Friday, January 22, 2010

Oh happy day.

Here’s a little something I don’t care for: people who work at bridal salons. Actually, I can narrow it down to people who work at one particular bridal salon in Charlotte, North Carolina. The reason I find myself interacting with this breed is because I have the honor of being the most decrepit bridesmaid in my sister in law’s Hilton Head wedding this summer, which means, of course, that I have to get “the dress.” I haven’t even really looked at this particular dress I’ll be sporting, but my recollection is that it’s reasonably attractive as far as these things go. I don’t really see the point in analyzing it too deeply, because it is what it is, which is to say a bridesmaid’s dress – something that will be worn once and then find its way into my sons’ dress-up bin along with the cowboy hats and that weird headlamp thingy. Still, having worn my share of ill-fitting frocks in the past, I’d like this one to fit properly. Apparently, however, that’s not going to happen.

Earlier this week I endured my own personal humiliation of measuring myself with one of those cloth tape measures. I barfed a little in my mouth as I transcribed my measurements, which are less the prototypical screen siren than Russian nesting doll. I dutifully faxed in my form, plucked a chocolate out of the bowl next to the office fax machine, and put the whole unpleasant episode out of my mind. Until I got home that night, that is, when I found a syrupy, full of question marks kind of voice mail waiting on my machine.

“Haaaaah, I’m calling for Kate? From the bridal shop? I’m callin’ because I think you might have, um, maybe measured your waist incorrectly? And I wonder if you could call me and we could see if maybe you did that wrong. Because what you wrote just doesn’t make sense. So if you could just call me I’m sure we can get this fixed?”

Yeah. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

So I called back the next day.

Dippy Southern Bridal Salesgirl: “Oh, yes, haaaah! Thanks for calling back. Yes, so, I think you maybe didn’t measure in the right place. You’re supposed to measure your waist where it curves in the most.”

Kate: “Right, yeah, that would fit the definition of a waist.”

DSBS: “Well, I’m just thinkin’ maybe you didn’t measure right, because this just doesn’t make sense. Your bust would put you in a size 6, and your hips would put you in an 8 or 10, but your waist would put you in like a 12 or 14.”

Kate: “I don’t understand that. It’s not like my waist is bigger than my hips.”

DSBS: “Well, we tend to wear our pants down on our hips.”

Kate: “OK, so then what’s the problem? Obviously I have a fat stomach. You’ve never encountered that before?”

DSPS: “Oh, no! That’s not what I meant! Your measurements are perfectly within the range of, uh, normal!”

Kate: “Well, then, what do you mean? You’re the expert. If you’re telling me that the 8 I normally wear is wrong and that I need a 14, then order me the 14.”

DSPS: “Weeeelll, how about we compromise on a 12?”

Kate: “Whatever. If that’s what you think my belly requires, then get the 12.”

“DSPS: “Ohhh! I’m sorry! Thanks for calling us back.”

Doesn’t that sound like a delightful exchange, just designed to a T to make a girl feel all dainty and sweet? I swear to God, southern girls are sometimes just the assiest people on the planet. And before you get yourself all in a twitch remember I am a Georgia girl myself so I can say it if I want and it makes it TRUE. I just don’t understand why they needed to call me about that - just make the fucking dress, don’t ask me any questions, and I’ll do my part and look like a sack of potatoes on the big day. It’s a time-honored tradition.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Parenting without a license.

You've kind of heard this before, but here's what I churned out in desperation for my first assignment today:

Why is it that we require permits for all sorts of other skilled or dangerous activities, like jumping a motorcycle over fifteen monster trucks, but not to engage in what is arguably the most difficult and dangerous activity known to man: parenting? Leaving aside the most obvious offenders, the horrifying, abusive parents who shouldn’t even be given a pen to fill out the application, what about the rest of us? Shouldn’t we at least be required to pass a few simple classes? Nothing prepares today’s rootless parents for the terror and humiliation of raising small children, but some basic training for the onslaught would go a long way. Soldiers aren’t sent into battle without a few weeks in boot camp, for Christ’s sake; why are we?

I wish my children had arrived clutching little manuals in their tiny, red fists. Then instead of wasting all those hours watching daytime TV and poking idly at the Shar Pei folds of my vacated belly, I could have spent my post-partum depression learning how to be a mom. I couldn’t rely on the forty-five “definitive” manuals on child-rearing that I had bought, each telling me something completely different about how to turn my little cavemen into polite, law-abiding members of society. With so much conflicting information I’ve been left to cobble together suggestions from each into a giant, play-doh wad of failure.

If you’re bored on a Saturday and you have a mean streak, the grocery store is a great place to witness all sorts of people’s failures as parents. The other day, I put on a good show for the crowd at Whole Foods when I took my two year old son in with me to buy a bag of cat food.

Two year old: “Mommy, I want to walk.”

Me, adopting a fakey, commiserating tone I knew would be useless: “Honey, we’re just here to get some cat food. I’m going to hold you and we’ll get out of here.”

TYO, with a needling whine that acts as a head-snapping beacon to adults: “Noooo! Don’t hold me!”

Me: “Ok, how about you stand here while I lift this 30-pound bag of cat food, then I will pick you up with my other arm and we’ll go! Whee! Doesn’t that sound like fun!?”

TYO: “OK.”

Me: “Thanks, buddy!”

Why I was fooled by his easy acquiescence, I have no idea - probably because I had no alternative if I wanted to get that frigging cat food. If I had been willing to buy cat food that didn’t have “other cats” as one of its ingredients, I could have tossed my kid into a cart at Safeway and we could have called it a day. Instead, as I kneeled to grab the soul-satisfying kibble, off he ran. Before I could stand up, his rubbery little legs had carried him all the way into the next aisle. I knew he was there because I could hear his gleeful, piercing shrieks, and so could everyone else.

By the time I caught up to him, our faces were both red; his with the exertion of outrunning me for the length of the store, mine with humiliation. As I had chased him up and down the aisles, trying to appeal to him in an authoritative hiss that I hoped, magically, only he and no one else would be able to hear, everyone had turned to look at me with expressions either pitying or appalled. I scooped my flailing, bucking child up sideways into my arm and marched him to the check-out line. The old woman in front of us glared at me disapprovingly as my son somehow escaped my grasp and hiked himself onto the conveyor belt. “Hello,” he said to her as he passed her on his way to the checkout clerk. The old hag’s expression told me she wouldn’t have put up with such nonsense. “Hmm,” she opined through sour, pursed lips.

“Lady,” I said, “I know that you and I are both thinking that I’m that mother, the one who can’t even control a two-year old. And I’m sure things were much different in your day, when you would just cuff your kid on the head if he acted up. But have you been to Wal-Mart lately? If you think slapping my kid would solve the problem, I suggest you go take a whirl through their aisles and see how well that’s working out. So I’m kind of at a loss.”

The old shrew narrowed her eyes at me and, emphatically grabbing her change from the clerk, turned on her heel and walked away.

“Mommy, that lady is so meeeeeeeean!” said my kid, climbing back onto my hip as if the last 10 minutes hadn’t happened. “You’re nice.” As I kissed his head in reprieve, he rappelled off of me and darted towards the door.

Friday, January 15, 2010

You want me to do what?

I’m not sure why I ever thought promotion was something that just happened if you were good at your job. I had no basis whatsoever for thinking that, since I don’t recall ever witnessing that particular chain of events. My main exposure to promotion has been in the context of making partner in a law firm, where nobody who was ever simply good at his job ever made partner. Promotion in a law firm required something more (or different), and what was “good” was something of a moving target:

Partner: “Kate, thanks for coming in. As you know, you were being considered for partnership again this year.”

Kate: “Were?”

Partner: “Well, yes, I’m sorry, ‘were.’” You did great work this year, but when the partners met in a conference room at an expensive resort for a few hours between golf matches and spa treatments, when the dart hit your name we decided you needed a couple more years to really, uh, evolve into partnership material.”

Kate: “I see. You said the same thing to me two years ago, and in response to your concerns I brought in several new marquee clients, increased my revenues by 500%, won the two Supreme Court cases I argued, and received an offer to become a D.C. district court judge. What else could I possibly have to do to make partner?”

Partner: “Well, uh, you know, uh, Janet’s out today and I really need someone to pick up the cake for my son’s birthday party this afternoon.”

Kate: “Excuse me?”

Partner: “Or you could just blow me.”

More realistically, my observation was that dorks, no matter how good their work was, didn’t make partner. That’s simple grade school psychology – the popular kids only want others they perceive as being just like them to belong to their club. In the context of a law firm, that usually means elevating people with borderline sociopath personalities to the status of partner, while creating new, fake categories of “promotion” for the people they don’t like personally but can’t afford to lose. They don’t want to share their money or even a drink with these mere mortals, hence the establishment of “non-equity partners” and “of counsel” roles. The ostensible trade off for this middling placement in the hierarchy is that the counsel can find time to coach his daughter’s soccer team, while the illustrious partner can continue to occasionally attend one of her games without ever taking his eyes off his PDA. And everyone is “happy,” at least the partners.

It turns out the corporate world isn’t a lot different. I think that’s probably OK with me for the time being, but maybe I will reconsider when I have any spare time to care.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not so funny after all.

My writing class started today, and it took about five minutes to realize I had made a poor choice by selecting a course on humor writing. As with my last class, the first order of business was to post a bio of one’s self. Before doing so, I read the five or six that had already been posted.

Oh, dear.

Everyone clearly felt the pressure to be capital F FUNNY (say this with a sing-song falsetto and throw in some jazz hands to really get the idea), and none of them actually were. It was obvious that whatever I threw up there would similarly reek of strained desperation, so I just held my nose and jumped in. And surprise, surprise, mine sucked as badly as everyone else’s - only in a more self-conscious and stilted manner. Like a butler in a posh household suddenly asked by the gentleman of the house to perform karaoke for the guests.

I’m not sure how I am supposed to get through this class. I paid $400 for it; I have to do something! Maybe I will just write whatever I want each week, regardless of the assignment. What’s the teacher going to do, fail me?

Kate: “Here you go, Teach, enjoy!”

Teacher: “Kate, you’ve submitted an essay on the child soldiers of Darfur.”

Kate: “Well, it just wasn’t a particularly funny week. Maybe next time.”

My assignment this week is to think of five things I find absurd about the world and write a 500-word essay about one of them. It sounds easy, but suddenly I can’t think of anything absurd. Let’s see:

1. Conservative commentators (that’s a gimme).
2. Those shoes that seem to be designed for those of us with cloven hooves.

Hmm. Not doing so well. Perhaps I had better take a nap and see if something comes to me in a dream.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Short 'n' sassy.

I never want to have “no-nonsense” hair. If for some reason I ever feel the need to have short hair, I would much rather take the artfully messy, attempted gamine route than go the way of the humorless, wash-and-go man-woman. Because it is humorless, isn’t it? Who do you know who has both a sensible hairstyle and a fabulous wit? I can think of no-one who fits that category. And hey, call me a hopeless perpetrator of stereotypes, but I’m going to go even further out on a limb and say that as a rule, women who have no-nonsense hair also:

1. have a dreadful sense of style;
a. pantsuits, twinsets, and loafers for one subset
b. football/hockey jackets and bad jeans for another.
2. call other women “gals”;
3. are strident in whatever their area of personal interest may be, be it work or their child’s right to prayer in the classroom;
4. lack a stereotypically minimal level of femininity – remember Jamie Lee Curtis’ aerobicized bod? Even in cocktail dresses and skimpy lingerie, it was incongruous, wasn’t it? It’s hard to imagine her or any other neatly clipped anti-sylph soaking in a bubble bath while eating chocolates and reading a trashy novel.

Yes, I like to generalize grossly, but who doesn’t? Of course I can think of one person who defies this stereotype, but it’s the exception that makes the rule, right? (What does that expression mean, by the way? It makes no sense.)

So this is exciting: today a federal court in San Francisco begins hearing a challenge to Proposition 8, that triumph of bigotry that was passed by a not-so-caring public in the 2008 California elections. This morning on NPR, one citizen of California was quoted as saying that Californians are tired of wasting the taxpayers’ money on a ridiculous issue like this where “the people have already spoken” through Prop 8 about how traditional marriage should be between a man and a woman. Well, honey, that’s tough, because even though you may have voiced your opinion, and even if that opinion is apparently shared by a majority of the people who voted on the issue, that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make it constitutional. Our l’il ol’ legal system is designed to keep the occasionally misguided majority from getting the last word when to do so would violate the Constitution (see, e.g., Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia). Maybe you could stop wasting everyone else’s time and money by focusing on more important issues like eradicating world hunger or minding your own business.

At least this is what I am hoping; that when our conservative Supreme Court is faced with this case on appeal, they won’t be able to deny that to deny a person the right to marry is to deny that person equal protection under the law. Separate but equal is inherently unequal, y’all.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


With my drastically improved brain chemistry, I rarely feel any road rage anymore. I wouldn’t say the anger I used to experience while driving ever rose to the level of causing me to do anything reckless, but it was still of fine, blood pressure-raising caliber and always incited a muttered recitation of some of the most creative combinations of nasty words I could summon to mind. This morning, when a woman in a tinny little Honda “Fit” cut me off, I recognized it as a situation where I would in the past have felt my temper flare. Instead, I felt a small, muted “grr” somewhere deep inside, and some idle contempt for her car, but not much else. Wondering if I could summon up some good old fashioned vitriol, and after a quick glance in the rear view mirror reassured me that my kids weren’t in the car, I self-consciously shouted, “Bitch!” just to see how it would feel.

Ugh. First, my lame invocation bounced rather thinly around the interior of the Santa Fe, reminding me that my own car is kind of flimsy. Second, the ensuing bitterness in my mouth was as if the word had squirted straight out of a piece of Freshen Up gum, filling my mouth with a dulling, lukewarm venom instead of with a burst of sweet, minty flavor. So clearly, shouting obscenities is useless when there’s no feeling behind it. It sounds half-assed and silly.

Stranger, though, was the physical reaction in mouth, which quickly spread straight upward into my brain. Is that what non-depressed people always feel when they say something mean, or was it just a quirk because it was contrived ugliness? Either way, it felt bad and decidedly unnecessary, and made me wonder WHO AM I? Having children and popping anti-depressants has made me a big old sap.

Meanwhile, I have yet to report on our Christmas trip. We survived the airplane travel, although man, it is it a pain in the ass to get through security with two small children and all their accoutrements. Once in Charlotte, we had a great time with family, and it was a pleasant change to have other people around who actually wanted to entertain our kids. A couple of highlights from an otherwise fairly typical (although strangely devoid of dysfunction) family holiday were:

1. Our trip to NYC was cancelled. Asshole snowstorm. (OK, just learned, some calling of names still feels familiar and good. Maybe this morning’s existential brain fart was only because I hadn’t yet had breakfast.) The only upside of having our long awaited romantic getaway ruined was that I was sick anyway, so our trip would probably not have been as fun as it should have been. Instead, R. and I booked a room at the Ritz and spent an evening watching a Broncos game at a bar and eating Thai food. That was followed by a bath in the awesome tub (for me; I was sick, after all), a 12-hour sleep in our fabulous bed, and room-service breakfast. All in all, quite a heavenly fallback provision.

2. There is a group of schoolchildren in Charlotte that idolizes Ian. One of R’s sisters is a teacher of 4th graders with special emotional needs, and she has been telling them about her little nephews for months. She asked us to come by her school one day so her students could meet the boys, so we did. We fully expected the kids to ignore us and our children and generally to continue on with their lives, but we could not have been more wrong. When R’s sister introduced Ian to her class, you would have thought a rock star or the Messiah had entered their midst – seriously. A delighted call of “Ian!” lifted the rafters, and many of the kids rushed up to see him and even to touch him. One boy grabbed Ian’s hand and announced that Ian wanted to hold his hand, while others just lightly touched his back and peered at him wondrously as if he were a benign little alien. The kids spent the next 20 minutes showing Ian around the classroom and finding fun entertainment for him, never seeming to realize he was much, much younger than they. One girl asked if she could take his picture with her cell phone.

With all of this adulation, you would have thought our two year old might be scared or at least befuddled – but no. He acted as if such behavior was perfectly natural and verily, his birthright. It was really something to see, and extremely sweet. It made me happy that that there is place for kids whose emotions are a little more fragile than the average to be nurtured and nurturing; where nobody makes fun of them for being kind-hearted and gentle.