have no idea what I will be writing about. Maybe it will be how this interview I am heading to goes, maybe it will be what life in suburbia is like, maybe it will be about adventures in unemployment, or better yet, adventures in walking across highways with my double knee-replacement grandma; all of these, except the last one, sound incredibly cliche and probably whiny, so I will try to avoid them.
If you look in My Documents, and you would be incredibly rude and invasive to do so, so for goodness’ sake, don’t, but if you did, you would see essays and papers from the past four years labeled “crap,” “crap2,” “crapp,” “crappy crap crap,” “FML,” and “I hate Ashley” (Ashley being a TA I liked none too well). This last one aside, I would probably says any of one of those could serve as a collective title for what I will write about, not so much because I think it is crappy, but because it is a grab-bag for which I can’t think of a better title. This was why I named all those other documents as such-that and extreme frustration and exhaustion at four in the morning.
I have had friends who go away to incredibly cool and exotic places for the summer, and they start blogs to keep everyone apprised of their exciting and fascinating travels/ brag. I am not going anywhere particularly cool, but I hope whatever I write will still be enjoyable and entertaining. Dear reader, if you have made it this far, thank you.