Friday, February 26, 2010

Rainy days and Mondays, part two.

I don’t like getting older. I’m scared by it. It’s both uncharted waters and the great, repetitive forever at the same time.

I’ll be 41 next week, and I can’t say anything good about it. Turning 40 was no great shakes, but 41 is another ball game altogether. It’s lifting one foot up on the ladder in that inexorable climb towards… well, you know. Before 40, I never thought like that. In my late 30’s I was hyper-aware that I had not reached the personal milestones that most women hope to have achieved by then, but I didn’t associate that with death. Quite the opposite, actually, since as a single, childless woman I served no master other than myself. Although I was sometimes lonely, I maintained the youthful attitude that my life was still in front of me – that I still had choices about the way it would turn out.

These days I think about the end of life a lot more than I used to. Even though I hopefully have more than half of my life left, I have such a hard time picturing it other than as this block of time that will just happen and be over. I see it now as punctuated by my children’s milestones rather than my own. By the time they are off to college, I will be almost 60, and then what? I’m reasonably active, so hopefully R. and I will be healthy and can still travel a lot and do whatever interests us, but will it really be as much fun when I LOOK SO OLD?

Maybe it sounds vain and strange, but my experience with the things I love has been as a young, attractive woman. Travel, concerts, restaurants, meeting my husband – everywhere I have sat and enjoyed the world has been as a young person; I have been observed as a young person, as a pretty, young woman. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that making the break with potency of the external-facing part of one’s self is a semi-traumatic event. Until I had children I still felt young and attractive, but on the other side of the big event I don’t feel that way at all. I am self-conscious about my pregnancy-revised body, about my graying hair, about my boring job. Honestly, sometimes I don’t even feel like me anymore. I feel invisible, like I’ve handed over my flag of youth to a new generation. I am irrelevant now apart from making sure I raise responsible, polite, loving little guys who have all the tools they need to create their own happy destinies.

Even as I write this I know I am wallowing it in a bit. I know I still have choices about what to do with my career, how to raise the kids, on and on. I choose to color my hair and try to lose weight in hopes that I can stop freaking out about the physical effects of aging, especially since they will only get worse. But I have had choices for a long time, and for a long time my choices have been to stay put and do nothing, at least on the career/personal fulfillment front. So how do I learn to light a fire in my belly at a time in my life when I barely have time to eat dinner before going to bed? I am daunted.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Don't hate me because I'm no longer beautiful.

I was looking through some old stuff today trying to find anything to write about for this week's assignment that will be critiqued by the class, when I came across this little gem from 4 years ago. It's actually embarrassing to read - who the hell was I? Such profanity, my, my! And how amusing to have been "thin."


I wish I had a picture of me for you today, because I’d like to know if there’s something strange about the way I look that I wasn’t aware of when I left the house. Because when I walked into the coffee shop this morning, that was the distinct impression I got. I walked in to see two young women seated at one of the tables; well, seated, except they both had their feet resting up together on another chair, all cozy like, and one had her shoes off. So, you know, making themselves extra comfortable, like everybody else having a cup of coffee or a Danish likes to see. As I walked in the door they both looked up at me, looked back at each other and snickered. And really, why wouldn’t they? I mean, I looked really gross compared to them:

Me: tall; thin; longish shiny brown hair; tight True Religion jeans; high, strappy suede wedge sandals from Paris, glowing skin from getting laid on a regular basis.

Other Girl 1: lank, dirt-colored bob; limp, shapeless beige sweater; high-waisted, nasty-colored jeans that I doubt are being unbuttoned other than for the occasional mutual muff dive, washed out skin.

Other Girl 2: unwashed, sloppy ponytail; dumpy-looking figure crammed into an orange hoodie sweatshirt and 4th year med student scrub pants; pink socks and, once she finally put them back on, slip on leather shoes.

So, yeah, I could see why they might be looking at me askance. They were clearly serious, professional girls and I was obviously some brainless supermodel/administrative assistant. I figured we should have a chat, so I bought myself a huge chocolate cupcake with swirls and swirls of chocolate frosting and sashayed on over. Taking a big, licky bite, I said “What’s up, ladies? I noticed you checking me out, and I just wanted to let you know that if you’re looking for a threesome, it’s your lucky day.” Their jaws dropped as I licked the rest of the frosting off of my lips. Then I smashed the cupcake into Other Girl 1’s face, kicked the other bitch in the face and walked out.

Ah, Friday! My road rage was in full force on the drive to work today. I can’t stand when some asshole pulls out in front of you and then slows down to a goddamned snail’s pace. In the parking garage this morning, some jackass turned in front of me on the first floor and then practically got out of the car and carried it on his back all the way up to the 8th. When he finally parked, I parked a few spots down and waited for him to go inside. Once he was gone, I grabbed my baseball bat out of the trunk and smashed all his windows in. I rifled through his CDs but it was only a bunch of shit like Beyonce and an advance copy of K-Fed’s upcoming masterpiece, so I left it there. Then I moved my car so, you know, nobody would suspect me.


So, yes. Crazy times, apparently.
Guess who is a great big one year old today?

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I just dashed off my latest assignment lickety split. I don't know, do you think this is what the instructor was looking for?

Think of a moment when something funny happened either to you or to someone else, where you were present. Now, create a "sensory postcard." Freeze the moment, recalling in that funny moment what you saw, heard, smelled, tasted and felt. Don't tell a story. Tap into the memory of as many of your senses as you can recall. If you need to make some of this up, that's fine. Remember, it's a postcard; keep it brief.

It was really funny when the woman in the office next to me, the one who was promoted to my level two years after me, was promoted above me. When she told me, I saw spots floating in front of my eyes and heard the sound of la-la-la-la-la echoing in my head in that funny-sounding way that happens when you stick your fingers in your ears. I’m pretty sure what I smelled was my own flopsweat, but just to make sure I sniffed lustily under my arm. Yep, it was me. My mouth was awash with the twin tastes of bile and failure. I felt small, like a very small thing of some kind.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Tea Baggers.

Um, the “Tea Party”? Worried about tyranny and a despotic government? Where the hell were they when we actually had tyranny and a despotic government, oh, a couple of years ago? Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the populace of this country becomes increasingly ridiculous and frightening. Seriously, what is the end game for all this? Do they envision some sort of “one if by land” revolution? Then what? Are all these politically born again hicks from Idaho going to run our country? Do they think they can survive without global interaction?

I’m sure I have suggested this before, but maybe we can just have a split where the “intellectual elite” takes the perimeter of the country, and everybody else can have the middle. I would bet money that you’ll find quite a few Republicans choosing the coasts as well. Then the delightful masses can park their Ford trucks in a circle around the edge of their property, pointing their militia artillery out at the rest of us. You know, just in case we ever get the misguided idea that we want to set foot on any part of their Amurica. Then the rest of us can get on with our lives that acknowledge global warming, science, the benefits of internationalism, education, and goddamn arugula, if that’s what we want. I’d be all right with that.

It all starts to fall down a little when you acknowledge there would need to be some trade with the Middlers – we stupid elitists want to grow the industry of green energy, but we need some of the resources from the middle to do so. Not to mention I have a feeling these Tea Party types would get itchy fingers when they saw those asshole elites patting each other on the backs for managing to finally separate themselves from the dumbasses. But man, is it a nice idea.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The joys of...

Yes, I did fall off the Planet Earth. Where did I go? Nowhere special, that’s for sure! I’m still on the endless treadmill of work, home, Target, Safeway, Whole Foods, places for the kids to experience anything… and for once, I’ve been writing. Yes, writing! It seems this class is actually doing me some good.

I’ve had a couple of assignments that I’ve been using to try and write vignettes, chapters, whatever, of a book. Because that’s what I have to do to change anything at all about my life, right? So I am finally making an effort and I’ve really been having some fun. I can hardly believe it – we’ll see how it goes. I would love to go on about how I hope I’ve turned a corner and all that, but I have been so self-defeating for so long that I am scared to put it out there to sabotage. So I’ll just keep trying to write a little bit every day and pray to my puppet master that something comes of it.

And in the meantime, there is always more shopping for diapers and formula and endless binkies to be done – except the formula is finally about to stop, which should save us about $150 a month. That’s right; Alex will turn one next week! I can’t believe it. My little baby is starting to walk with help, say “mama, dada, bye-bye,” he sings Jingle Bells and he is the snuggliest little ball of sweet baby dough you have ever met. Ohhhhh, I know why crazy people have more babies – because the gross smell of barf and baby powder I always thought I’d loathe doesn’t exist. It’s all heavenly baby skin and shampoo and a head on your shoulder and it all balances so neatly on your hip. Even the powder’s not so bad when applied to adorable baby bottoms (and it disguises the gross smells that DO exist).

Did I go crazy there for a second? As excited as I am to see how my little guys are going to turn out, I just love who they are now and it’s sad to know they’ll never be little babies again. And that the older they get, the less they will show their love for their mom. Or feel it? I don’t know. These days, when I put Ian to bed and turn out the light, I lean over to stroke his hair and rub his back. He grabs my arm and says “Stay here” or “Don’t go” and closes his eyes and looks so peaceful and sweet. Sometimes he reaches up and pets my hair, too. He’s so unguarded. It’s such a shame that as humans we cut all that off at some point.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Yankee Swap.

Yes, they did get the worst haircuts I have ever seen this weekend. But they still are as cute as pie.

In other news, perhaps you remember my old "yankee swap" post I am so obsessed with. for my assignment this week for my writng class, I turned it into a story:


It was a very nice party, as parties go. I knew the hostess, Laura, only tangentially, but had decided that if she had taken the trouble to invite me I should at least see if she had also invited any attractive, single guys. Laura and her husband were not really my type but were very rich, so I figured that could balance out and deliver a better evening than staring at the TV, eating mac-and-cheese straight from the pan.

It was Christmastime, and Laura and her equally loud and beefy husband were in their element. Their lavish existence was funded by his successful Christmas ornament business, and the house was decorated to remind everyone of just that. They didn’t own any old dime-store type of business, either; their ornaments were the huge, brightly colored monstrosities that rich women with no taste snatched up like penny candy at Neiman Marcus. Laura, or more likely someone in an apron and sensible shoes, had covered the 17-foot Noble fir in the vaulted entry hall from top to toe with the hosts’ own wares, and the result was a towering cone of tackiness that if it had fallen over would have slashed all of our skin to ribbons. Fat-cheeked, mischievous squirrels on a sleigh and a snooty lap dog in an ermine-lined Santa suit were detectable among the nauseating barrage of colors, if you could force yourself to look at it long enough.

After handing my coat to Laura (careful to tuck the fraying cuffs out of her view) and taking in that abortion of a tree, I thanked her for her invitation and waited for her to introduce me to someone – anyone - that I might know.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here you know,” she brayed, grabbing my arm and pulling me tightly to her side in what must have been a sign of chumminess amongst her crowd. Her white teeth glowed cheerily in the festively lit room.

“I love your tree,” I lied.

“Oh, Kate, thank you so much,” Laura gushed, “it is beautiful, isn’t it? If you look around, you’ll see we’ve arranged more ornaments in all kinds of unexpected places – I’ve been taking some lessons from my interior designer.”

“She must really be something!” I tried to inject some credibility into my voice.

“She really is!” Laura smiled, satisfied with my reaction. “Here, let me show you where the drinks and food are – get something quickly because we’re about to start the Yankee Swap! If you hand me your gift, I’ll put it under the tree.”

Laura’s invitation had mentioned something about this “Yankee Swap,” and indicated that each guest should bring some sort of gift for the exchange. Not being a Yankee myself, but having observed the quirks of a few in my time, I figured the natural way to have approached it would have been to rummage through the attic of my family pile for the most useless piece of unwanted junk I could find and try to foist it off on someone else. But since I had no steamer trunks full of old snowshoes and sculling oars from Gramps’ days at Groton to choose from, I bought a decent bottle of wine and called it a day. I doubted anyone would complain about having to take it home instead of a broken alarm clock or somebody’s dog-eared copy of the Catcher in the Rye complete with adolescent insights scribbled in the margins.

Pointed in the right direction by Laura, I made my way over to the dining room table. Next to the food tends to be where I spend the duration of most parties; particularly if I don’t know anyone. You can count on most guests filing by at some point, and if they look interesting, I might assume an open expression to show myself as receptive to a conversation. If they don’t, it’s easy enough to look intent on whatever gussied up pig-in-a-blanket I’m shoveling into my mouth, or on reloading my plate. If that doesn’t work, there’s always excusing myself for yet another drink.

Speaking of drinks, the sideboard was set up next to the table with every alcohol imaginable, so before diving into the food I decided to make myself something special. “Take tarts when they’re passed,” my grandma always used to say. Hmm. A Tom Collins? A Manhattan? Some of that punch? No, definitely not that – there appeared to be some sort of animal floating on its side in the pink spume on the punch’s surface. Closer inspection showed it to be one of my hosts’ Christmas ornaments, a plump, little mouse. His smiling face bobbed in and out of the punch.

I settled on a scotch and soda, making a mental note to find out the name of Laura’s designer so I could be sure never to call her. I mixed my drink with my finger and turned back to the food with my finger in my mouth, not wanting to waste any of the very good scotch. I might have made a little too much of a sucking noise, I don’t know, but as I surveyed the table, I suddenly noticed a petite woman with straight, dark brown hair caught back in a ponytail looking at me with a faintly disgusted expression.

“Yes?” I said, maybe a little more belligerently than one should at a party.

The woman gave a dainty shudder and turned away.

Fine, maybe some people don’t lick their fingers at a party, but is it really that big a deal?

I loaded up my plate with some of almost everything on the table, noticing that Laura had set out yet more ornaments as rests for the various serving pieces. Cheese knives balanced on overturned Santas and snowmen, smears of Brie and camembert across their faces. A spoon from the spinach dip rested between a kitten’s paws, slopping green sludge down her side.

I was starting to wonder why I had come, especially since I had yet to spy any eligible bachelors. All I had seen so far was a bunch of married men I couldn’t even tell apart, so indistinctive were they with their glasses and receding hairlines, their plaid shirts and khakis.

As I looked around for a place I could make myself inconspicuous while judging people and stuffing my face, Laura’s voice blew like an air horn across the room: “Time for the Swap! Everyone pick a number out of the can, and get comfortable!” Some of the guests ran to Laura like they had been shot from a cannon, so excited were they to start the game. I noticed that the girl who had judged my social skills was among those in heat to get started. She pushed aside a man in front of her to get closer to where Laura stood with a Chock Full O’ Nuts can, and plunged her hand into its depths. The man looked at her askance, but as his face reflected recognition, he smiled weakly and said, “Oh, it’s you, Amanda. I should have known.”

Amanda fluttered her eyelashes at him and said, “Don’t you just love a Yankee Swap!?”

After everyone else had chosen his number, I reached into the can for my own: Number 38. Since there were about 40 guests at the party, Laura explained this meant I was in a prime position to take home one of the best gifts at the party:

“In case some of you don’t know how the Yankee Swap works, I’ll remind you.” Laura assumed her best head girl, jolly-hockey-sticks stance as she projected her voice to the crowd. “The person who drew the lowest number gets to choose the first gift from under the tree. The next person can choose either to take another gift from under the tree, or to take the gift that the first person got and let that person choose another gift. As more people open gifts, there will be more to choose from for each higher number. The person with the highest number can either open the last gift, or choose from all the other gifts that have already been opened. Everyone clear on how it works?”

I swear I saw spittle in the corners of Amanda’s mouth.

I poured myself a large glass of chardonnay and sat on the floor, since Amanda and her coterie had taken the sofa and all the chairs for themselves. A guy I hadn’t seen before sat down next to me, holding a wrapped gift. He had more hair than all the married guys I had seen, so I stole a quick glance at his left hand. No ring. I checked out his face and was encouraged, but reserved judgment until I could be sure there would be no girl soon joining him. No point getting one’s hopes up prematurely.

“I like my gift so much I’m not sure I can bring myself to give it away,” he whispered to me.

“That seems to defy the spirit of the Yankee Swap,” I whispered back. “What did you bring?”

“A bottle of sparkling red wine,” he said, smacking his lips appreciatively.

“Like pink champagne?” I asked hopefully.

“No, it’s really red wine,” he disappointed me, “just sparkling. It’s kind of fizzy.”

“Surely you could pick up some more at the 7-11?” I suggested.

“You think I’m kidding,” the good-looking guy with a full head of hair smiled, “but it’s really good. If nobody takes it from me, maybe you can try it.”

“I think the likelihood of anyone taking it from you is pretty small,” I said with what I hoped was a flirtatious smile, figuring enough time had gone by without some woman coming over to flash me a dirty look or piss a circle around him. “I’d be willing to give it a try.”

We settled down as the first few people selected gifts from under the tree. Apparently there were other guests who didn’t have the benefit of an attic to raid, as one girl looked doubtfully at a bag of “penis pasta” she held tentatively between thumb and forefinger, and one of the married guys sat with a coloring book and a box of crayons in his lap. His mousy wife noted to him in a stage whisper how nice it would be to take his present home to little Maggie, and he rolled his eyes with a sigh of resignation. No penis pasta for that guy. I took a slug of my wine and noticed the pleasant way the guy next to me’s thigh fit in his jeans.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Peter,” he said.

“Peter,” I repeated. “I’m Kate.”

“Hello, Kate,” said Peter. He gave me a look I chose to interpret as interested, but then I realized he was looking past me at the ongoing swap.

“Do you know her?” I asked. Peter was looking at Amanda as she wrapped her arms tightly around a two-foot-high plastic leprechaun, hugging it to her chest. It was the kind of kitschy decoration you can plug in and it lights up, and it was revolting.

“We know some of the same people,” Peter answered. “I’ve never met anyone more competitive in my life. Someone told me that in high school, she broke another girl’s leg with her lacrosse stick during a game, just because she had heard the girl liked her boyfriend. Since it was her own teammate, she was able to play it off as an accident.”

“She sounds delightful,” I observed, hoping to God she hadn’t set her sights on Peter, or worse, that they hadn’t already slept together.

Over the next hour, Peter and I chatted and watched Amanda go crazy over the filthy leprechaun that everyone kept referring to as a “gnome.” Occasionally someone would choose it on his turn and come to take it away from her, and she would cling to it for too long and generally be a bad sport about handing it over. Then she would pick it again whenever she had a chance. This happened several times, and as we were nearing the last of the numbers, I could see Amanda’s shoulders straightening as she sensed her victory was within reach.

Laura called out “Thirty-eight?” and it was my turn. Everyone turned to look at me, and I pretended to look around the room as if I had so much wondrous bounty to choose from.

“Tempting…” I smiled sexily at one interchangeable husband holding what looked like a rusty, old hand mixer. His wife glared at me and slid her hand onto his khaki-clad knee. I winked at her.

Spying my own unopened gift under the tree, I announced that I would open it.

“You’re going to open your own present?” Laura asked in a tone that made it clear that was simply not done.

“Not really,” I said, turning directly to face Amanda. I smiled at her as she clung to the gnome; just enough so my incisors pointed out daintily over my bottom lip like the sweetest little fangs.

Amanda looked at me balefully. “I’ll take that,” said I. She clung to it like a life raft.

“Pass it over, honey,” I said.

She held it tightly, perhaps thinking she looked cute as she clung to the rotten, peeling leprechaun. Or maybe she was past that; her face was flushed and damp, and really, she looked a little unhinged. Everyone watched us, fascinated by the social faux pas being played out before them. I reached out and pried the hideous plastic figure from Amanda’s grasp. She still held a piece of paper in her sweaty hand.

“It’s no good without the instructions,” she said with a defiant tilt to her chin, dragging it out until the bitter end.

“Then give me the fucking instructions,” I replied.

The party broke up soon after, and Peter and I retired to his place for some sparkling red wine. I liked it.