The Real World

“Wrong, a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It’s not surprising our friendship could survive that. It’s only out there in the real world that it gets tough.” Nick, The Big Chill

We must have watched that movie a dozen times when it was first released in 1983. Delia and I were in our early 20s then and in the best part of our friendship. Something about that film spoke to us and we would often turn to it on a slow weekend. Armed with pizza, liquor, and chocolate, we would immerse ourselves in the beautiful intricacies of the adult friendships portrayed in the movie. Secure in the knowledge that we would be in each other’s lives forever. When we started to fall apart, death by a thousand cuts, I decided to watch it again. Hearing the line spoken by the William Hurt character almost 40 years removed, it felt as if he were patiently explaining to me in the present what should have been a prescient warning back then.

I’d always longed for a best friend. The kind that the teen magazines and TV sitcoms suggested was not only necessary, but easily obtainable. Even as adults, and mainly female adults, we are constantly being given the impression that everyone has a “person”, a “best friend forever(!)”. Some lucky coupling that apparently happened soon out of the womb and lasted through the dementia years. Like a hearty cup of tea, a cozy and safe backdrop to catch us when life trips us up. As a young girl, the best I’d ever managed were always problematic threesomes, where I was frequently the odd girl out. 

Delia and I first became friends early on in high school, and what commenced were the usual escapades of typical girls in suburban America. We were there for each other’s joys and heartbreaks, cheering and crying in equal measure. Her dream was to get married and have babies and mine was to go to college and move far away. While we were each pursuing these paths, we dated boys and drank white zinfandel and laughed. We laughed a lot. I don’t even remember at what. If we weren’t with a boy or at our local watering hole, we would be on her family room couch watching our go-to movie and drinking Kahlua and coffee. He mom would walk in and ask us what was so funny, and we’d just laugh. We didn’t even know why. It was just all so funny. 

I had always fantasized about visiting southern California. One day, Delia called and said, “let’s go for the weekend!” This was in the days where flying across the country was not the commonplace experience it is today. We were two wide-eyed New Jersey girls who’d never been much west of Pennsylvania. I’ll never forget walking on Rodeo Drive for the first time, staring in wonder at a world I’d only ever seen on television. I’d go back again later with other friends, but nobody understood the first-time magic of it all better than Delia. We were eating breakfast at a place in Laguna Beach one morning and noticed how jovial everyone seemed. We asked the waitress if it were some holiday we didn’t know about. “Oh”, she says, “every day is a holiday in Laguna!” That was our catch phrase for years if we needed to laugh. We didn’t even know why. We just found it all so funny.

So, I ended up as a part of that rarefied world to which I had always dreamed of belonging. I had my person. She was my person before we both grew up, and made lives, and started paying attention and forming opinions. I had a person for a very long time, until I didn’t. The end was less a slaughter than a form of mutually accepted euthanasia.

Per the wisdom of Scout, the narrator and protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird: “never, never, never, on cross-examination ask a witness a question you don’t already know the answer to . . . do it, and you’ll often get an answer you don’t want, an answer that might wreck your case”.  

It was a fall day of yesteryear, the dawn after a presidential election, and I was mourning the improbable results. Sleep deprived and shell shocked, I texted my person. I posed a question that I didn’t know the answer to and then, got an answer that I didn’t want. And it wrecked me.

I had plenty of friends to commiserate with, but I desperately needed to connect with my person that morning. Delia and I had never talked seriously about politics before. I knew she leaned right to my left. I knew she didn’t like “big government”, though she never could explain what that meant for her. I knew that she would never consider an abortion herself but was pro-choice. I knew she owned a gun. I also knew that she had a gay son and a bisexual daughter. So, I held out hope that maybe we were aligned on this election. When I asked her, “did you vote for him?”, she replied, “of course, don’t you know me?” And I had to admit to myself that maybe I didn’t.

In the ensuing years, I told myself that a mature person can separate politics from friendship. I told myself that Delia wasn’t really like those MAGA folks on TV. I tried to compartmentalize the part of her that I didn’t agree with, bargaining with myself that our deep bond should outweigh any political disagreement. I would try and make light of it. I’d send her political jokes. Look how funny it all is! But every time I did that, I’d feel as if I were betraying a part of myself. I would think “if only she knew” . . . so I’d send her article after article trying to encourage an “aha” moment. It never happened. And with the 24-hour news cycle ensuring I was aware of every school shooting, threat to reproductive rights, unremitting anti-immigrant sentiment, and on and on, all I could think of was: my person’s vote did this. And it enraged me. 

I wasn’t shrewd enough to keep my anger from spilling over into our interactions. And she wasn’t so obtuse that she didn’t feel this. It was a rift neither of us officially acknowledged, but it was undeniable, and I wanted to fix it. I missed us so terribly. About a year ago, I drove through her state during a cross country trip, so we could meet in person. And it was so wonderful to be with her, as if no time had gone by. We cleared the air, as she felt like I’d beaten her up over the years and I conceded that I probably had. The easy laughter was like a balm. We agreed we would avoid politics that evening. However, it proved difficult not to wander into, even for her. We had vastly different opinions on serious topics: systemic racism (“doesn’t exist”) and the January 6th insurrection (“a peaceful demonstration over a possibly stolen election”) to name just a couple. We departed the evening cordially, but I felt offended by her. After that, our contact was superficial, yet civil, until even that was no longer tenable.

The chat that ended up being the final death knell isn’t relevant. What mattered was that our twosome had turned toxic and that all we could agree on was that we should be done. For as long as I’d been so angry with her, the rapidness with which that anger was let go and supplanted with relief, surprised me. I vacillate between this and feelings of chilling heartbreak. I’m not sure how to deal with the dichotomy because I thought the “best friend” moniker was incontrovertible. I realize now, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a relationship, to expect it to perfectly evolve with the life trajectory of two separate beings. I feel sad though for those two young women on the couch in 1983. Blithely unaware how accurate that quote from their beloved movie would turn out to be. Or that one day they would stop finding it all so funny.

Parental Stains

When I was fresh out of college with my first big-girl job, I paid a visit to my parents. They had retired to a southern state by then and I had relocated to California. Our visits were few and far between. During one breakfast outing they sat listening to me ramble on about my life. Their eyes and ears laser focused on my every word. Smiling in wonder and awe as if I were describing my recent cure for cancer or having written the Magna Carta. I’d done no such things. I had a government job that barely paid enough to keep me in Top Ramen noodles. I slept in a sleeping bag in my studio apartment because I couldn’t afford furniture and I didn’t own a TV. 

And yet. I was their golden girl, albeit one whom they never outwardly harbored much ambition for. My mother once told me that my father would just be happy if I managed to graduate high school without getting pregnant. As if. Anyone paying attention to me during those years would roll their eyes at the sheer inanity of that thought. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed and a virgin until college. To say my parents were proud of the adult I became would be an understatement. Yet I always harbored the suspicion that they never really saw me. 

Midway through my breakfast soliloquy, I excused myself to use the restroom. And there in the mirror, my reflection showed a rather prolific glob of ketchup on my chin. I had sat directly in front of my parents for more than an hour and they hadn’t bothered to notice this. Or if they did, they didn’t deem it important enough to kindly alert me to it. This may seem like a minor thing, but in that harsh florescent bathroom light a larger truth was illuminated: there is nothing sadder than the realization that the people who claim to love you blindly do just that. And during all that love, they may miss the things that matter. I’ve come to learn that being seen is what we need the most from a very young age, yet somehow this can be incredibly challenging to those who are tasked with seeing us. 

My parents did their best, as most of us do. Humans come to parenthood armed with the traumas which went unresolved from their own childhoods. My parents, and particularly my mother, had many of these. A hardscrabble upbringing that would rival the most tragic Lifetime movie drama. My mother suffered the death of her own mother and two siblings while still an adolescent living in Kentucky coal country. Her father then split up the remaining three children, leaving the two younger ones to be raised by a kindly aunt and uncle. He gave my mother away to a family she didn’t know so she could be a nanny for their young children. My mother was eleven years old at the time. What followed was abusive neglect and a stint in a tuberculosis sanitorium, where my mother spent her teenage years as essentially a ward of the state.

She met my father as a young woman determined never to trust anyone. And yet she had, and still has, a surprisingly sweet and optimistic nature. It confounded anyone who knew anything about her history, though few ever did. My father was her confidant and biggest supporter until the day he died. He loved my brother and I, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he absolutely worshipped my mother. He was protective of her and by proxy, so were her children. It was understood from a young age that mommy had it rough as a kid and we were to provide the necessary emotional guardrails. 

When I was ten, my mother began having a lot of doctor’s appointments. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, they were always after school, and she always brought my brother and I with her. Those afternoons would last for hours, or so it felt at the time. Eventually, we were made to understand that mom would be going into the hospital. I was young, but certainly old enough to be given an explanation as to why. If for no other reason than to ease my mind. Left to my own devices, I began to piece together whispered bits of intel. “Surgery”, “cancer”, “breast”. 

When my mother returned from her hospital stay, I had visual confirmation of the change to her body, but I couldn’t quite accept this. It seemed so scary and unreal that my mother had an actual body part removed. I would sit on our hallway staircase during the night trying to make sense of it. A feeling of cold terror persisted that my small body eventually manifested into a nasty case of the Chicken Pox. And still, no one told me anything. In my father’s defense, it must have been terrifying, and he didn’t really see the scared little girl in his house, because he couldn’t. He needed to see her as strong and able to tell him where the laundry detergent was. Slowly, life went back to normal, only now with a heightened sense of the care-taking my mother required and the emotional fortitude expected of me. 

It took me a long time to recognize that by having children my mother was attempting to fill a huge void caused by the trauma of her childhood. It makes me sad for her, but also angry. When I was pregnant with my first child, she told me that her doctors didn’t think she was healthy enough to have a child, but she badly wanted to become a mother. A baby would be “someone to love and love me back, my best friend”.  It was a lot to expect from a baby. The baby who happened to be me. It took me an even longer time to accept that this is not a healthy approach towards motherhood and children are never responsible for the emotional wherewithal of their parents, no matter what. 

That breakfast with my parents was long ago and my own daughters are now adults. As they got older, I’ve shared with them the frustrations with my mother, their grandmother. Ideally, when we decide to become parents, we carry forward the best parts of our childhood and improve upon those which were lacking. I’ve done things differently than my own parents but I’m under no illusion that my kids won’t identity behaviors they want to run screaming from. However, they will do so without ketchup on their face because I will have alerted them to this fact. 

Freedom Dog

As I drove around the corner today, our nice neighbor lady was walking her little dog.  As she saw my car approach, she waived her hands furiously to warn me about another little dog wandering in the street. I’m well familiar with this little guy, who I will herein refer to as “Foxy” – because he resembles a little red fox. That is not his real name, but Foxy is entitled to his privacy.  I stopped the car and we commiserated with each other over the fate of this sweet dog. He is frequently seen roaming our streets, often without his collar or tags. “I know” I say, “we’ve brought him back home several times already, we’ve talked to the owner, he doesn’t seem to care.”  

She is only one of many neighbors who have complained about the negligence of Foxy’s owner, who I will herein refer to as “Burning Man” or “BM” for short. I chose this moniker because his disposition reflects the type I imagine frequents the Burning Man festival: middle-aged surfer/techie dude taking pride in his laissez-faire attitude towards life, smugly above the societal expectations plaguing mankind. If you google Burning Man, among the values its participants promote are “radical self-reliance” and “communal effort”. So, Foxy’s free-riding lifestyle makes sense in this regard.  

Aside from the safety issues, Foxy will naturally relieve himself wherever he sees fit while on his daily strolls. He is especially keen on leaving his excrement in his immediate neighbor’s driveway. When said neighbor brought this to BM’s attention, he usefully suggested that she leave a receptacle of some sort in her driveway, so Foxy would know better where to focus. Evidently, BM is big on the “communal effort” value.  

Nice neighbor lady was surprised that BM was so careless about Foxy, because apparently this breed of dog is rather expensive. She went on to tell me that Foxy is a Pharaoh Hound. I don’t know my dog breeds that well, and besides, where I live, I’m mainly surrounded by designer doodle mixes (including my own), so this information intrigued me. The Pharaoh hound is a Maltese hunting dog, traditionally adept at hunting rabbits in the rocky terrain of Malta. It had been thought that the breed descended from the dogs shown in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings. This would have been a cool heritage for little Foxy, but the theory was debunked by some pesky DNA studies. The first litter to be born outside of Malta was in the United Kingdom in 1963. It all makes little Foxy even more interesting.

As my husband and I take our daily walks around the ‘hood with our dog Charlie, Foxy will frequently pop out and join us. The first few times, I dutifully brought him back, ensuring he was safely behind closed doors (BM helpfully leaves his doors unlocked). Lately, we just let him follow us until we reach our house, after which Foxy makes his way back home. We made the effort to bring him back to his house a few times because it felt wrong to let him wander. However, after watching him trot back home one day, we realized that like any 1980s latch-key kid worth his salt, Foxy could manage. 

This past weekend, Foxy departed from our usual route. He was beckoned by the sound of dogs barking in another house on our street. There is a fine line between being a good neighbor and enabling a neighbor’s bad behavior by letting them shirk their responsibilities. I wrestle with this because I don’t want Foxy to be in harm’s way. However, I resent that I’m left to be indirectly responsible for his welfare because his owner can’t be bothered. As we watch Foxy depart from us, and I’m saying a silent prayer that he makes it home safely, BM comes speeding by in his minivan. He is driving erratically, apparently searching for Foxy. This is a new development. We flag him down and direct him to the neighbor’s house. 

So far, our interactions with BM have been pleasant. When we have returned Foxy to him, he is jocular, “oh, he joined you on your walk again!” As if this is a fortunate and rare happenstance, versus the reality that BM never seems to notice or even care that Foxy has escaped.  I’m so exasperated by this man-child that I lose my temper and tell him that we’ve prevented Foxy from being hit by cars, that he might want to take better care of Foxy, that I’m worried Foxy will get hurt. BM smiles and shrugs. It baffles me. I also realized that my words had zero effect on him, and the only outcome of this encounter was that I walked away angry. 

Foxy is a beautiful and good-natured dog and deserves a better owner. Not a perfect owner, but one that cares enough to keep him safe. I say this as an admittedly non-perfect dog owner. My dog sleeps in our bed, has grilled burgers added to her kibble, and is a frequent table surfer. Some might be as critical of my dog care skills as I am about BM. It’s all about context I suppose. BM possibly grew up in one of those neighborhoods where a wandering dog was part of the scenery and communal caretaking was the norm. Or he’s just irresponsible and expects the rest of the world to bear the brunt of his inactions. It does seem a bit like a metaphor for a few other current affairs going on in the world. But that’s a topic for a separate essay.

Back to today’s episode. I tell nice neighbor lady to place Foxy in my car and I’ll deliver him home. Instead of dropping Foxy in the unlocked side door, I decide to ring BM’s front doorbell.  When he answers he is his usual cheery self, greeting me with a hearty “hi!”. I simply say, “delivery for you, he was wandering the streets again” (I add an eyeroll just for effect, which was probably lost on BM). He smiles widely and says “thanks!”. 

There is a part of me that, particularly when I see Foxy without his collar, wants to rush him to the humane society or call animal welfare. A little vigilante justice I can enact on BM. It pains me to think that there is someone out there who would cherish this little guy when clearly his owner does not. Or he does and I’m just an uptight rule follower with a different approach. Years ago, when I used to do traffic duty at my kids’ school, some dad had the audacity to park where he shouldn’t have. I lambasted him for not following the rules. He told me to chill. He was in the wrong, but I also did need to chill. So, I will continue to be on the lookout for Foxy. But only if it doesn’t interfere with my own dog’s spa appointment.

This is not the real Foxy.

Brain Dump

“I killed me some gophers/moles/voles, whatever the hell they are . . .  I started digging it out again and this little pink snout came out pushing more dirt.  I quickly lit the bomb and shoved it right in his face, quickly covered the hole and ran down, lit the other bomb.  Let’s hope it worked but I think I probably have a whole assortment of critters down there.”

It’s good to have a project to focus on right now.  A lot of my friends seem to be into bread baking.  Others are at it with online exercise or miscellaneous types of remote learning.  Several are volunteering at food banks or various COVID related endeavors.  A few have even figured out Tik Tok. My friend above is channeling her monotony into critter extermination.  I felt a bit sad for the little pink snout being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but no judgement for my friend, who is actually a very nice person.  We must take our little victories where we can in these troubled times.

Clearly people are bored though and looking for projects.  Last week, I received an email instructing me to send $2,000 (in bitcoin) to an unidentified individual within 24 hours.  If I failed to do so, said person would forward all of my (alleged) internet porn activity to my nearest and dearest.  Said person noted that I should not wait to get on this because, “you don’t want people to see what kind of kinky stuff you’re into, lmao”.  He (I’m just guessing at gender here) also warned me: “don’t waste my time by pretending you don’t know how to use bitcoin” (I actually do not know how to use bitcoin, and this could have been a learning opportunity I suppose). My new virtual friend sent me the same email three days in a row.  Then he gave up.  I’m hoping that if my live friends have received any porn related activity involving me, they will let me know.

I haven’t been bored enough to send people threatening emails.  I haven’t been bored at all actually.  I spend my days monitoring the equilibrium in my household and this takes copious amounts of emotional time and energy.  Our family dynamic, on an average day, ranges anywhere between The Brady Bunch and Married . . . with Children. I’m either channeling Carol Brady’s sunny optimism or Peg Bundy’s alcohol-infused maternal neglect and shallowness.  It’s not just the virus. It’s the whole state of things in our country. I think even Carol Brady would be tossing one back just about now.

It’s a unique thing to parent an adult child. I like that we can share a glass of wine. I like that I don’t have to curb my language. I like that I can tell them the truth and have real conversations. I may be an outlier in my demographic, but I’m relieved that their childhoods are over. I spent most of it holding my breath, hoping they would turn out okay.  They turned out better than okay, but the world I’ve forced them into is horrid. My only real job left as their parent is to reassure them that everything will be okay.  Frankly, I’m having a hard time with that one lately.

Since that awful day in November 2016, I’ve been waiting for the grown-ups to tell me everything is going to be okay. The President has either fired all the grown-ups or anyone who dares him to do the right thing. There is an entire news channel dedicated to promoting him – even when he doesn’t tell the truth. If polls mean anything, it seems around a third of the country take this as gospel. The chunk of government whose job it is to keep a check on presidential power, has effectively abdicated its responsibility.  Our free press is routinely threatened by the President. The actions of our Attorney General would seem to suggest that he is no longer independent. Who is left to protect us? Who is left to make it all okay?

I have a close friend who is surrounded by family that not only disagrees with her politically, but thinks the President is doing a great job as a leader.  I asked her how she can still have a real relationship with these people.  Here was her answer: “I turn off a part of my brain when I’m with them”.  So, kids, that’s the answer I guess to living in today’s America.  Turn off your brain.  It is so not okay.

Girls trip with my daughter. Unseasonably warm January weekend. Manhattan. Upper East Side. The Mark Hotel. Strolling in Central Park. Browsing in Bloomingdales. The Strand Bookstore. Moulin Rouge on Broadway. Italian at Scalinatella, Asian Fusion at Tao, French at Le Coucou, sushi at Nobu. “Should we get another bottle?” Pizza. Bagels. Sunday brunch with my beloved New Jersey family. My cousin’s five and eight-year-old daughters singing Lizzo songs.  Forgive me, I just needed a second to ruminate in a favorite recent memory, my last travel event – for this year and the foreseeable future.  I decided to be “present” that weekend and took no pictures.  I won’t make that mistake again.

Someone in our neighborhood decided to paint their house black and another neighbor is not too pleased about it. I know this because the guy called my husband to complain about it.  Jim is on our Homeowners Association (HOA) board, so he periodically fields complaints from well-meaning neighbors. In this case, the aggrieved neighbor wanted Jim to determine if the color was in violation and if so, take the necessary action.

I think the man is greatly overestimating the power of an HOA, or of my husband for that matter.  Jim does have a gold badge lying around somewhere from his 30 years with the Treasury Department.  No firearms though and plus, he’s more of a lover than a fighter.  Also, he’s been in ten weeks of lockdown living with a wife with dual personalities (Carol Brady/Peg Bundy), and loving daughters offering ongoing helpful feedback about: his diet, wardrobe, news sources, personality, diet, communication skills, diet, exercise routine, and diet.  So, he’s a bit worn down.

We checked out the offending house on our walk today. It’s really more charcoal colored and personally, I like it. Assuming they’re a good neighbor, maintaining their home, and not flying a confederate flag, I don’t much understand why anyone would complain about the color of a house.  Particularly at this moment in time when there are much bigger issues to worry ourselves about. Maybe that’s the point though. Focus on what we think we can control. Like the critters in our yards.

Speaking of things that we can control; we have goats in the ‘hood!  For the second consecutive year, hubby has facilitated a herd of goats to take care of brush clearing, thus greatly improving our chances in the event of fire.  There are 400 of them and they will be slowly making their way through our neighborhood over the next three weeks.  I wish they could stay forever.  Just seeing them makes my heart, and my brain, very happy.


45 Minutes

It was September.  I was 14 and had just started my freshman year of high school.  I was under-developed, insecure, naïve, and a rule follower. I was still trying to find my way both figuratively and literally.  On this particular day, I got lost trying to find my English class. The bell was ringing as I ducked in at the last minute and grabbed a seat in the back row.  The class was chaotic, the teacher already having lost control.  This was the “C” level class.  In my high school they divided us into three groups: “A” classes were for the high achievers, “C” for the delinquents, and “B” for all the rest.  Thinking back to all of those standardized tests that I never took seriously in middle school, it’s no wonder I ended up where I was.

Those movies where the protagonist isn’t paying attention and she wanders into the wrong room, dark alley, frat house, etc.?  That’s how I see it now.  I stumbled into the wrong seat in a class I didn’t belong in.  Their names were Shawn and Michelle.  They turned around to look at me.  I smiled, because that’s what I always did.  That’s what I was trained to do.  “Smile Susie!”  It was a mistake.  Because it made me look exactly like what I was: prey.

I knew who they were.  You don’t live in the same small town your whole life, go through the school system with the same kids, and not know most everyone.  They were a couple.  He was a football player and a stoner.  She was beautiful, but the kind of beauty you expect to see in a 25-year-old, not a high school freshman.  In hindsight, I almost feel sorry for her.  Almost.

They started in on me immediately.  Words that no one could hear above the ruckus in the classroom.  Him keeping it purely physical, telling me what he’d do to me.  Words, that if they were uttered today, would qualify as a rape threat.  Her words were more an overall appraisal of me: ugly, bitch, cunt, stupid.   On and on it went for the entire class period, as I sat there in paralyzed silence.  A relentless spew of threats and cruelty.  I look at it now with a detached sort of wonderment, but I’ve never forgotten how terrified I was in that moment.  How trapped and alone and powerless I felt sitting in that chair.  How it was only 45 minutes, but it felt interminable.

I’ve discounted it over the years.  Played it down.  Justified it.  It wasn’t physical after all.  Only 45 minutes.  Just words. Not like they injured me or anything. They were just bullies.  Everyone’s been subjected to bullying at some point, right?  The experience made me stronger, yes?  Some might ask why I didn’t just get up and walk away?  Because it was 1977.  And good girls followed the rules.  They certainly didn’t leave in the middle of class.  Or I didn’t anyway.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to do that.  I’ve raised my daughters differently.

I came home after school that day to a blessedly empty house.  I lay down on my bed and cried and cried and cried.  Feeling desperate because I didn’t know what to do.  I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone.  Who to tell anyway?  I didn’t yet have the type of close friendships that I’d eventually form.  The thought of telling my parents was mortifying.  School administrators?  No way.  Phrases like “sexual harassment” and “hostile work environment” were not yet a part of our national vernacular.

All I knew, was I had to find a way out.  Years later, one of my supervisors at work praised me by saying “Susan always figures out how to get the job done.”  It has always been something I’ve prided myself on – that I figure a way out.  That experience with Shawn and Michelle, awful as it was, may have been a factor in the honing of my fight or flight response.  That is the sick way I’ve justified their actions over the years.  As if I owe them a fucking thank you card.

Though figure a way out, I did.  I convinced my parents that I was in the wrong class: the teacher was bad, and I wasn’t being challenged.  It wasn’t a total lie.  A call to my guidance counselor was all it took to get me in with the “B Listers”.   After that, I was pretty much able to avoid Shawn and Michelle.  In a school of 1200 students, it can be fairly easy to make yourself invisible, or at least beige.  I did let my guard down once though, and Michelle cornered me in the girls bathroom.  Fortunately, by then I had learned how to walk away.  I did however become extremely adept at restroom navigation for the remainder of my high school years.

Eventually, Michelle and Shawn broke up, and they forgot about me.  A couple of years later, Michelle showed up in my history class.  She demonstrated no memory of me at all.  Rumor has it she was pretty heavily into drugs at that point.  It could have been that or, more likely, I was simply sport for her and Shawn.  Meaningless cruel fun for them, trauma for 14-year old me.

Michelle disappeared after that, didn’t graduate with our class.  I’m not sure what became of her.  Shawn popped back into my life courtesy of social media and then at our 30-year high school reunion.  It was unsettling seeing him. This now grown man who had so affected me as a young girl.  It was odd listening to people comment on what a sweet guy he was. It took only a bit of liquid courage for me to confront him.  Naturally, he didn’t remember me or what he had done.  When I mentioned Michelle, he had the gall to commiserate with me, “oh, I lost a lot of friends because of her”.  Sure, blame it on the chick.

I’ll give him this much – though he didn’t remember anything, he showed some genuine remorse that he’d been the cause of my pain.  And while he probably shouldn’t have said “well, you seem to have turned out fine anyway”, he did apologize several times.  Even had the DJ play my favorite song.  It was something. Or maybe I’m cutting him too much slack.  At the time though, it was cathartic.

After that, he friended me on Facebook.  We had a pleasant banter for a few years even though we were diabolically opposed politically: he was a full on #MAGA Trump supporter.  Still, he would check in with me occasionally just to see how I was; later, I would donate to his go fund me page when he received his cancer diagnosis.  Eventually, the pleasant banter turned ugly.  It could’ve been politics or his illness or just him.  I don’t think he was a bad person.  I think he did stupid things a very long time ago and I was the unfortunate recipient for 45 minutes.  Still, he was now making me uncomfortable, and I was no longer 14, so I blocked him. And, that was cathartic too.  A few months after that, I heard he passed away.

They say living well is the best revenge.  And I’ve lived very well, better than anyone including myself could have predicted when I was 14.  So, I guess Shawn was right.  I did turn out fine.

Raining Lattes

Another transcript of a conversation with my husband on an unknown day. 

Husband: “Wow, what are you doing?”

Me: “What does it look like I’m doing?”

Husband: “I know, I just . . . I’ve never seen you do that before.”

Me: “You’ve never seen me clean a toilet before?”

Husband: (pauses for deep thoughts) “No, I don’t think I have.  I didn’t know you did that.”

Me: “Really, in 24 years of living here, you’ve never seen me clean a toilet?”

Husband: “I don’t think so.”

Me: (pauses for deep thoughts) “Maybe you’re right.”

Husband: (slowly walks away, mumbling to himself) “Wow, how about that.”

For the record, I’ve cleaned lots of toilets in my lifetime.  People who know me will be extremely surprised to learn that I actually did a stint as a housekeeper during high school.  However, for most of my adulthood, I’ve been fortunate enough to employ someone to clean my home.  Ana arrives every other week and I’m always grateful to see her.  She’s worked for us for 21 years and we are continuing to pay her throughout the shutdown.  This made me feel slightly better when I texted her last week to ask her how to clean my kitchen appliances.  When I clean the damn things, they look worse.  Her answer: “soap and water Mrs. Susan, soap and water”.  The simplest solution is almost always the best, so the theory goes.

These are not simple times though.  Armed men yelling at nurses (nurses!).  Women demanding “choice” over their bodies, holding “Trump 2020” signs, completely missing the irony in this.  A president battling his own science advisors and encouraging protesters with his inflammatory tweets: “Liberate!”.  Indeed, please someone liberate us from this madness.  I tell you, it’s enough to make this elitist-snowflake’s head explode.  And this was all before the President’s comments on disinfectant.

Fortunately for me, I get to live in a place saturated with like-minded thinkers.  A veritable bastion of liberal optimism. Raining oat-milk lattes and bleeding hearts in equal measure. I imagine it is frustrating to live here if you’re on the “other” side though.  I volunteered at our local polling station during the most recent election.  It wasn’t hard to notice how some people would avoid looking me in the eye while they whispered “republican” when asked which ballot they wanted.

Despite being raised by their parents, it seems my kids are better able to manage relationships across the partisan divide.  Visiting our daughter at college last year, we attended a party with a few of her friends and their parents.  The hosts were of a different political bent than us.  Before we entered the house, my daughter and her friend pulled us aside to lecture us: “We all hate Trump.  Say it, get it out of your system. We can’t talk about it tonight, ok?  Ok, we’re going in”.

While I’m not as mature as my daughters, I actually do have a few close friends who lean a bit more conservative.  People who feel differently than I do about abortion and guns and religion, though we tend to agree on our opinion of the President. Before I post something on social media, I try to view it through their eyes, and temper my message.  I rarely succeed though.  My posts are the typical panoply of left-wing angst meant to tap into the outrage felt by the majority of my friends.  I truly appreciate it when my conservative pals are brave enough to wade into these waters and question me on something I’ve said.  It doesn’t always feel great, but it forces me to own my words, which is a good thing.  The conversations that have turned really ugly?  Those people have mostly unfriended me – virtually and in real life.  As it should be, I guess.

It’s hard to know when to engage with some people though.  Is it worth responding to the acquaintance who seems to think that JFK is alive and secretly attending Trump’s rallies, and that 9/11 was an inside job?  Do I bother to debate the distant family member floating conspiracy theories by an anti-vaxxer “scientist” (yes, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, pretty sure we’ve determined that)?  Do I attempt dispassionate discourse when these folks claim other alternative facts (no, abortions do not cause breast cancer)?   I don’t have it in me to debate these people just for sport.  They would make for fun anthropological case studies, however.

To end on a corny positive note.  My neighborhood feels like a living thing at the moment.  Different from how it usually feels.  Lots of young families, walking around en masse with toddler bikes and strollers.  People are sitting outside, chatting from a socially acceptable distance.  Basketball is being played in driveways. Lots of dogs are being walked that I hadn’t noticed before.  We’ve passed the same guy and his pup for the past few weeks and for the first time today, neither of our dogs barked at each other.

And, best of all, we now have a Little Free Library in our ‘hood, compliments of a really good neighbor.  This makes me ridiculously happy.  Bookstores were my happy place, my escape.  I miss them terribly.  I have a book fetish that I’m not ashamed of.  I read a lot of stuff online, but I refuse to read my books this way.  You will have to pry a book out of my cold dead hands before I cave and use a Kindle.  Not that the little book box makes up for a bookstore, but it will remain a permanent fixture long after the COVID crisis.  And, it gives me hope that actual physical books might just remain viable in the future.  As a sign of the times, there is also hand sanitizer in the book box.  No Clorox though.


Try Not to Breathe


My calendar today shows an appointment to have my hair colored.  Obviously, this will not be happening.  Worse, as if to taunt me further, the facial ID function on my iphone has mysteriously stopped working.  I’m certain it’s sheer coincidence that my own phone fails to recognize me on the very same day that my real hair color starts to make an appearance.  Still, I was a little taken aback.   I felt like saying, “hey, it’s me, I swear!”  My iphone can be forgiven for its confusion though.  As time goes on, and my motivation for self-beautification wanes, my eyebrows alone have me bearing a striking resemblance to my father – or any other elderly male with facial hair challenges.

This pandemic thing is mind-blowingly surreal.  Like most others, I’ve not lived through anything that has had an impact on such a grand scale.  I have exactly two feelings that I vacillate between throughout the day and there seems to be no middle ground.  At certain moments, I experience a heartfelt feeling of solidarity with my fellow humans.

I like this Facebook page called “View from My Window”.   People post just one picture of their view from wherever they happen to be while doing the #stayhome thing.  It’s comforting to be able to commiserate with people from Brazil and Alaska and Madagascar and Bulgaria and Mississippi and Zimbabwe and Moscow.   It’s that whole, “we’re in this together!” shtick that gives me the warm fuzzies.  I get the same feeling when I’m driving and hear sirens, and I observe everybody getting out of the way for the emergency responders.  This is embarrassing, but I always get a little choked up when I see that.  I guess it just feels good to know that when shit gets real, people instinctively do the right thing.

Well, not everyone.  Apparently, a bunch of Kansas lawmakers ignored their governor’s shut down orders so they could go to church on Easter Sunday.  I don’t even know what to say to this, so I’ll just leave here this quote by Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

On the other side of my pandemic mood spectrum, is a ridiculously intense melancholy.  I say ridiculous because I don’t think I have any business being down, and frankly, I’m starting to get on my own nerves.  It’s less the fear of the virus itself though, than a specific feeling I get after listening to the president speak about it.  I feel hobbled.  That is the most apt word I can come up with.  That scene from the movie Misery?  The one where the Kathy Bates character takes her mallet and gives the James Caan character a hearty whack at the ankles?  It’s awful to watch.  That’s how I feel though.  Every time Trump speaks.  A little more hobbled.  The possibility that this guy could be foisted upon us for another four years because a large swath of the populace views him through a different lens makes me so sad for our country.  It would almost be easier to just throw in the towel, go with the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality, and start watching Fox news.  They certainly seem pretty joyful in denial land.

I won’t do that though, because a little painful reality is necessary sometimes.  Once a year, I get a breast MRI.  I do this strictly for early cancer detection purposes because I have a family history of this nasty disease.  I’m determined to get the fucker before it gets me.  Breast MRIs are not pleasant.  They’re like Disneyland rides – if Disneyland were created by a person who was bullied in high school, and is still really, really angry about it.  You lay face down, arms above your head, in a dark tunnel, with a very loud jackhammer like noise pounding in your ears for about six hours.

Actually, it’s only about a half hour, but it FEELS like six hours.  They give you a myriad of instructions before you enter this shaft of doom.  The most eye-roll inducing one being the “try not to breathe” mandate.   This always has the opposite effect on me.   I’m so anxiety ridden by the whole process itself (not to mention the reason I’m doing it and the potential outcome), that I end up with my heart pounding so scary fast and my breathing so rapid that I feel like I’m drowning.   This inevitably leads the young male technician (it’s always a male for some reason), to helpfully advise me mid-ride by saying “try not to breathe so heavily”.  Fuck you son.

I only bring this up, because since this whole Global Pandemic fun house started, I’ve been visited frequently by the hyperventilation thing.  In my more paranoid moments, my head goes to the bad place (shortness of breath?! what’s my temperature!).  The only thing that calms me down is when my rational side kicks in and I remind myself that I feel the same way during an MRI, so I’m likely not heading for the ventilator.  Not today, anyway.

I’ve inadvertently used this time as a weird kind of sick leave.  An excuse to wallow in my manufactured sadness and not do anything terribly productive.  I need to stop.  Because, this shut down is not ending anytime soon.  As if to remind me, I found this random vignette below set up on my kitchen counter.   I took it as a sign.  Gumby standing next to my water flask with my “end gun violence” bracelet.  Gumby basically telling me to snap out of it and get back to the stuff that I claimed to be so passionate about before this all started.  Stuff that will still matter when all this ends.  Gumby would probably also tell me to keep breathing.



True Stories

Actual transcript of a perfect conversation with my husband on an unknown day.

Husband:  I can’t believe it’s Friday already.

Me:  It’s not Friday, it’s Thursday.

Husband:  No, it’s Friday.

Me:  Are you sure?

Husband:  Pretty sure.

Me:  No, it’s Thursday because yesterday was garbage day.

Husband:  No, that was two days ago.

Me: Are you sure?

Husband: Well . . . I think so.  Maybe not.

I realize that this is not a particularly interesting story, but it is true, and it was Friday.   I’m long removed from the mental haze of new motherhood, and hopefully still far enough away from age-related dementia.  So, the fact that we were having a conversation like this, well, it begs to be documented.  Here are some other true things, or true for me anyway, in these surreal times  .  .  .

Last night I had assembled the makings for two flawless Lemon Drop cocktails:  Just the right amount of vodka.  Juice from a freshly squeezed lemon.  A dollop of homemade simple syrup.  A splash of triple sec.  My martini glasses were beautifully rimmed with lemon infused sugar.  I had all the ingredients in the silver shaker, liberally filled with ice.  It was beautiful.  I began to rigorously shake, pouring all of my frustrations into my efforts.  The top was not secure and flew off mid-shake.  Half of my cocktail ended up in a puddle on the counter.

While I was creating my perfect cocktail, my husband had the news on in the background.  It was yet another press conference.  At this one, before the president stopped the science guy from answering a question, he continued to push for the use of a drug – one not yet proven to work with the current virus.  So, really, a very typical type of press briefing: suppression of scary truths and promotion of false hope.  Just another day at the White House.   You’d think that after almost four years of this, I’d be immune to it.  But at that moment, in my still sober state, looking at my lemon drop puddle, knowing that the fate of myself and those I love is tied to the whims of this man for the conceivable future, I felt such utter hopelessness.

Yet, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and poured the remaining paltry amount of cocktail into two glasses.  The news remained on.  I said to my husband he had a choice.  He could leave the news on, but he had to surrender his lemon drop over to me.  My husband is a wise man.  He immediately poured his drink into my glass and slowly backed away – to retrieve a replacement spirit for himself.

I’m not much of a crier.  It’s probably not healthy.  I tend to let the outrage build up inside of me and then I’ll be by myself and get caught off guard during one of those animal cruelty commercials, and then the tears will come.   Or, if I need the release and it just won’t happen naturally, I’ll turn to one of my “primal scream” movies.   That’s what I call them.  Those movies with scenes that feel so real, you can’t help but scream and cry with the protagonist.  It can be very effective (not to mention cheap) therapy.  My go-to is that scene in Steel Magnolias, with Sally Field screaming “why, Why, WHY” at the downright wrongness of what has happened to her.  Makes me cry every time.   I probably should watch it again soon.  Because lately, I find myself frequently on the verge of drunk texting certain people in my life asking “why, Why, WHY do you still support this president, are you paying attention?!”   Or something equally as productive.  I’m grateful to my like-minded friends who talk me down from my ledge of derangement.

Everything occurring now almost seems inevitable.  I may be an atheist, but part of me thinks that there is a god up there shaking his head and saying, “The only way to make you morons wake up was for me to throw down a global pandemic, you think I enjoy this?  Stop fucking up the environment, quit killing animals for sport, enough with the guns already, stop electing evil and/or stupid people, raise the minimum wage, healthcare is a right and not a privilege, don’t park in the handicap spot unless you’re actually disabled, vaccinate your damn kids, and for goodness sakes, stay home from the mega church this Sunday – you can’t pray this shit away!”   Yes, my god would freely curse.

I guess that’s it for now.  Except this . . . below is a picture of my niece Emily at my wedding many years ago.  She is now a real live married grown-up.  She is also a nurse in Seattle and is pregnant with her first kid.  So, please, for her and all the other health care professionals, first responders, service providers, essential business owners – everybody who does not have the luxury of sitting inside their house ranting online (like me), stay home.  #flattenthecurve



Rose Gold Linings

I know, it’s supposed to be silver linings. However, I prefer rose gold to silver, so that’s what I’m calling this  . . .  my random musings of subjective positivity.   Key word here being random.

I heard a sound coming from the kitchen yesterday. My husband was out, so I was a little concerned that a stranger was in the house.  No, it was just a daughter unloading the dishwasher.  It’s not a sound I’m used to, but one that’s becoming more frequent of late.  I’ve also noticed that I’m not doing any laundry, but my girls seem to be wearing clean clothes.  They are also cleaning. To think that I spent years feeling bad about my mothering skills because I didn’t have one of those chore charts hanging up.  Through sheer osmosis, my children apparently learned the basics anyway.  Who knew?  Of course, this virus could also be a vast right-wing conspiracy to get young women out of the classrooms and into the kitchen.  I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian fiction, so I’ll leave that thought for another day.

During a dog walk this week, an old-man neighbor did the equivalent of “get off my lawn” by mansplaining to me why my dog should not pee on his private property (ie. the approximate foot of dirt between his yard and the sidewalk). In my BC (Before Coronavirus) life, I would have said to him that he should get over it.  I figure he’s in the demographic that could be dead soon, so I let him have his say, and told him to have a nice day.  But before anyone thinks that I’m growing from this experience, I also muttered a “fuck you” under my breath as I walked away.

Social media still has the ability to make you feel like you’re not doing enough. Even though all that is required of us now is to sit on our asses.  I’m anticipating that, when this thing finally ends, many of us will resort back to feeling like we’re not enough because we didn’t: write that novel, finish those damn baby books, organize the photos, clean out that closet, organize those files, learn to meditate, ramp up our workout routine, practice self-care, stop being selfish, learn a new language, learn how to knit, learn how to play chess, take one of those Master Classes you’re always hearing about, learn how to code, get an online degree, train the dog, finally figure out if it’s “grey” or “gray”.  Actually, that last one I do now know, thanks to a friend who knows how to spend her time productively.

I’m thinking more about my family – the dead ones – my dad and grandfather. How they spent their whole lives not really liking each other, and how it never got fixed, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.  Some family relationships are just not meant to be anything more than a result of biology.  When this is the case, maybe the best you can hope for is to say little, be nice, and then quickly back away.   I’m thinking if people identified this early on, there would be less angst.  Not every brood is going to live up to the social construct of the perfect family.   We would all do well to consider that behind every smiling family photo on vacation in some exotic locale, there could be a kid giving you the finger.  I know this to be true and I have the photo to prove it.   And, it’s okay.

When this thing first was getting only moderately scary, and my mood was just scratching the surface of terrified despair, I said to my daughters, “I’m not part of the Greatest Generation. I’m a cream puff and I’m not equipped to handle this.”  Elder daughter disagrees and reminds me of a particularly trying moment for her and I.  Reminds me how I rose to the occasion and did what I had to do to take care of her on the fly.  So, there’s that.

I’ve mildly worried for years that my being a heathen and openly dissing organized religion was doing a disservice to my children. My daughter, home early from a study abroad program in Italy, spent about a half hour yesterday explaining Christianity and the history of the bible to me.  All from the Italian art history she studied.  She said it might have been easier if she had some foundation for this stuff, but I think the fact that she was such a blank slate, religion wise, she just soaked it all up.  She seems to find it  really interesting.   This makes me oddly happy.

There will be no school shootings in the foreseeable future, because there is no school. However, gun sales have evidently increased. Apparently, there is a segment of the country that thinks they can defeat a virus with a handgun.  So, when this finally ends, there will be even more American households with firearms.  Which means that my volunteer work in this area will still be viable.  Yay for me.

That’s all I have for now, except this.  For the past couple of days, I’ve noticed a hacksaw hanging on one of my neighbor’s mailboxes.  I know, weird right?  I wish I took a picture, but it was gone when I walked by today.  Clearly, someone had borrowed it and was returning it in a germ safe manner.  Still, it seemed a bit risky in these fraught times to leave a hacksaw freely hanging on someone’s mailbox.  But, it gave me hope.  How bad can things really be if some people are still willing to leave lethal gadgets randomly hanging on a mailbox?  That’s a rhetorical question.

Stay tuned (and please stay home and keep washing your hands).

Slacker Mom


My youngest offspring started her senior year of high school this fall. Her very last “First Day of School”.   Naturally, I marked this most auspicious occasion by seeing her off to school in the best possible way.   I arose early so I could make her a healthy breakfast. I sat and talked with her while she ate, reflecting nostalgically about my own final year of high school.   We went over her schedule together. I checked that her water bottle was filled and that her car had gas. I took her picture, kissed her cheek, and waved good-bye as she drove off, wiping a tear from my eye.

Yeah, that’s all a lie. Except for it being the first day of her senior year, none of the rest of that stuff happened.   My kid left at some god awful early hour to score one of the coveted senior parking spots. All I know about her schedule is that she’ll graduate on time and that her classes are like, really hard. I slept until about 8AM. I drank some coffee, read just enough news to maintain my current level of outrage, and went to a yoga class.

In my defense, I had just flown home the night before, after helping her sister move into her new digs at college, so I was kind of tired.   But, truth be told, I haven’t seen my kids off to school in the morning in about four years. I, my friends, am a slacker mom.

You’ve seen us around and you are probably friends with a few of us, though we hide in plain sight. We aren’t sparkly and we’re usually not the squeaky wheels, but we get things done. In an effort not to appear like a slacker, we are constantly volunteering for stuff.

Usually our efforts pay off, but occasionally not. I was determined to prove my worth as the new Assemblies Coordinator for my kids’ grade school.   For my first gig, I hired a well-regarded Berkeley science professor for a presentation on evolution. His website was impressive. He arrived on time and looked the part: a modern day Einstein.   This will be epic!   He begins his presentation and immediately has the kids engaged and laughing. Well done, I think to myself, and mentally check out.

I’m snapped back to attention when I hear him share this little nugget of wisdom:     “ . . . and that’s why black boys can run faster than white boys”.   My stomach turns. I mouth a silent apology to the principal as she is shooting daggers at me with her eyes. The teachers are visibly pissed off, and they will skewer me later with their written feedback. There’s nothing I can do to stop this train wreck.   I feel terrible and think I’ll be swiftly relieved of my duties. Alas, no. It’s a public school, desperate for whatever volunteer action they’ll get. I can only go up from here, and besides, it’s not like they’re paying me to do this crap.

After my term as Assemblies Coordinator mercifully came to a close, I somehow ended up on the Emergency Preparedness Committee. Although this was in the glory days before active shooter drills, living in earthquake country still gave us lots to work with. After successfully organizing a couple of emergency drills, my confidence was pretty high, and I was eager to share my knowledge with others.

Having cocktails with the neighbors one day, I decided to show off my expertise in fire extinguisher maintenance. I confidently explained how to determine if the canister was still full. My careful analysis told me theirs was empty. To prove my hypothesis, I would demonstrate how to extinguish their expertly landscaped garden, knowing that nothing would be expelled on their greenery.  It didn’t go as planned.   I still feel bad about those plants.

I had some successes, and really the designation of slacker so much depends on your perspective. As a room parent, there is no better way to release any pent-up creative energy then the planning of a class celebration.   Since anything that smacks of a religious holiday is now taboo, Halloween has become quite the to-do. I don’t particularly care for Halloween, and I’m not the competitive type. So, I was always happy to take a back seat to the other room parents that really do live for this stuff (the non-slacker moms).

For whatever reason though, in this particular year I decided to up my game: creating personalized bags for popcorn balls that I had lovingly concocted by hand. I strolled over to the Halloween celebration with my balls, just in time to see a good friend breathlessly arrive. She is a single mom with a stressful full-time job. For her, just getting there on time was a feat of immeasurable proportions. She greets me, and then looks down at my neatly assembled, personalized, popcorn paraphernalia. She gives me a look, which conveys both annoyance and wonder, and says, “really?”

Joking aside, I bow to the non-slacker moms and am grateful when they use their powers for good. And, there is no better outlet for a smart, unemployed, MBA type, then school fundraising.  Every fall, soon after school begins, parents of all stripes shed their summer cobwebs and gear up for another year of raising money. These aren’t the bake sales and lemonade stands of our youth.   This is serious business. This is “we will have to fire a teacher, shorten a school day, kill a special ed program, close the library, ax teacher training, etc., etc., etc.,” if we don’t raise said amount of cash. It takes massive cojones to organize fundraising events, and I’m fortunate to have been in a support role behind some incredible parents.

When my daughters were in grade school, the main fundraising shebang was the annual auction. And, the iconic item each year was the “class treasure”, a homemade bauble produced by each class that was then auctioned off.   And by auctioned off, I mean we parents typically bought whatever item our child’s class was peddling – something we most likely donated money, time and supplies to produce in the first place. Frankly, it would have been easier just to write a big check early on and call it a day. However, we’re big on “community building” here, so there you have it. I’m not as jaded as I sound, just pragmatic. Plus, all that community building was exhausting after a decade or so.

The task of figuring out what the unique bauble should be, procuring the supplies to create said object, and scheduling the time for the kids to actually produce it, falls to the room parent.   I’m not a person who naturally enjoys the creative process that much – I only relax when things are completed. So, when I was able to get the class treasures done on time, I always breathed a sigh of relief. Sometimes, I was actually excited about the item – like the year we had the kids make tie-dyed reusable grocery bags.

The day before the auction, I saunter over to my assigned table and drop off the bags. I’m pretty proud. They look cool and they’re actually practical. I make sure each kid is represented, and the bags are neatly folded. I’m done. Then, I glance at the table next to mine. Clearly, its occupant has spent considerable time and resources at the craft store. There are multi-colored tiers of cloth, corrugated metal display trays, name cards meticulously calligraphed in various shades of ink. To this day, I can’t even recall what the actual craft was, but the display was stunning. I also thought, “she’s precious – she thinks she actually has to market this stuff.”

My tie-dye bags, lounging innocently on the naked Government Issue table, looked positively sad sitting next to this carnival of color.   My neighbor looks over at my “display”, and I almost sense she’s a little offended. It’s like a homeless encampment dared set up next to her gated community.   It must be said that this is a woman whom I’ve known peripherally for years. She is truly very nice and I like her a lot, despite her being unfairly blonde, perky and athletic.   She tactfully asks, “are you still setting up your display?” “No, I’m done”, I say. “Huh”, she smiles, and goes back to beautifying her own display, which to my eyes already looked pretty good.  I’m happy to say that we each were able to sell all of our items.

Over the years, I’ve become better at not comparing myself to these non-slacker types. We all have our ways of contributing. Also, now I’ve got a window into how these types may channel their energies once their kid leaves the nest, and it’s not always pretty. Against my better judgment, I started following a Facebook “parent page” for the university my eldest daughter attends.   I must say, if I didn’t feel like a slacker before, these moms (yes, mainly moms) have sealed the deal for me. To wit:

The mom who evidently feels the need to act as a pimp for her college aged son to secure a playdate. “My freshman son moved with us right before starting school this year. He isn’t looking forward to Christmas Break without his old friends to hang with. He hasn’t met many new kids at school from the area. Anyone on this site live in this area? He’s a fun guy!”

The mom who will likely accompany her child on their first job interview: “My kid is looking for a class – probably online – that he can add at this late date to hopefully get an A in and secure a certain GPA he needs. So an easy class would be ideal here.”

The mom who just wants her kid to wear clean clothes: “My Freshman needs laundry done. Where are the nearest facilities? Any guidance is greatly appreciated!”

I’d like to say these posts are an aberration on this site, but they’re not. Also, it’s fair to criticize me here for being very judgmental (and snarky).   It’s not like I’m on anyone’s shortlist for Mother of the Year. I did miss my daughter’s very last first day of school-morning, for goodness sakes! Still, if these kids can’t advocate for themselves regarding basic stuff like this, maybe they weren’t ready to go away to college? Or, the moms here just weren’t ready to let go. Maybe the thought of their kid floundering, when they could have helped them, is too much to bear. That, I get. Sort of.

The evening of the aforementioned last-first day of school, I check in with my daughter. “How was your day?” Fine. “How’s your schedule?” Fine. She has some adjustments she wants to make to it though and the guidance counselor is slow in responding.   I offer to step in and call him for her. She laughs at this, as if to say, “why in the world would I want you to get involved here?”   I sigh happily and leave the room, forever content in my slacker world.

Keep Calm and Carry On?


The week that I was born in 1963, an American detective show called “Burke’s Law” premiered on the ABC network.   It was about the millionaire captain of the Los Angeles police homicide division. He would solve crimes while being chauffeured around in his Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. Captain Amos Burke was known for dispensing bits of quotable wisdom to his underlings, and then stating, “Burke’s Law”, ergo, the name of the show.

Despite it’s improbable premise, the series lasted several years, and a remake was even attempted in the 90s.   The only reason I know about it is because I was trying to determine the origin of the following quote: “never ask a question unless you already know the answer”. A few sources attribute this to the dashing Burke, while others claim it’s common trial lawyer advice. I think the latter is probably more accurate. The brilliant Harper Lee had a variation of this quote in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and I’m guessing Burke (and probably a few lawyers) pilfered it from her.

Per the book’s narrator and protagonist, Scout: “never, never, never, on cross-examination ask a witness a question you don’t already know the answer to, was a tenet I absorbed with my baby-food.  Do it, and you’ll often get an answer you don’t want, an answer that might wreck your case”. It’s good advice, even for us non-lawyers.

It was a fall day of yesteryear, the morning after watching election returns. The results of which were thought to be almost as improbable as the premise of a show like Burke’s Law. Sleep deprived and shell shocked, I texted a good friend. I posed a question that I didn’t know the answer to and then, got an answer that I didn’t want. And it wrecked me.

We all have them. That person who’s been in our lives forever – before we knew (or cared) who our friends voted for.   I don’t mean that acquaintance from high school who you re-connected with on Facebook, who has never stepped foot outside of your hometown and thinks that the National Enquirer is real news. I mean your person. The one who was a part of your life when you were becoming you.   Before we all grew up, and made a life, and started paying attention, and formed opinions.

On that November day, I asked my person whom she voted for and, to this day, I still view her answer as a serious lapse in judgment. I acknowledge her prerogative to feel the same about me though, and she will always be my person.   I know who she is and this cannot be summed up simply by her vote.

Still, relationships that straddle the political spectrum are taking a battering. How can they not? The 24-hour news cycle ensures we’re informed of a continuing barrage of assaults: on the environment and healthcare and reproductive rights and women’s rights and civil rights and voting rights and freedom of speech and the free press and gun safety and the separation of church & state and public education . . . and, and, and. It. Never. Ends.  My need to stay informed is in constant conflict with my desire to be optimistic. The latter is losing.

I’ve finally found a way to channel some of my unrelenting rage into something a little productive for the upcoming midterm elections. I’ve been lending my time and texting ability to the senatorial campaign of the democratic challenger in a very red state. My volunteer effort entails texting some 400-800 people at a time, and providing answers to any resulting questions they may have.  My responses are all prepared by the campaign, depending on the topic. We are permitted to veer off script a bit, if customizing our response will be helpful. We are supposed to immediately opt out recipients upon their request or, if they curse. It’s been a very interesting experience and, barring a few exceptions, people are surprisingly civil.

I appreciated the sincerity of the Jehovah’s Witness lady – who said that while she was certain that both candidates were lovely people, only God could be our king. I’m an agnostic, so I wouldn’t know about that. I enjoyed the passion of the guy who insisted that the incumbent was the Zodiac Killer. While I really dislike this politician, I don’t think he’s the Zodiac Killer. He does have an uncanny resemblance to the Grandpa character from “The Munsters” though. Naturally, I received my fair share of “your candidate is a baby murderer” comments.  There is just no pleasing these folks, so I didn’t engage (but gosh I wanted to). And, I have special affection for the guy who said, “I’d like to get to know YOU better sweetheart.”

But, my favorite was an exchange I had with “Earl”.   At first, Earl accused me of being Spam and was rightfully annoyed. So, I ditched the canned verbiage, responded like a human, pointed him towards the candidate’s website, and wished him a good day.

About a half hour later, Earl responded with the following: “Thank you. I respect your right to work for the candidate of your choice. I don’t know you but I hope you are equally willing to respect other people without denigrating them. Both parties seem to care more about winning and being in control than doing what is right for America.”   I don’t think he’s wrong.   I added another plug for my guy, but I told Earl he had a valid point and wished us both luck.  At worst, Earl will be voting for the other guy. At best, he’s undecided, and my not being an asshole and engaging with him lends some credibility to my side of the aisle. Maybe.

Back to my person.  I won’t text her the morning after the next election asking who she voted for.  I learned my lesson.  Besides, no matter how things go this November, there will still be much to do.  The havoc being wrecked during this Trumpian Dystopia we’re living in won’t end any time soon.   Also, I have kids. I think that obligates me to dig deep and be optimistic. Which means that Earl and I aren’t finished chatting.

. . . with Liberty and Guns for all.

Young gun love.  My little brother.

When I was in high school, my 14-year-old brother Bill shot himself. It’s not as dramatic as it sounds. He was holding his BB gun and it accidentally went off. I was down the hall in my bedroom, not doing homework, when he yelled my name. He was sitting on his bed, a bit stunned, unsure what to do.   Our parents weren’t home and this was in the days before cell phones.   Being the responsible older sister (and enjoying an opportunity for drama), I naturally called the police.   A short while later, my mom pulled into our driveway, greeted by a mass of emergency vehicles.   I can only imagine what was going through her mind as she drove up to that scene at her home.

Family lore has it that the BB just missed a vital nerve in my brother’s hand. My dad arrived home just after the paramedics had patched Bill up, and the cops had confiscated the gun.   Dad and Bill were summoned to the police station for a good old-fashioned talking to. A few reminders about gun safety, a handshake, and my brother was reunited with his BB gun and sent on his way.

To date, this has been the only gun related incident in my life (I think this evidences my status as a gun layperson: a real gun aficionado would probably consider a BB gun a toy). As a person living in the United States in 2018, I think this makes me lucky.

After each gun massacre in our country, I go to the National Rifle Association’s Facebook page and check out the comments.   I’m always curious to see how the other side processes these tragedies.   Sadly, the commentary is never surprising.   Or hopeful. It’s always a take on one of two varying sentiments: “now the democrats will REALLY want to take our guns”, or “we need to arm more good guys with guns.” There is never, ever, ever, even a hint of, nary a scant reference to, what I think would be an intrinsic reaction: how about less guns?

After the headlines go away, during that sweet delusional lull we experience in between mass shootings, I try to understand the mindset of the gun rights crowd.   I try to grasp how two such disparate responses can result from the same set of facts.   Why does the thought of more guns make some people feel safer, and others less so?

To some, it’s a matter of personal security.   A few years ago, my BFF (my “best friend forever” since way before this acronym became a thing) informed me she was getting a gun. She is small, but mighty. She’s also Italian, with a bit of a temper. I didn’t think a firearm was such a great idea. But, I get it.   I really do. Our generation was raised on 70s detective shows. All the greats: Charlie’s Angels, Policewoman, Daphne and Velma from Scooby Doo. I too have entertained visions of myself as armed and dangerous, with really good hair (I also like to pretend I’m Stevie Nicks when I’m in a rockstar mood).

BFF is a real estate agent, and she had legitimate reasons for wanting to be proactive. Right around the time she decided to arm herself, there had been a spate of news stories about female realtors who had been threatened or assaulted, while working alone. BFF is quite fit and more than adept at a verbal sparing.   However, at a petite 5’4’’, in a physical showdown I’d put my money on the bad guy, who likely will have had more recent gun escapades.   I think BFF’s money would have been better spent on a self-defense course (note to self: sign daughters up for self-defense course).

I was mugged when I was in college, walking to the train station in a sketchy area. Some guy grabbed my neck, ripped off my jewelry, and ran away. In terms of crime drama, it was pretty benign. Nevertheless, I’m sure a lot of people might immediately want to walk around armed after that. Not me.   My first thought was that it was pretty naïve of Suzy from the suburbs to stroll through that part of the city flaunting her gold.  I did get some mace from a cop friend however. Never used it, but it made me feel better to carry it around.

Gun culture is a thing, and it’s hard to fathom if you’ve not been a part of it growing up.   I can’t legitimately lay claim to this myself, although guns were always in the distant background during my upbringing. My mother’s extended family hails from the Deep South. If one gives any credence to the stories and photos, it would seem that people were more likely to own a gun than a pair of shoes.   Visits with my aunts, uncles and cousins usually included some gun related activity for the males. Hunting, target practice, general gun fondling, etc. If memory serves, when my brother and my cousin Rick turned 13, they were each gifted one of my grandfather’s shotguns. To my recollection, my girl cousins and I did not receive any such coming of age memento.

My dad, a New Yorker, was always drawn to anything having to do with guns. In another life he was a southern “good ol’ boy” or a Wild West gunslinger. He had a small, yet impressive collection of various types of firearms.   They were kept secured in a closet in my parents’ bedroom. I don’t recall him using them much, beyond an occasional visit to a shooting range, a hobby he enjoyed with my brother. Like any collector, he would take them out occasionally to admire them. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. To my father, guns had a kind of artistry about them.

The gun love did not manifest itself in my own DNA, and my father’s gun stash held no special allure for me. When I was in my 20s though, dad attempted to school me on gun usage. “Suzy, have a seat, I want to show you how to use a gun.” He sat me down, put a gun in my hand and attempted to walk me through the basics. I had a marginal interest, but found handling the gun itself awkward and uncomfortable.   However, I knew it made him feel like he had imparted a necessary life skill, like driving a stick shift (I’ve retained nothing about how to use a gun, but I can still drive a stick shift).

About ten years after that, my interest piqued again, and I invited myself to the shooting range with my brother. I must admit, I sort of enjoyed it. There was some sort of twisted satisfaction when the bullet hit the target. Certainly, it appealed to the vengeance loving part of me: imagining, as the target, a certain political figure or school bully is rather therapeutic.   I get the same satisfaction though when I pound a chicken breast with a mallet. Or when I do a Soul Cycle class. So, I’m not sure I need a gun.

Self-protection and weapons fetishes aside, many of my fellow Americans simply believe that gun ownership is their 2nd Amendment right. Over the years, these folks have given me numerous reasons why losing this right would be a travesty. But it always seems to come down to this: apparently, an unreasonable search and seizure from our own government is just around the corner, and having your own personal militia is the only defense.   To this I say, it’s the 21st century. We are all probably more at risk from a cyber attack than anything else. How exactly is a gun going to protect you from this?

Excepting law enforcement and the military, I really don’t see the need for anybody to own a gun. The basically unfettered access to them in this country seems to do more harm than good. Seriously, just where are all the “good guys with guns” that the NRA is always yammering about? If they’re out there, they’re doing a lousy job.

My eldest daughter, Katie, was an infant when the Columbine massacre occurred. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 26,000 kids under the age of 18 have been killed by gunfire since then. How about less guns, while we work on fixing all the things that are making men want to blow people away? And yes, while not a perfect science, generally they are men, and they are white.

My children have grown up in a country where their right to own a gun is given more value than their right to be alive. As my youngest daughter is finishing her school years, incoming kindergarten parents will likely be preparing their children for active shooter drills. If this thought doesn’t fill you with despair, there is something wrong with you.

Fate has been kind to me so far, but I don’t take it for granted. Last year, as I was helping Katie pack up for college, there was a lot of advice flying around about campus safety, particularly for the girls. No one was suggesting a gun, but I was encouraged to buy Katie one of those little personal alarms. It looks like a toy keychain. You attach it to your backpack and press a little button, which theoretically scares your attacker away. I felt so good when I bought this for her.  About a week ago, I remembered to ask her how the alarm worked out, did it make her feel safer? She looks puzzled.   “Oh that”, she says, “I never even took it out of the box.”  I hope she never needs a gun either.