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Welcome to My Kingdom New Readers!

Welcome new readers. I’m glad you’ve ventured over to my kingdom!

I hope it’s a place where you’ll find relatable laughs from a middle-aged, weight-challenged, semi-professional dieter and mother with a passion for musical theater. It’s my hope to make you smile and remember you’re not alone out there!

Since we’re just meeting each other, here are a few of my favorite posts, to help you get to know me better.

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I hope to see you in my kingdom again soon!

I wish I was as thin as I was when I thought I was fat.

Dear Jenny Craig: Overweight Celebs Can Afford Their Own Diets! Help an Overweight Blogger!

I’ve always joked that if you’re rich, there’s no excuse for being overweight, because you can afford fat farms, personal trainers and private chefs.

I remember reading years ago that Jennifer Aniston had Zone meals delivered to her door … unlike the rest of us, who had to buy the book, then mash our own garbanzo beans to spoon into our yolkless hard boiled eggs every time we wanted a snack. Remember that diet? Every meal had to be 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat. You had to be an idiot savant in math to pack a lunch.

And let’s get real about the celebrities who who talk up the famous diets on TV.  They make millions off these endorsements and are paid handsomely for every pound they lose. They’re able to monetize getting fat and losing weight. taking home anywhere between $500,000 and $3 million for their efforts.

According to Jo Piazza, author of Celebrity Inc.: How Famous People Make Money, on an average, celeb diet endorsers make roughly $33,000 a pound, and some make a lot more than that. Jessica Simpson’s deal with Weight Watchers was reportedly worth $3 million. If she had to lose 50 pounds, that’s $60,000 a pound. If she had to lose 30, that’s $100,000 a pound. I’d venture to guess even the Guinness Book of World Records guy who had to be buried in a piano box might have cut carbs with an incentive like that.

So while I acknowledge that even celebrities struggle with their size, I think the average consumer is much more inspired when one of their own wins the battle of the bulge … for free. That’s why I contacted Jenny Craig a month ago, to see if they might be willing to help an overweight blogger.

I decided to take a humorous approach to getting Jenny’s attention. I topped off my cover letter with a top 10 list:

10 Reasons Why Her Royal Thighness Needs to Partner With Jenny Craig

  1. You know it’s time to diet, when you bust a hole in your Spanx.
  2. Even the best shaper cannot change Thighness’s Law: What goes in one place must come out somewhere else. What good is the torso of a Victoria’s Secret “angel” if you have so much fat re-routed, you have boobs on your back?
  3. With 235 pounds of pressure on my feet, they’ve become Flintstonian. Just try to find shoes wide enough to fit ― that aren’t scuba diving flippers.
  4. Nothing says sexy like going to bed in lingerie and a CPAP mask.
  5. I’m tired of shopping in stores that lump my size in with maternity.
  6. I’d like an outfit made of cotton, silk, or any other fabric that won’t melt to my skin in a flash fire.
  7. I turn a lot in my sleep … like a rotisserie chicken. I wake up several times a night because I’m strangling myself in my CPAP tubing. My life-saving apparatus is killing me.
  8. When you’re middle-aged and fat in Florida, you already sweat like Pavarotti hitting a high note. How am I going to know when I’m going through “the change?” It already feels like I’m wearing a parka.
  9. I’m a disappointment to the opposite sex. It appears that I have DD knockers, but when I take off my bra, it’s apparent that all I have is underarm fat that’s been tucked into my underwire.
  10. At 51, nobody asks me when I’m due anymore. The secret’s out: I’m fat.

My letter then went on to tell my heartfelt story of why I need Jenny’s help desperately. More of that in another blog. What could I give back? Well, in just a year I’ve cultivated between  7,000 to 8,000 page views a month on my site, and I only blog once a week. Those numbers will increase if I blog more, and I’d commit to not only writing my weekly humor blog, but additional blogs once or twice a week about my lifestyle change. I’d Google. I’d Pinterest. I’d Tweet. I am what is known in the marketing world as an evangelist. If I love your product, I will tell anyone and everyone about it … unsolicited, for free!

I told Jenny that, according to Google Analytics, I have an audience of mostly women, 35 and up, and based on comments on my blog and Facebook, most of them are looking to make positive changes in their lives, too. Some are navigating motherhood, while others are discovering new dreams and dusting off old ones in the wake of children growing up and moving out. My readers clearly embrace imperfection. They’re old enough to laugh at themselves and situations that once made them cry.

I told Jenny I desperately need help. It’s more than not feeling comfortable in my own skin … feeling like there’s something on me that I can’t get off. I have honestly never felt worse in my entire life. Here’s my laundry list:

  1. I have sleep apnea and my sleep study showed that I wake up well over 150 times a night. And I’m afraid of dying in my sleep, which happens with people with this condition.
  2. I have PCOD (polycystic ovarian disease), which already is linked to a high risk for diabetes. I am playing roulette with my life.
  3. Fat increases estrogen, which is causing me to get growths in my uterus that are hemorrhaging. I’ve had two D&Cs in four years and when it’s “that time of the month,” I literally cannot leave the house, because I bleed through two tampons, pads and my pants in half an hour.
  4. I’ve had two knee surgeries, including ACL reconstruction, and my bad knee isn’t going to hold up very much longer at my weight.
  5. Both knees hurt … even my good one.
  6. I’m tired all the time.
  7. I’m finding myself out of breath doing simple things.
  8. My lower back hurts from all the weight I’m carrying. It is most uncomfortable in a reclining position. I can’t sleep, and I usually end up waking up in the middle of the night and going to sleep in the living room in a recliner, so I can be more upright and have lumbar support. In this position, I can breathe better and my back hurts less. But this is NOT doing wonders for my marriage.
  9. In the last year and a half, I’ve gone from a size 10 to a size 3X, and nothing fits me. I can’t afford to keep buying new clothes, so I go to work every day, feeling frumpy and like anything BUT a winner.
  10. I’m really scared of dying. Did I say that already? My mother died of cancer when I was 10. Something has been missing from my life ALL my life, and I desperately don’t want my daughter to experience this gaping lack of presence and nurturing … or the sadness of not having a mom during all of the high and low points of her life.

It’s been a month now, and I’d like to say I’ve heard back from Jenny, but in actuality, I’ve heard bubkas. And I can’t wait for her anymore. Ultimately, I realize, it all comes down to me, anyway … MY resolve … MY willpower … MY willingness to put my health before a Fig Newton. Ultimately, we all have to save ourselves.

So two and a half weeks ago, I put myself on a healthy eating plan. I was in my more-handsome-than-George-Clooney doctor’s office, complaining of lower back pain comparable to labor. He lifted up my stomach and said, “Do you feel it now?” And when the pressure of my weight was off my back, no, I didn’t. He didn’t berate me. I do that well enough myself. Feeling like a failure is one of the things that drives me to eat. But I’ll tell you what he did offer. He offered me an eating plan that he made up himself, that is easy enough for a monkey to follow. He based it on the science of metabolism, but dumbed it down for the masses. In two weeks, I’ve lost 11 pounds. I’m never hungry. I have no cravings. And I feel good that I’m taking back control of my life. I told my doctor he should write a diet book. He laughed and said it’s so easy, all he’d really be able to write is a pamphlet!

I am simultaneously trying to break a 45-year addiction to diet soda, which just may be worse than giving up crystal meth. Because while chips and dip are NOT calling my name, #E3 in the beverage machine at work taunts me every time I pass it on my way to the ladies room: “Parriiiiiii … you know you want me … come get my artificially flavored, brain-tumor-causing cancer in a can. Your liver hasn’t bathed in my chemical goodness in days.” In the recent year, my habit has come to exceed three cans and 2 20-ounce bottles a day… that’s more than a six-pack.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be writing my usual humor blog once a week, but adding lifestyle posts, where I talk about the journey to changing my life. I hope you will join me, whatever your size, in exchanging ideas, recipes and your own stories, even when you’re NOT feeling on top of the world. I’ve decided to do this publicly, because I need help. And I want to offer the same to anyone out there who needs support, too.

What I’ve discovered in my one year of blogging is an amazingly supportive community of writing colleagues and readers, all eager to share in life’s experiences … the good, the bad and the ugly. And that’s what these posts will be about. I’ll always try to write with humor, because that’s who I am. But I sometimes feel like I’ve boxed myself in with a humor blog … that I have so much more say. I hope you’ll join me in this journey, even if yours doesn’t include weight loss. Because these posts will be about so much more than that.

It’s about the finding the best version of yourself.

 

I YIDDISH 1

Oy Vey! I’ve Been Sitting on My Tuches For Hours, Schvitzing Out This Blog!

 

I was in a gourmet shop in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor when I spotted a Chinese takeout carton labeled “Jewish Fortune Cookies.” Unable to resist, I made my purchase and promptly dug into the carton to open the first one.

“Oedipus, Shmedipus,” it read. “So long as you love your mother.”

I smiled from ear-to-ear, thinking about the colorful expressions that surrounded me growing up in a Jewish neighborhood. My grandparents spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want us to understand them. But their English, too, was sprinkled with animated phrases that crossed over to my generation. Unfortunately, I’ve spent a lot of my life in places with few Jews, so I’m often misunderstood.

When I worked at a newspaper in Michigan, for instance, the newsroom was on the second floor of one of those grand old buildings with high ceilings. Climbing the stairs to my desk was like climbing two flights, not one.

“Oy,” I’d sigh every morning, as I reached the top landing with my heavy work bag.

“Hi,” my fellow reporters would respond, thinking I’d issued a salutation.

That’s when it dawned on me: How do you explain “oy”? It can be an expression of contentment (“Oy, what a delicious dinner”) or dismay (“Oy, I’ve gained 60 pounds since I went off Weight Watchers”) or even abysmal woe (“Oy! My grandson came home from college with more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. Why on earth does anyone need to fit a pickle through their ear?”)

It can be used in a sentence:

Oy gevalt! (Oy geh vahlt): “May a great power intervene on my behalf!” Use this in desperate situations, like when you discover there’s a 45-minute wait at The Olive Garden.

Oy veh is mir! (oy vay  is mir): “Oh, woe is me!”; “I am pain itself!” … an expression of suffering used to describe big horrors, such as finding out someone you love needs open-heart surgery, and everyday miseries like stocking runs and static cling.

Most Yiddish words have no English equivalents:

Yenim’s pipik (Yeh nem’s pip pick): somebody else’s bellybutton. You’re struggling to pay your mortgage, when your teenager hits you up for a new iPhone, because his is so “last generation.” You suggest he look in yenim’s pipik.

Yiddish words can spice up any ordinary sentence. Sprinkle them in for dramatic emphasis:

Ungehpotchkeyed (ung geh potch keed): excessively and gaudily over-decorated … think Liberace’s living room. Your neighbor wears enough makeup to press her face against a canvas and sell it as a self-portrait. Oy! Does she look ungehpotchkeyed.

Verbs are especially expressive, inviting genuine pity from anyone who will listen:

Schvitz (shvitts): to sweat profusely, as in oozing from every pore. “Oy, turn the air up. I’m schvitzing to death in here!”

Shlep (shlep): to drag; not merely to move an object, but to take on a burden to which no human being on earth should be subjected. (“I schlepped all over the city, trying to find shoes that don’t irritate my bunions. Now, oy gevalt, I not only need shoes; I need a motorized wheelchair.”)

Yiddish is packed with wonderful words to describe every moron, idiot and annoying or unpleasant person who’s ever crossed your path.

Yenta (yen ta): a busybody, a gossip … that relative at your son’s bar mitzvah, who asks, “So how much did this shindig cost?” … then wants to know, “If you can afford the Solid Gold dancers and the light-up hats, why aren’t you helping pay for Uncle Izzy in the old people’s home in Miami?”

Alter kocker (oll-ter-kock-er): A cranky old man; an “old fart” … the kind who yells at you from his front porch, while you’re walking your beagle: “Get off my lawn, you hooligans!”

Schlemiel (shluh meal): a born loser; the kind of jerk who wants you to invest your life savings in helping him bring back the eight track. There’s a Yiddish proverb that a schlemiel falls on his back and breaks his nose.

There are literally thousands of Yiddish expressions that can add spice to ordinary conversation:

Schmaltz (shmolts): corny, hackneyed emotionalism. “Feelings” is a schmaltzy tune.

Chutzpah (chuts pah) (The “ch” is a guttural, throat-clearing sound): colossal nerve. Jews often describe this as “Someone who murders his parents, then pleads for mercy in court on account he is an orphan.”

There are hordes of Yiddish physical descriptions:

Shnoz: slang for nose ― usually a large or unattractive nose (This comes from the German word “schnauzer,” meaning “snout” or “muzzle).

Pulkehs (pull keys): large, heavy thighs

Zoftig (zoff tig): soft and springy. Men use this word to describe women with a surplus of epidermis in all the right places.

Tuches (Taw chus) (guttural “ch”): the buttocks; the reason I’m ending this blog and heading to the Y. The tuchas is one of the unfortunate places where a zoftig woman’s epidermis tends to accumulate.

5741366736899.47287

Her Royal Thighness’s Fast-Food Milkshake Taste Test

A few weeks ago, we lost the guy who regularly stocks our vending machines at work. The new guy lined two rows of our beverage machine with Starbucks bottled frappuccinos. Unbeknownst to him, however, he let the machine charge only 60 cents for these beverages, which usually retail for between $3 and $4. When employees caught wind of the error, they cleaned out the machine in two minutes flat.

I was sitting at a lunch table the day this incident went down. Colleagues were scrambling for change to buy as many as they could, even filling their lunch totes with them and sticking them in the fridge for another day. One friend bought a few to take home to his wife, not even knowing if she liked them.

“Hmm,” the vending guy must have thought the next time he arrived to stock the machine. “These Starbucks bottled drinks are a big hit.”

So he refilled the slots again.

That’s when I thought. “These drinks are discounted about $3. I should buy one, too.” So I put 60 cents in the machine and scored a mocha frappucino. I put it in my lunch tote to take home and transfer to my fridge.

“Hey, whose Starbucks drink is this?” my husband asked, when he opened the fridge.

“I brought it home for anyone who wants it,” I said. “The vending machine was selling them for 60 cents and they usually sell for about $3.75.”

“But you don’t even drink coffee,” he said. “And you know I don’t drink iced coffee.”

“I know, but it was a good price,” I responded. “I figured somebody would drink it … a guest, maybe?”

“So let me get this straight,” Jim said. “You don’t even have to like something to buy it, if it’s a good price? Just the word ‘sale’ is enough for you? It’s about the thrill of the deal, not whether you even like or use the product?”

“Uhhh …”

“You have problems,” he said.

I do. I’ve written about this before … my problem with free stuff and my pledge to give it up … my backslide at a recent conference expo, where I came home with a suitcase full of Glade air fresheners and enough nail polish to stock a Vietnamese nail salon.

Jim’s right. I don’t drink coffee. I wake up with iced tea or diet soda. There aren’t a lot of beverages I like that are low in calories. So I mostly drink water with lemon.

So you’d think when Sonic approached me to taste test their milkshakes, I’d turn them down. I don’t drink milkshakes. I’ve never ordered one … not even at McDonald’s, as a kid.

First of all, as a Jewish girl, even though I’m not kosher, I was conditioned to never eat dairy with meat. We did not have milk with our meals growing up. We had water.

Second, I’ve always preferred to chew my calories, not drink them. I tried to make my family milkshakes years ago and you need about eight cows just to get one creamy glass full. I’d rather drink a Diet Dr. Pepper and have a cone.

But Sonic offered me a $10 gift card to their restaurant to try their shakes … and a $10 Visa to try competitor shakes. As a lover of all things free, how could I turn this down? My family drinks milkshakes. And it would be a great excuse to go to Sonic, where we love to occasionally splurge on foot long chili cheese dogs and chili cheese fries.

So even though I don’t drink milkshakes, I said yes. Because that’s what I do. I take free pens with the names of insurance companies. I take ugly canvas tote bags that say things like “Have a happy period.” Jim’s right: I have problems.

So one week ago, before driving my daughter to college, my family went out to see how Sonic stacked up against its fast food competitors … McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King. We did not taste test at sit down restaurants, like Steak ‘n Shake  … only fast food joints. And this is what we found:

 Variety

Taste-testing at Sonic

Taste-testing at Sonic

Sonic’s selection is so overwhelming, we couldn’t decide which shakes to order. When it comes to selection, Sonic wins, hands down. Wendy’s Frosty™ McDonald’s McCafé and Burger King’s Hand Spun Shakes come in the standard vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavors. Burger King, however, has added an Oreo shake to its menu.

Sonic’s selection far surpasses its competitors, with 25 flavors, including peanut butter, pineapple, hot fudge, cookie dough, Oreo caramel, Oreo peanut butter, peanut butter fudge, salted caramel, caramel pie, chocolate hazelnut, even coconut cream pie. There were so many to choose from, we didn’t know what to order. We decided on the Oreo peanut butter, the salted caramel, the coconut cream pie and a standard vanilla. But there were only three of us, you say? Hey, we had $10. Sonic practically twisted our arms.

Presentation

Sonic’s and McDonalds both win for presentation. All of the shakes came with whipped cream and a cherry. Sonic went one step further with my coconut cream pie shake, adding a sprinkling of graham cracker dust to add to the pie feeling and flavor.

Burger King’s shakes came with whipped cream only. And Wendy’s Frosty had no whipped cream or cherry. Note, also, that while every other fast food small-sized shake was 12 ounces, Wendy’s was 8.6 ounces.

Taste

To be fair, my husband, daughter and I decided to compare vanilla shakes only. And what we discovered was that, when you drink competitive shakes side-by-side, you can really taste the difference between brands. And Sonic’s, hands down, came out in first place. Trust me that I am not saying this, because Sonic paid for this venture. It was only $20, and I went into this planning to return the money, if I had nothing positive to say.

But Sonic’s shake was thick and creamy and had a rich flavor. It was sweet, without being too sweet. It tasted like real vanilla ice cream.

The next best shake was McDonalds, which had the perfect sweetness, but didn’t taste as authentic as Sonic’s. McDonald’s website says shakes are made with reduced-fat soft serve, which explains it. I have conditioned myself to be happy with reduced fat products over the years, but when taste tested against my husband’s “real” ice cream or chips, I’m always disappointed. Reduced-fat products have to stand alone. Otherwise, there’s no comparison.

Wendy’s shake tasted too sweet to me … and very artificial. My husband liked the sweetness at Wendy’s better than Sonic, but my family was in full agreement that Sonic’s shakes tasted more real.

Burger King’s shake was also creamy and had the right sweetness for me, though my husband wished it was sweeter. From my first spoonful of whipped cream, it also tasted really artificial. All three of us (on secret ballots) put Burger King’s shakes dead last.

“It tastes plasticy,” my husband noted, adding that it had a slight sourness to it, like cheesecake. My daughter described the taste as “too vanilla-y” and thought she detected a hint of banana. We all agreed that the flavor seemed really off.

Texture

Sonic’s shakes were so thick, our only complaint was it was tough to sip through a straw. We think the restaurant needs to use those smoothie straws … or serve the shake with a straw AND a spoon, like an ice cream parlor.

McDonald’s shake had a smooth consistency and was thick, but slightly thinner than Sonic’s, so it was easier to drink through a straw.

Wendy’s shakes were the thickest, and we couldn’t get it through the straw at all, without straining those same muscles you use to blow up a balloon. Fortunately, Wendy’s served our shake with a spoon and a straw.  I ended up using a spoon.

Burger King’s shake was thinner than the competitors, so you could sip it through the straw, but it was too thin. My teenager described it as creamy and light, but “soupy.” And we all agreed that , while it was smooth, it was too smooth.

“It’s a fake smooth,” my husband said, “like you’re ingesting silicone.”

So How Did Sonic Rank?

This was not even a contest. Sonic’s shakes tasted the most like real ice cream. That’s because they ARE made with real ice cream. They’re thick and creamy and boast rich flavors – like milkshakes you’d get in an ice cream shop.

McDonald’s was the next best. The shakes are made with reduced-fat vanilla with vanilla shake syrup, so the flavor wasn’t as rich when you taste test it against Sonic.

In my opinion, Wendy’s and Burger King shakes are to milkshakes what “orange drink” is to orange juice … not even close. Neither were worth the calories, in my book. And they both tasted synthetic.

 

Her Royal Thighness Fast-Food Milkshake Taste Test

Epilogue

After sampling Sonic’s vanilla shake, my daughter and I handed it off to my husband (not the most daring eater in the world). We then turned to our more exotic shakes. We loved our first few sips of the salted caramel, but after a few sips, we agreed it was too sweet. This shake is more suited to sharing, kind of like a dense chocolate torte … it becomes too much after a while.

Thighness at Sonic

Thighness enjoyed her first milkshake: a Sonic coconut cream shake that tasted just like pie!

We both loved the Oreo peanut butter shake. It was creamy with a rich chocolate-peanut butter flavor, but not overly sweet. My daughter claimed that one, leaving me with the coconut cream pie.

I took one sip and it did taste exactly like pie ― my favorite pie of all time! It was thick and well blended, with tiny flakes of coconut, giving it a slightly courser texture than the vanilla shake. I enjoyed the texture, because it made it feel less like a drink and more like ice cream. It was the first milkshake I’d ever had in my life, and I decided to postpone my diet one more day … because it was that good!

 

Fotolia_45514297_XS_ Imperial Crown

Her Royal Thighness and the Mystery of the Margarine Crown

 

When my husband and I lived in Michigan, we periodically trekked to Detroit to see Broadway touring companies and shop at bigger, more upscale malls than the one in our town.

We were on our way there one afternoon when – after we passed the giant Uniroyal Tire on I-94 (a Detroit landmark) – I spotted a car with a miniature gold crown in the rear window. I didn’t think much of it. It was probably a doll accessory, left by a child. But moments later, I spotted another, and it caught my attention.

“I wonder what those gold crowns are in the back of those cars,” I said, thinking aloud. “We’ve passed two cars that have them … those fancy crowns with the red velvet underneath, like in the old Imperial Margarine commercials.”

“That’s strange,” my husband agreed.

We continued on our way and eventually pulled off the highway at the exit leading downtown. That’s when I spotted a third car with the same royal symbol in the back window.

“There’s another one,” I pointed. “What do you think it means?”

“I have no idea,” Jim said.

The wheels in my head began spinning.

“They must be some sort of symbol,” I said. “Like a Mary Kay decal or a bumper sticker that lets other drivers know you’re a gun-toting member of the NRA.”

“Oh, I know,” my husband said. “Maybe it means you’re a member of one of those Grand Poobah organizations. I’ll bet that’s what it is.”

“Like the Royal Order of Water Buffalo?” I pondered.

“Uh, that’s The Flintstone version,” he said. “I’m talking about a real club or society, like the Masons or the Kiwanis or the Shriners.

“I thought they embrace the fez,” I noted. “These are crowns. On the other hand, every car we’ve seen with a crown has been driven by a man.”

We conjectured a little more, arrived at our destination, and never gave it another thought.

Until a few weeks later.

Finding ourselves in Detroit again, I spotted another driver with a miniature gold crown his back window.

“There it is again,” I said. “I’ve only see those in Detroit. Clearly they’re some sort of symbol. Is there a Greek Orthodox church around here? Maybe these people are all Greek Orthodox. I think crowns are part of their marriage ceremony.”

“So after tying the knot, you think couples are presented with these tiny gold crowns to display in their Buicks?” Jim pondered.

“Yeah. You know. Religious symbols,” I said. “Like those magnetic fish people stick on the back of their cars … so they can be easily identified by their Christian comrades.”

“Why would people need to know who else is Greek Orthodox?” my husband asked. “That doesn’t sound right.”

“Why do people with fish want to announce they’re Christian?” I asked. “Same thing. I don’t get it. I don’t put a dreidel on the back of my car, but to each his own.”

We drove on, spotting another crown on the highway, trying to guess what on earth this meant.

“Okay, it’s a crown,” I said. “Think royalty. Kings … queens … Do you think it’s a gay symbol?”

“What?”

“You know, queens,” I said.

“That’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve said so far,” Jim said. “Besides, gays have the rainbow. I don’t think there’s a special symbol for queens.”

“What about Dairy Queen,” I asked? “Are they rebranding?”

Again, we got off the highway and got on with our day, and the crowns slipped from our minds.

But the next time we drove to Detroit, we started seeing the tiny crowns again.

“Do you think it’s some sort of symbol of the Detroit Renaissance?” I asked. “You know … the movement to revitalize and reinvent Detroit?”

“Maybe it’s a souvenir from the Renaissance festival in Holly, Michigan,” my husband chimed in.

“Nah,” I said. “Why would everyone put it in exactly the same place … the back window? It’s clearly sending a message. “Do Uniroyal Tires have a symbol? Maybe these people are all heirs to the tire thrown.”

“Maybe they’re Elvis fans,” he said. “You know … the king of pop.”

“You think Elvis fans need to spot each other on the highway?” I asked?

“You never know,” he said. “That could be the big gift item at Graceland.”

“And all of these Elvis fans just happen to be driving through Motown today?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “They were here last week, too.”

“I know,” I said, a lightbulb going off. “Maybe it’s a symbol for Royal Oak, Michigan. It’s a suburb of Detroit.”

“I don’t think towns have symbols,” Jim said. “Sometimes they identify with a flower or a bird, but I’ve never heard of a town symbol.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Maybe Royal Oak started the movement.”

I was quiet while I pondered this.

“I’ve got it,” I said. “Drugs! The crowns let you know who the kingpins are.”

“How many drug kingpins do you think are driving around town?” Jim asked. “And why would they want to be identified? Don’t you think they’d be looking to slip under the radar?”

“What about Martin Luther King?” I blurted. “Maybe it’s a way of paying tribute to THE king ― Martin Luther King. Maybe it’s a symbol of black power.”

We got off the highway and started taking the streets to the restaurant, where we were having dinner. As we pulled up at a red light, an old dented Dodge pulled alongside us, and I spotted one of the now infamous crowns on the dashboard.

“That guy has one,” I said. “But it’s on his dashboard. Let’s ask him.”

“What? NO!” Jim said. “You don’t just roll down your windows in Detroit and ask random people about their dashboard decorations.”

“This is making me crazy,” I said. “I have to know.”

And before he could stop me, I was rolling down my window and waving down the guy in the next lane.

“Excuse me,” I said. “That crown in your windshield … what does it mean?”

The man looked at me like he didn’t understand my English … or like I had a thumb growing out of my forehead.

“The crown,” I repeated, pointing to his regal decoration. “We’re seeing them all over Detroit. What is it a symbol of? Are you a member of some organization?”

He stared at me with deranged eyes of disbelief. And then he smiled. And I was about to start rolling up my window, thinking Jim was right: this dude probably has a gun.

And the guy started to laugh … a deep, hearty, possibly demented laugh.

“Floor the gas pedal!” I whispered through my teeth, smacking my husband as the light changed.

We were about to screech the heck out of dodge, when the guy opened his mouth to speak.

“Lady,” he said, still cackling …

“It’s an air freshener.”

Enquirer Montage

Plus-Sized Blogger Cries: “The National Enquirer Was Intimidated By My Youth and Talent!”

It was the spring of 1986, and I was close to graduating with my master’s in journalism. My university arranged for editors from several publications to visit our Chicago campus, and I signed up for several interviews. But for one in particular, I was the only student to throw my name in the hat. It was an interview with the National Enquirer.

Friends thought I was crazy. How on earth could I throw away a promising career on such a trash publication? I’d lose my street creds. No one would ever hire me again.

But I had a plan. I’d borrowed thousands in student loans, one of which had a double digit interest rate. If I could land a job with the National Enquirer, I could make more than double the starting salary I could make anywhere else. In the mid ‘80s, the Enquirer started reporters at about $60,000. At the newspaper chain I worked for just a few years later, that was about $10,000 more than the amount at which your salary topped out after working there 15 to 20 years.

So I had a plan. I would land the job at the Enquirer, write under an assumed name, stay long enough to pay off my loans and hightail it out of there to begin my “legitimate” newspaper career. No one would ever be the wiser.

I had my alias picked out before I ever went to my interview. I was going for irony, so with my dark hair and eyes, I decided to call myself Goldie. And without an ounce of Hispanic blood, I chose Lopez for my surname. Yes, Goldie Lopez would take the tabloid world by storm, getting paid the big bucks, while gathering tales that would guarantee she’d be a hit at every cocktail party for years to come. I would mesmerize crowds with tales of how Elvis was alive and well and cooking wieners at a Dog ‘n Suds in Arkansas.

My interview with the National Enquirer was like no other I would ever have again –over a champagne brunch at the landmark Drake Hotel in Chicago. The editor asked me all of the typical questions: Where had I gone to college? Did I have any prior work experience?

He told me how the tabloid operatedasserting that – despite public opinion – every story the newspaper printed was absolutely, positively true.

“Mike” the editor told me that if the National Enquirer printed a story about a two-headed baby, I could be sure they had an x-ray in their files to prove it wasn’t a hoax. He said the Enquirer fact-checking department was second to none and boasted about how most of the writers had decades of journalism experience. Many of them had had spent years working for tabloids in the UK.

And then it was my turn to ask a few questions.

Feeling a little less inhibited by the first Mimosa I’d ever had in my life, I looked at Mike and furrowed my brow as I boldly asked:

“But doesn’t it irk your conscience to print so many stories about deformed people … deformed children?”

He looked at me without flinching and responded very matter-of-factly:

“The National Enquirer doesn’t print any story that it doesn’t feel is of service to its readers.”

Then he read the doubt on my face.

“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “We once did a story on a couple with no arms and legs. They were able to find a medical professional who agreed to join their bodies, so they could conceive a child. The woman gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby with all of it’s appendages. … Now a story like that is an inspiration to people with no arms and legs everywhere.”

Was this some sort of joke? Was the human capacity for rationalization truly this far beyond anything I’d ever imagined? Even if the Enquirer’s 18 million readers were inspired by this story of armless and legless parents, how did some of the other bizarre stories qualify as inspiration? Did knowing that Michael Jackson was building a shrine in his mansion for Elizabeth Taylor inspire others to do the same? Did reading about “Pat Sajak’s Secret Divorce: ‘Wheel of Fortune Ruined My Marriage’” inspire Bob Barker and Richard Dawson to try a little harder with their partners?

I guessed I could twist any headline into being inspirational.

Poor Zsa Zsa’s Wedding Surprise: Her New Love Is a Convicted Con Man & Thief – You must do diligent homework before tying the knot!

Michael Landon’s Daughter Reveals: How My Parents’ Breakup Caused Me to Get Bulemia – Eating disorders are terrible. Get help! And be cognizant that your break up impacts the people around you.

Fantasy Island Exclusive: Fired Tattoo Fights Back: “They Treated Me Like a Monkey” – You have to stand up for yourself, even if you have to stand on a milk crate … or: It can be difficult to remove Tattoos.

Maybe Mike the editor was just a master at spinning a story.

Then again, back then the National Enquirer did print a lot of diet and weight loss secrets, medical discoveries, relationship advice and financial tips for the masses:

How to Be Richer a Year From Now: 52 Tips to Put Thousands in Your Pocket

Cheating: How to Tell if Your Mate is Unfaithful and How to Save Your Marriage

Add Years to Your Life: Easy Way to Live 10 to 15 Years Longer – By 2 Leading Doctors

5 Simple Ways to Attract Men Like a Magnet

Weekly World News MontageIf I wanted to, I could believe as Mike believed – that the Enquirer was providing a public service. I mean, as bad as it got, it still wasn’t the Weekly World News, which brought us hard-hitting stories like “Bigfoot Kept Lumberjack as Love Slave” and  “Adoption Agency Selling Shaved Apes as Babies.”

No. I would not be deterred. I would get the job at the National Enquirer and ask for the medical beat. I would write pieces like “Eating Garlic May Prevent Colon Cancer” and “Dizzy Spells Can Warn You of Serious Health Problems.” Yes, Goldie Lopez would write with integrity. I would get assigned to legitimate stories. I would only write the truth. I would land this job and pay off my loans and live the rest of my life debt-free, with a squeaky clean conscience.

Well the National Enquirer contacted me a few weeks later and told me that, after careful consideration, they decided to stick with their policy of hiring only seasoned journalists. In other words, I wasn’t good enough to tackle pieces like “Liz Says Swami Saved Her Life.”

A few months later, Mike contacted me again. By this point I had finished my internship at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and was working at a newspaper in Leesburg, Florida. He asked me if I’d be interested in driving down to Lantana (not too far from Boca) for an all-expenses-paid week trial period. Since The Leesburg Commercial had me editing and laying out Dear Abby, the daily word jumble and the bridge column, I leaped at the opportunity for an adventure … and free room service.

The Enquirer newsroom reeked of cigarette and cigar smoke and the writers sat in rows, like they were raising money for Jerry’s kids. Everyone sat next to each other, like telemarketers – no walls, no cubicles. You didn’t have to try to eavesdrop to hear every word your neighbor was saying, which is how I knew the guy next to me was researching the hard-hitting question: “Is Michael Jackson the Reincarnation of King Tut?”

Michael Jackson TutI quickly learned that the most challenging part of writing for the Enquirer was getting any expert to agree to talk to you, even on a story that might appear in a regular newspaper. I was doing a piece on the origin of slang, with a glossary to help parents understand their teens. It was a legitimate story, so it was more than a little demoralizing to have professor after professor hang up on me as soon as they heard the name of my publication. I plugged away, but couldn’t help feeling like a hack.

The second piece I was assigned was a quiz: Do You Have What it Takes to Be a Success? The Enquirer ran a quiz in every issue. My assignment basically consisted of making up questions, then phoning experts until I could find anyone from any university to say, “Why, yes, the answers to those questions might be a good indication of future success.” I was told to craft a results key where nobody came out a loser. Think about that the next time you put too much stock in a magazine quiz.

The Enquirer ended up buying and running both stories for several hundred dollars a piece. But, again, they decided not to hire unseasoned me.

So I went back to editing Abby, while waiting for my chance to cover some breaking news. Weeks later, Mike called again to ask if I’d be interested in freelancing. If I promised to send a hundred or so ideas a week, he promised to assign me stories, even if none of my ideas cut the mustard. This was no easy feat. I spent hours at the library, researching health, fitness and scientific discoveries and bizarre human interest stories.

Mike kept his promise, assigning me stories like “What do people in Mensa watch on TV?” but nothing I wrote ever made it to publication. I made a few thousand much-needed dollars in “kill fees” (the Enquirer paid half the fee for a story that didn’t pan out), but Goldie never got an actual byline.

Still, it was extraordinary money for a freelancer. Most newspapers back then paid about $25-$50 a story. The Enquirer paid a flat fee for a story that ran on the bottom of a page (somewhere between $350 and $500, if I remember correctly) and a higher fee for a story that ran at the top. I want to say top-of-the-page stories paid something like $750. And if your story got a teaser on the front page, you got a bonus of about $1,200.

I freelanced for the Enquirer for a few months, but eventually fizzled out. None of the ideas I gave them ever turned into a story … or they liked my ideas, but someone else submitted them first. After a while, they just stopped using me.

And that was okay, because I lacked the thick skin for rejection needed for the job. Every time someone slammed down the receiver while I was mid-sentence, the way I felt about my promising career plummeted a little further.

Goldie Lopez died a quick and painless death. And Parri Sontag didn’t pay off her student loans for at least another decade.

And just in case you’re wondering, Michael Jackson just might have been the reincarnation of Tut.

Because according to the Enquirer, they both wore gloves.

 

free1

Thighness Gets Carried Away By Free “Swag” at Blogging Conference

Several exhibitors at this year’s BlogHer 2014 conference report that their businesses have gone under in the wake of their booths being pillaged by an over-zealous blogger who calls herself Her Royal Thighness.

“I don’t know what came over me,” said the middle-aged Thighness, 51, one of this year’s BlogHer Voices of the Year for humor. “I was sitting at breakfast on Saturday, when I realized there were only hours left until the Expo closed at five. I just panicked.”

So Thighness ditched her chocolate croissant and made a run for the Expo Hall.

“It started innocently enough,” she said. “The first booth I saw was for Skype. They said to take a card and write down one action I pledge to take to live my life with more passion. Then I had to share it by tweeting it out to the world. After that, I got to go over to the prize display and select an apron, a windbreaker, a pair of sunglasses or a rechargeable ‘juice’ pack for my cell phone. I just couldn’t decide. I wanted them all.”

So Thighness, who always dreamed of striking it rich on a game show, chose a battery pack, then returned to the booth three more times for chargers for her husband and daughter … plus a XXL white windbreaker that it turns out she can’t even wear.

IMG_1098“When I got home and tried it on, my family told me I looked like the Abominable Snowman,” she said. “Plus, my daughter pointed out that the back of the jacket says ‘If I share mine, will you share yours?’ It kind of makes me look like a perv.”

Thighness was willing to do whatever it took to score freebies. She listened attentively as representatives at one booth talked about abnormal uterine bleeding and a five-minute nonsurgical procedure that can help – just to score a Rosie the Riveter button that says “Let’s Talk About Periods.” She then spotted several colorful baskets of trendy China Glaze nail polishes and chose a lavender polish for her daughter … and a light green polish … and deep purple … plus six different shades of pink and red.

Thighness hit booth after booth, scoring coupons for products she doesn’t use. She helped herself to recyclable shopping bags, lip balm and hand sanitizer. She took eight Lysol pens, a Nescafe hot and cold tumbler, two Go Daddy USB car adapters, a cupcake made of lentils and a free Eggland’s Best spatula. Booth representatives reportedly communicated via walkie talkies to warn each other that the “swag hag” was headed in their direction, so they could hide their stash.

Said Vikki Claflin, the author of the hit humor blog, Laugh Lines: “You know that feeling you get when you take an over-sugared, wired, haven’t-slept-in-five-days-because-I’m-JUST-SO-EXCITED toddler to an amusement park, and you spend the entire day chasing her as she runs from ride to ride, wanting to do everything right freakin’ now? Say hello to my day with Thighness at the BlogHer14 Expo. This woman is a force to be reckoned with.”

Thighness and Claflin sat side-by-side for complimentary professional hand massages, after which Thighness walked off with, not one, but three boxed sets of pricey moisturizer for overly dry skin.

samp010d437bfa4189d0When friends told her it was about time for keynote speaker Arianna Huffington to take the stage, she brushed them off, they said. Thighness, who worked herself into what is being called a “lovely-parting-gift catatonia,” could no longer remember verbalizing, just hours before, how much she was looking forward to listening to the chair, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.

“As soon as Thighness hit the Expo Hall, she turned into a swag zombie – hair askew, eyes wide and unfocused,” said Darcy Perdu, who authors the popular humor blog So Then Stories. “She lunged down the hallways, laden with bags of freebies, arms outstretched, in a trance-like state, mumbling ‘Must get swag. Must get swag.’ No exhibitor was safe. She hit every booth. ‘Can I have a phone charger? How about that keychain? Are those cup cakes free? What about that skirt you’re wearing?’”

Thighness darted from display to display, collecting three bottles of organic vitamins, two containers of fiber pills, three bottles of bleach tablets for toilets and laundry, two Glade plug-ins and two refills.

“Good God, she even asked the lady at the Glade booth if she could have two of the scented candles that were part of the display,” Claflin laughed.

At the Chuckie Cheese booth, witnesses say Thighness took her turn spinning a wheel to win a board game, scoring a brand new shrink-wrapped Scrabble.

IMG_1056“But it wasn’t enough for her,” said one of the pizza chain’s representatives. “Nothing was enough. This woman was insatiable. We had all of these dress up clothes for bloggers to put on and take pictures in a photo booth – feathered boas, hats and glasses. She kept disguising herself and getting back in line to spin again. Monopoly … Scattergories. Thank heavens she spotted the free Baskin Robbins ice cream stand, or she would have walked off with the wheel.”

WordPress was giving out sunglasses. Thighness took three pairs.

Hairfinity had special vitamins that strengthen and grow hair. She took a two-month supply.

Cuisinart gave her rubber coasters that invert into trivets. She went back two more times for a full set.

Thighness walked off with $5 coupons for Baskin Robbins and Ziploc, a three-month subscription to an online magazine service and an offer to try a free Botox treatment in her hometown.

Representatives from several booths said they’d never witnessed anything like the personality change that overtook the midlife blogger. Several feared for their lives.

Said one onlooker, who preferred not to be named, “She loaded this giant Firestone tote bag with everything in sight. When that tote was filled to the brim, she went back to the booth and begged for another. They didn’t want to give it to her, but she had a crazed look in her eyes.”

10353509_10203220671812826_6053841996601057629_o

Podunk, Podunk, a Hell of a Town!

It was my first day in Jackson, Michigan, 25 years ago. As my taxi passed the sign, “Prison Area. Do not pick up hitchhikers,” I hesitated at my decision to accept my first feature writing job at The Jackson Citizen-Patriot, instead of an equally good offer in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I rented an apartment in a big pine green house in a lovely residential neighborhood, and I’d barely started unpacking my duffel bags, when an upstairs neighbor knocked on my door with an apple pie.  He confessed it was Mrs. Smiths, and he’d put it on a plate for a homespun effect, but it felt very Mayberry nonetheless. In New York, you’re taught as a child to never accept edibles from a stranger; they could be masking rat poison, arsenic, even razor blades. But somehow, I knew this dessert came in peace.

Still, I was young and believed I was some breed of superior being, having hailed from The Big Apple. So while I was secretly tickled at the surprise gift, I called home full of jokes that Aunt Bea just brought me a pie.

Cascades Park

Cascades Park

I had a foot out the door from the minute I landed in Michigan. I was going to get my newspaper experience in this podunk town, then land a feature writing job with my dream paper, The Chicago Tribune. I’d fallen in love with Chicago during graduate school, and believed that was where the more civilized midwesterners lived. Meanwhile, I’d have to endure life with Andy, Barney, Gomer and the gang. God help me.

Those first weeks, I gave bank tellers and cashiers the evil eye for wasting my valuable time while they leisurely chatted up customers ahead of me in line. I lamented the inability to buy pizza by the slice or have Chinese food delivered to my door.

“Dear God,” I thought. “I’m in hell.”

But a funny thing happened on my way to the big time. I fell in love with the conventions of small town life. I’ll never forget my first power walk around my neighborhood. A passerby said hello and I actually turned around to see if he was addressing someone behind me. But the hello was for me. I was being greeted by a complete stranger. Nothing like that ever happened in New York. You weren’t even supposed to make eye contact on an elevator.

This kept happening … in the park … at the gas station … on hikes through the pine forests and prairie of a local nature preserve.

The Dahlem Center, Jackson, Michigan

The Dahlem Center preserve, where I loved to go for quiet walks all year round.

Soon I was saying hello to complete strangers before they greeted me. This place was friendly. And I liked it! And, despite popular belief out east, I never met one person who walked around chewing hay.

Then one Saturday night, I awoke to the sound of a bat flapping around my bedroom. Sure it had a three-foot wingspan and would lay eggs in my hair, before giving me rabies, I frantically leaped out of bed screaming. I managed to trap the hideous creature in my bedroom, grabbed a towel to wrap around my waist and made a quick escape through the kitchen door in my T-shirt and underwear. Running barefoot across the driveway, I maniacally shouted my landlord’s name and rapped on his back door.

“Help! Sam! Help!” I shouted, sure a pack of these things would soon be swarming above, like something out of a Hitchcock movie.

Poor Sam thought I was being raped or robbed. But he heroically darted into my apartment in his pajamas, with a tennis racquet to save the day. Just try waking a neighbor to help you kill a roach at 2 a.m. in Manhattan!

Here I was in this amazingly welcoming place where neighbors cared about each other. People I’d never met smiled at me. The bagel shop owner toasted my “everything” with light vegetable cream cheese and handed me a Diet Coke, before I even reached the counter. And before I knew it, I was making friends at the grocery store and skipping drive-thrus in lieu of leisurely chatting with bank tellers, too.

There was a time you could have rearranged Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, and I’d have been none the wiser. Now I realize my most valuable education came from a town I never knew existed on the map.

In that small town in Michigan, I met my husband and learned what it meant to be part of a community. When my husband went out to plow during a big snowstorm, I knew I wouldn’t see him for a couple of hours, because he’d inevitably plow the walkways of our elderly neighbors … or anyone else who needed a little extra help. When he was away on a business, and I was home with an infant, neighbors did the same for me.

Before I knew it, when someone new moved into the neighborhood, I was ringing their doorbell with baked goods. Expecting a baby? You could count on me to deliver a lasagna that first week home.

After almost 15 years in Michigan, returning to the New York area was the hardest thing I ever did. We had to relocate so that my husband could take a job with a large New York-based department store chain. We moved to New Jersey, and I cried every day for six months. There I was again, back in the land of every man for himself … surrounded by people, but feeling so alone.

The Jackson Hot Air Jubilee

The Jackson Hot Air Jubilee

And they were impatient people. If you didn’t slam your foot on the gas pedal within one second of a light change, they’d honk at you and flip you the bird. I actually considered legally changing my name to “Hey, Asshole!” so at least once a day, I’d feel like I was being addressed personally. Still, I was told I was lucky to be back in the land of culture and opportunity. A relative even said to me, “What did you have in Jackson? You had nothing.”

But I beg to differ. I had the raspberry lady at the farmer’s market, who always noticed when I wasn’t there. I had Chad at the bagel shop, who served up more than a sandwich, but a beam of light in my day … who always greeted my daughter with, “Hey, Smiley” and palmed a quarter into her hand for a gumball.

I had Susie, behind the service desk at CP Federal, who let my daughter color while I did my banking, then sent her off with a hug and a chocolate kiss. And I had a small town holiday parade that I’d take over the Macy’s Thanksgiving extravaganza any day of the week. You just don’t get it until you’ve stood on the side of “Main Street,” watching the local high school band march in front of a utility truck with lights on it, as a molting, anorexic Big Bird works the crowd.

In Michigan, I had a community that was there for me when I awakened from knee surgery only to be told I could not put weight on my leg for six weeks … the day after my husband moved to New York, while I stayed behind to sell our house. I had friends who understood the panic of facing a six-year-old and a two-story house alone … who brought me meals and shuttled me to doctor’s appointments and physical therapy. They spent the night until I felt okay on my own, came early in the morning to help my daughter get ready for school and late at night to tuck her in. They scrubbed my floors for real estate open houses, plowed my driveway when it snowed and pushed me through the mud in a wheelchair, so I wouldn’t miss my little one’s first soccer game.

In Michigan, I learned what it meant to have neighbors and what it was like to be a neighbor. I learned that life needn’t be a rat race; it can be an enjoyable stroll.

Cascades Civil War Muster

The annual Cascades Civil War Muster: I was a proud friend of General Grant!

I still miss meeting friends at dawn to watch hot air balloons paint the sky during the annual Hot Air Jubilee. And I miss drinking homemade sarsaparilla on the hill while watching the yearly Civil War reenactment at the Cascades park and proudly letting everyone know I was a personal friend of General Grant and his wife, Julia!

I miss cheering on my rubber duck as it floated down a man-made waterfall at the Ducky Derby. And I miss the All A Merry Can Christmas Show, where you could get an evening of entertainment for a can of garbanzo beans.

In the dozen years since my family left “The Mitten,” I’ve never stopped wanting to go home.

Rodgers and Hart once coined the phrase, “I’ll Take Manhattan.”

But truth be told …

I’d take Podunk any day of the week!

 

The photos used in this story were generously provided by photographer and Jackson native. Mo Dedrick, Balloonmeister and Pilot Chair for my all-time favorite yearly Jackson event, the Jackson Hot Air Jubilee. Thank you so much, Mo, for providing the images for this post! Hugs from Tampa!

Portions of this story originally appeared in the April 2003 edition of Jackson Magazine.

 

To paper the seat or not to paper the seat. That is the question.

To Paper or Not to Paper. That is the Question.

 

To paper or not to paper. That is the question.
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous filth
Or to take arms against a sea of germs
And by papering end them.

If you’re a germaphobe like me, the answer is to not only paper, but to practically paper mâché the entire toilet before your delicate bum makes a touchdown.

I always paper in public restrooms. I’m talking two minutes of carefully placing strips all around the seat. Sure, they have those newfangled paper protectors with the shoe-horn like centers. But I’ve yet to find one that covers the entire seat and doesn’t slowly start sinking into the bowl before I even sit, threatening dangerous outer-derriere-to-seat contact.

So I have two papering techniques ― one for the average restroom and one for the extremely questionable truck-stop, bar or fast food restroom.

The usual technique involves two horizontal strips at the front and back of the seat and two strips on both the left and right side, overlapping to cover both the inside and outside rim.

The more involved technique requires 12-20 single strips around the entire toilet, arranged like spokes on a wheel ― when I want to make sure that even my pants cannot accidentally brush against any part of the entire fixture. It’s quite time-consuming.

Each time I use a restroom, I ask myself how many unknown and unidentified butts of questionable character have frequented the same seat … and make a quick judgment call.

Now, obviously, I don’t paper in my own home. Only three butts touch those seats, and one of them is mine. If a guest is using the potty, they are someone who I am close enough to invite inside, which automatically deems them butt worthy. Likewise, if I throw a party at my home, I don’t paper the seat, because I know those people. Their butts are just one degree of separation from my own.

Or are they?

What about “plus ones?” I don’t know their butt worthiness. And yet, I’ve never questioned this before.

Now we’re getting into some gray area. What about at a friend’s house? Do I really know who my friends are inviting over to use their toilets? No, I don’t. And yet, by manner of association, I figure that if I’m close enough with you to be using the toilet in your home, the other people you have over are also butt worthy. So I don’t mirror my OCD papering behavior in the homes of others. They are not public restrooms.

In fact, some of my friends have cleaning ladies, so I know the toilets are being scrubbed on a regular basis. They’re probably cleaner than my own.

But what if there is a party at a friend’s house? I likely won’t know all the guests. Now the butts sitting on those seats are two degrees of separation from my own. And yet, I never paper at a party … which leads me to believe I’m a heinie hypocrite.

So how many guests is too many? How many guests need to be invited into a home, before one needs to paper? A small dinner party at a friend’s place has a limited number of guests. I don’t usually paper, even if I don’t know anyone. Why is that? Do I figure the odds are on my side, because it’s a small crowd? Do these butts come highly recommended, because we have a mutual acquaintance? Does sharing some chicken cordon bleu and a bottle of merlot deem someone butt-worthy?

What if it’s a bigger gathering at a friend’s house? … like a New Year’s Eve party? … or the Kentucky Derby party I attended last year with the mint juleps? It was at the home of one of my best friends, so I didn’t paper. I didn’t know everyone there. But they were all from my synagogue. Can I assume these butts were kosher, because we all have the same rabbi? Are religious butts cleanlier than non-religious butts?

What about a large fund-raising event? I can assume that people attending a fund-raising event have money to donate. Are wealthier butts more sanitary? Is a millionaire butt safer than a lower- or middle-classed butt? Do wealthy people bathe more often? Do they all have bidets?

Obviously, I paper in a port-o-potty, a restaurant, a mall. But I’m seeing fuzzy territory here.

What about at work? I routinely paper … except when I worked at a small newspaper in Michigan. I seem to recall that I knew everyone and that it was like a family. You don’t paper with family. Or did I somehow think Midwestern tushies were more wholesome?

What about my house of worship? My synagogue has an excellent cleaning staff. The bathroom is always immaculate. And unless it’s the high holidays, there aren’t thousands of people using the stalls. Why do I paper there? Who’s using those toilets? I can assume the clergy. I can assume my fellow members of the choir. I can assume the nice ladies who donate their time to work in the gift shop or bake hamentashen for the Purim carnival.

I know these people. These are all cleanly professionals. In fact, if I threw a latke party at my home, these are the people I’d invite – and I wouldn’t paper the seat at my own house. But these same people, gathered in a public place, I now need to guard against?

And what exactly am I guarding against?

According to doctors and scientists, my potty paranoia may be a little over the top. While bathrooms may be a witches brew of streptococcus, staphylococcus, E. coli, hepatitis A and various sexually transmitted organisms, the toilet seat is not how infections are usually passed to humans, they say. In fact, many disease-causing organisms can survive only briefly on the seat. To contract an infection, the germs would have to be transferred from the toilet seat to my urethral or genital tract ― or through a cut or sore on my buttocks or thighs ― which is possible but highly improbable.

I’m still not taking any chances, but it’s good to know.

But here’s the scary part: I recently learned from WebMD that germs in feces can be propelled into the air when a toilet is flushed. In fact, microbiology and diagnostic immunology experts advise leaving the stall immediately after flushing, to keep the airborne mist from choosing you as a landing site. The greatest aerosol dispersal occurs at the end of the flush, when most of the water has left the bowl. You know, while you’re standing there making sure everything went down, before exiting the area.

I really wish I hadn’t read that.

Because now, in addition to papering the seat, I need to make sure I’m wearing running shoes and a rain slicker and cultivate my ability to hold my breath while flushing with my foot and unlatching the door, bolting over to the sink and scrubbing every exposed area of skin before making my escape.

Suddenly, Depends aren’t looking so bad.

 

 

 

Flickr Chinese Buffet 2 Creative Commons 4438196228_1834bb184c_z 1

Life Ain’t a Big Buffet Old Chum

A group of us were out for a co-worker’s birthday at one of those “healthier choice” buffet restaurants that’s named after a vegetable, but has enough soups, pastas, breads and cakes to feed a small African nation. You know this type of place – a human trough where it’s socially acceptable to stretch your fist-sized stomach into the size of a weather balloon.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

A typical all-you-can-eat salad mountain.

Lunch began in the salad line, where I refrained from any concoctions doused with mayo or dressing, because everyone knows that’s diet death. Potato salad is not a salad; it’s a side dish. There’s nothing green in it, unless it’s gone bad. And most salads already soaked in dressing have more calories than a bucket of chicken.

So I assembled the healthiest salad I could … mostly spinach, because it’s chock full of calcium, while iceberg lettuce is as nutritious as air. I added carrots, peppers, radishes, celery, cucumbers, garbanzo beans and a teaspoon of sunflower seeds. I didn’t blink an eye at the croutons. And I try to stay away from cheese, ever since my sister dubbed it “the fat man’s candy.”

I even put my dressing in a separate cup and did the old Weight Watcher’s fork trick. I dip my fork in my dressing, then in my salad, so every bite has flavor, but most of the dressing remains unused.

At the end of lunch, I felt satisfied. You might even say I was full. And had I stopped there, I could have made Jenny Craig proud. But my entire table got up to get more food, and I followed suit. (I know. I know. I can still hear Gram say, “If your friends all jumped off the Empire State Building, would you jump too?” Touché, Grandma! Touché.)

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Unfortunately, I did go. Heck, there wasn’t a patron in the place who didn’t eat four lunches. There was a hot food area with meatballs in marinara sauce, four-cheese Alfredo, macaroni and cheese. But like a healthy girl (and Dionne Warwick), I walked on by, because salad buffets are not known for their fine Italian cuisine.

There were creamy potato soups and chowders … and a baked potato bar with ice cream scoops of butter, cheese and real bacon. And I did the “Just say no” thing. I did! … until I came face-to-face with my nemesis, also known as the bread line.

There I was, facing giant hunks of freshly baked rolls, buttermilk cornbread and blueberry cherry nut muffins. And what the heck is “cheesy garlic focaccia?” Isn’t that pizza? They don’t call it “pizza,” because then it would seem like you’re eating a second meal, which you ARE! But like everyone else in the lunch crowd, I pretended not to know this and took a few pieces of that, too.

And there were desserts … apple cobbler and chocolate lava cake … Caribbean key lime muffins and brownie bites. They call them “bites” so you can pop them in your mouth and forget about eating them. But here’s a news flash, self: If you have five or six, it’s no longer a “bite.” You’ve eaten three brownies!

Flickr Brownies Creative Commons 4704808713_dbd777d192_zBy the time I left this healthy “salad” joint, I’d packed away enough food for all 19 kids in the Duggar family and a few that haven’t been conceived yet. I was physically and emotionally miserable and cursing my lack of willpower … and yoga pants.

This is when I vowed to never again patronize an all-you-can-eat establishment. Some people don’t like buffets because the food looks half dried out … or because they want to be served if they’re paying good money to eat out. Others hate the idea of hundreds of people marching by, spreading their TB all over the macaroni salad.

But the biggest reason I vow to never again set foot in a buffet is that it’s the one place on earth where I lose all sense of judgment and reason. When my stomach says it’s full, my idiot brain snarkily tells it it’s a big fat liar.

I’m pretty sure the buffet gene is related to that other gene I got from my ancestors: the “I love a good deal” gene. Because when I “pay one price” for anything … whether it’s a buffet or a season pass to a theme park, I have to prove to myself that it was worth it. The more I eat and the more times I visit the park, the more of a value I know I’m getting. I can’t leave a buffet until I’ve consumed enough peel-and-eat shrimp to bring the price down to a dollar a pound.

And my “deal” includes items that I don’t usually order, like dessert. It’s all part of the bargain. Buffets compel me to eat my money’s worth … to have it ALL, because I paid for it.

If I ever wanted to kill myself so my family could have the insurance money, I’d go to a buffet. MetLife would question an overdose … or study the skid marks of a car that suddenly veered off the highway for no apparent reason. But who’d think twice about someone who scarfed down plates of fried chicken, cheesy scalloped potatoes, buttery corn casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy and big hunks of black forest cake? I’d eat at a country buffet every night. It’s like an Emerald City of lard.

Flickr Chinese Buffet 1 Creative Commons 31248686_ab4dc43660_zAnd Chinese buffets are no different with their egg rolls and fried rice. I’m not buying that argument that it’s healthier, because there aren’t many fat Chinese people. I’ve seen plenty of fat Chinese people. They’re the ones gorging themselves on the sweet and sour shrimp, while their thin brothers and sisters are busting their butts putting out more vats of spare ribs.

So hear this world: From this day forward, I vow to be a single serving woman. Honestly, I’m happy with whatever comes on my plate in a restaurant. I never turn to a waitress and order a few more meals, because I ate veal scallopini, but the shrimp scampi also looked good.

I’m a compulsive eater. For the better part of the last 35 years, I’ve struggled with being overweight. I’m not one of those people who loves food and savors every bite. I don’t “Mmm, mmm, mmm” my way through a plate of linguini. I eat quickly, sometimes standing up, and practically without tasting anything on my plate.

Food for me has always been a way to fill myself when I feel empty … an emptiness that no pint of Ben and Jerry’s could ever reach. I’m perfectly capable of saying no to devil’s food anything when I’m happy and on top of the world. But when my world feels like it’s crumbling, I want to cram in Twix Bars by the truckload.

I’m a person who needs a sit-down meal with a finite portion ― a visual to know when I’m done. During my biggest diet successes, I’ve asked for a “to go” container with my meal and set aside half my food for a later date. If I have it all in front of me, even if I divide it in half, I’ll keep picking at the reserve long after I’m full, until I’m looking at one lone spaghetti noodle.

All-you-can-eat dining is not my friend. I shall no longer partake in this convention of gluttony known as the buffet. When the patrons of a restaurant are all wearing stretchy pants, it’s never a good sign.

Ironically, the advertising for one of the more popular chains boasts, “good times are always on the menu.”

I guess one less person will be skipping to her open heart surgery, singing Zippity Doo Dah.

Mary Kay pink caddy

I Was the Worst Mary Kay Lady Ever!

I was working as a newspaper reporter in Michigan and barely making enough to make ends meet, better yet pay down my student loans. A friend of mine knew someone doing quite well selling Mary Kay. So I drove an hour to Toledo to meet this woman and explore whether the opportunity would be a good fit for me, too.

Anxious to recruit me, “Vicky” took me to see her team leader, where I was given one of the most convincing pitches I’d ever been thrown. You see, Vicky’s team leader was a big mucky muck in Mary Kay. She wasn’t just any Mary Kay lady. She was the reigning queen of unit sales – crowned in front of a stadium of pink ladies from all over the country. Her unit had produced a record-breaking $2 million in wholesale volume. She’d won cars, diamond rings, mink coats and trips all over the world. She was a blonde bombshell in a pink suit, who lived in a showplace fit for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Tired of the milk crate bookcases in my tiny rental apartment with the avocado carpeting and wallpaper from the Victorian era, I was only too eager to chuck my master’s, sign on the dotted line and begin building my own eye shadow empire.

When the queen told me how much it would cost to order my pink cases full of samples and enough product to get started, I knew I couldn’t afford it on a reporter’s salary. But she insisted that I could start with a very basic order and work my way up. If I sold something I didn’t have in stock, she would sell me anything I needed from her massive royal inventory.

So I ordered the Mary Kay hobo kit. And every time I needed something, I’d drive an hour to Ohio. I quickly realized I was spending more on gas than I was making on age-fighting moisturizer, so she and Vicky found me a Mary Kay lady in my area who could sell me what I needed. I was the Oliver Twist of Mary Kay ladies: “Please sir, can you spare some Meadow Grass eye color?”

Still, the road to Mary Kay fame was paved with levels of accomplishment that actually seemed achievable. All I needed was one or two active recruits to earn the title of “senior consultant” and start collecting a commission from my team sales. With just three active recruits I’d earn the right to don the company’s somewhat tacky but prestigious red blazer. With 10 or more active recruits, I’d be a sales director in qualification (DIQ). And if I could keep up my sales for a certain number of consecutive months, I’d not only earn the sales director title, but qualify for a car!

Mary Kay ParriTwice a week I commuted to Toledo for sales training with the queen. If I was going to learn the art of the wrinkle cream sale, I wanted to learn from the best. So I attended her classes on what to say, how to say it, and how to get strangers to fork over their last dime for my brunette brow definer. I also attended weekly “rah, rah, sis boom bah” gatherings where reps drank the Kool-Aid and got all pumped up on TimeWise skin lifting serum and Garnet Frost lipstick.

Each week, rep after rep walked up to the microphone and announced she’d just qualified for her red jacket or a car. Cue the thunderous applause.

Wow, I thought. That’s going to be me! I walked out of every meeting so upbeat and empowered, I belted Broadway show tunes all the way back to Michigan.

Still, no matter how much training I received, or how much I tried to embrace the pink within, something never felt right. The queen suggested techniques like putting baskets in public places, where people could drop in their business cards and “win” a free “facial.” Nobody actually “won” anything. I was supposed to contact everyone who dropped in a card and pretend like each of them was the big winner. Their free “facial” was really just a sampling of my products.

Mary Kay’s lingo felt misleading. I’d had a real facial once at Elizabeth Arden. It included opening up my pores with steam, a lady in a white lab coat extracting blackheads, and a soothing face massage. I made a living seeking out the truth. Calling a moisturizer sample a facial felt like misrepresenting my services. I couldn’t do it.

I also hated that Mary Kay didn’t call the colored stuff you put on your face “makeup.” They called it “glamour.” After giving these free fake facials, I was supposed to say, “And now I’m going to apply your “glamour.” I felt like a little old lady from an era gone by … like at any minute, I might also start using words like “chippy” and “snollyguster.”

Most of all, I neglected to take into consideration how much I hate sales. I used to dread donning my Girl Scout beanie and knocking on doors to hit up neighbors for my overpriced Do-si-dos®. At least with Girl Scouts, people perceived they were supporting a noble organization. With Mary Kay, I was selling purely for my own gain … which made it much harder to get a pity sale.

I just hated the idea of approaching strangers. But once I cut strangers out of the equation, all that was left was hitting up my friends. And I hated that even more. I don’t care what you’re selling … makeup, vitamins, laundry detergent that doubles as a tub and tile cleanser … go into any type of network marketing business and watch your friends run from you like you’re bouncing a beaker of streptococci.

Fortunately, my friend Ann started selling Mary Kay at the same time and offered to co-sponsor a home party at her house. We each invited six people, pitching it as part of our training. So a dozen gals from community theater came over to let us practice our makeovers. We drank wine, ate snacks and bonded over mint green exfoliating masks. When it was over, Ann’s six bought pink bags full of products. I sold a $7 mascara. My $3.50 commission didn’t even cover the Ruffles and dip.

My second home party was with a bunch of my friends who worked at the newspaper. My dear friend Jo gathered some reporters, photographers and paste-up gals to support me in my newfound dream of becoming a cosmetics mogul.

Jo’s dining room was dimly lit, and matching skin tones to my foundation colors was tricky business. But I did my best and let each guest pick a day, evening or dramatic look from my “how to” glamour portfolio . And my inner “artiste” got to work making them red carpet ready.

I was so excited. My friends looked so awesome, they couldn’t resist buying my products! I drove home absolutely thrilled. My first real sales!

The next day, when I entered the newsroom, there was Jo, with her bright smile, waving from across the room. As I got closer, I could see that the rose-colored base I sold her made her face look like it froze in the middle of a hot flash.

Then Dee walked in, with eye make up so heavy against her porcelain skin and white hair, she looked like an albino raccoon.

One-by-one my colleagues poured into the office with skin the color of Oompa Loompas, coral-colored lipsticks that could only work on a slightly demented bag lady, and smoky eyes that made them look like victims of domestic violence.

I was mortified. How could I tell them they all looked horrible? Maybe they’d tell each other?

I’d talked up how fantastic they looked the night before. We all did. I was about to lose my street creds. Apparently, during my intensive training, the queen didn’t cover the importance of good lighting.

That day I packed up my kit and started my going out of business sale. I gave my friends refunds and let them buy whatever else they wanted at cost. It was abundantly clear that the cosmetic industry was not my calling.

No, I would never drive a pink Cadillac. I couldn’t sell enough product to cover a pair of fuzzy dice for the windshield. In fact, I was such a lousy salesman, I let some garage sale vulture talk me into walking off with my brand new $100 kit for five bucks.

Still, it was a sale.

And you know what?

I was tickled pink.

photo

The Man Who Knows His Way to My Heart

Last weekend my husband came into the bedroom at 8:30 a.m. to nudge me awake. He looked at me with his soft brown eyes in a way that told me he was feeling frisky. Reaching for me with that secret smile on his face, he knew exactly how to get me going on a Sunday morning.

“Parri,” he whispered. “There’s an estate sale on Craigslist.”

“An estate sale?” I sprung to life. “Where?” Suddenly I was as alert as if I’d had three venti espressos.

“Palmetto and Gomez.”

“Come on. Someone’s getting our deals!”

I hopped in the shower, scrubbed up and was out in two minutes flat. With no time to waste, I stuck my hair in a headband, grabbed a diet Dr. Pepper and raced out the door, ready for the thrill of the find.

Today I’m guest blogging for the hilarious Marcia Kester Doyle over at Menopausal Mother. Click the pink button to read the rest of my story!

 

Menopausal Mother

 

Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of the humorous blog, Menopausal Mother, and she is a featured writer for In The Powder Room, What The Flicka and HumorOutcasts. Her work has also appeared on Scary Mommy, BlogHer, The ErmaBombeck Writers Workshop, Midlife Boulevard, Better After 50 and numerous other websites. Marcia is a BlogHer 2014 Voice Of The Year in the humor category and also has been voted VoiceBoks Top Hilarious Parent Blogger 2014. You can follow Marcia on Facebook and Twitter!

 

Fotolia Old Typewriter _59206537_XS

Today I’m Participating in a Blog Tour!

Today I’m participating in a blog tour. I was invited by Carol  Cassara of carolcassara.com. Carol and I met in an online blogger group for midlife writers. She is an essayist and blogger whose pieces “50 Ways I Love His Mother” and “My Father’s Desk” appear in two different Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She also has a piece called “Secrets and Lies” that will be featured in the soon-to-be-released anthology, Dumped: Women Unfriending Women.

Today’s blog tour is a chance for you to learn a little more about me and to let me introduce you to three new bloggers who you may never have heard about before. As part of this online tour, I’ve been asked to answer the following questions:

What am I working on?

In addition to working on my blog, I am also working the first draft of a screenplay with a good friend/writing partner and tackling the third draft of a script I wrote with my brother.  I’ve made a living as a journalist, corporate communications writerandmarketingcopywriter, but the dream is to make a living from my passion of writing and performing humor. I’m also discovering new channels for expressing my creativity.

My first major stained glass piece ... 140 pieces! It took me 10 months of Saturdays!

My first major stained glass piece … 140 pieces! It took me 10 months of Saturdays!

For years I’ve felt a strong need to work with my hands and have tried many art forms, only to discover what I’m not. I’m not a painter, I’m not a jewelry maker, I’m not a needlepointer and while I enjoyed my quilting classes, that’s not it either. For a long time, I’ve felt like an artist without an art form. But a year ago, I started learning stained glass, and that has become a second passion and a new way to express myself. I can spend hours in the glass studio. It’s my new zen!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to tell stories and find life’s truths in those stories. I think I put into words lots of thoughts other people think, but never say. That’s why I think it resonates with my regular readers. I’m not afraid to admit to my own flaws and embarrassments … to let people know they’re not alone out there. … that there are other very imperfect people right there with them in spirit!

I think my work differs from others of its genre, because it often reads like stand-up comedy. For the last 35 years, people have told me that I should try stand up, but I’m terrified. I auditioned at The Comic Strip in New York City years ago, and I was actually asked back. But my palms were sweating and my knees were shaking, and I was terrified of doing a routine in front of a live audience. Put me in a costume and give me a character, and I have no problem performing for a packed house (I met my husband in community theater). Make me stand up in front of a group as me (especially with hecklers in the audience) and I shake so badly I’ve actually been asked if I have Parkinson’s. So I write my routines, instead of performing them.

Why do I write/create what I do?

I write, because I see humor in everyday things from shopping for plus-sized clothing to eating too much at a buffet. I write because I sometimes think I’ve wasted a good part of my life living for “someday” … someday when I’m thin, someday when I have more kids, someday when I have a bigger house and the money to travel the world. When I was younger, I used to idolize Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball. As I got older, I appreciated how certain writers and filmmakers made me laugh. I’ve always been a fan of humorists like Erma Bombeck and Nora Ephron. And it has been a lifelong dream to follow in their footsteps and make people laugh. This blog is the beginning of truly pursuing that passion. The dream is to stop working for “The Man” and make a living with my sense of humor. The timing is perfect. With politics, global oppression, global warming, war, economic crisis, unemployment and underemployment, I think the world needs some levity. The time has never been more right to make people laugh, because they hungry for it.

How does your writing/creating process work?

Everywhere I go, I see humor in my everyday world. It may be when I’m out shopping for pants. It may be when my husband and daughter make fun of me for telling the same story for the five thousandth time. I have lists of ideas on napkins and placemats, receipts, the backs of junk mail envelopes … just seeds, sparks for stories I want to tell. But while I keep a running list of funny things I experience or observe in life, I don’t always have the inspiration to turn those ideas into full blown stories. Each week, I look over my list and try to find one thing that tickles my funny bone and sparks me to write.

I like to tell stories, then go back and punch them up and make them more funny. I have a little game I play with myself called “Can you top that?” I might be writing about a teenage crush, for instance, like in my piece Leisure Suits, Braces and Beanies: My Life as a Dodgeball Target, where I explain how my crush ran away from me on Sadie Hawkins Day at summer camp. So I’ll begin by writing “He ran from me like ______.” Then I try to fill in the blank. My first answer might be squirrel. And I say to myself, “Can you top that?” I’ll keep filling in the blank until I come up with the funniest line I can think of: “He ran from me like a warthog running from a cheetah.” I’m always looking for fun metaphors. It’s a game I play with myself.

Introducing Three Bloggers Who Will Keep You Laughing

The wonderful thing about the Blogosphere is that I’ve met so many creative people and writers who, instead of completing with each other, support each other and promote each other. We each have our own little niche in the humor world, and we’ve been helping each other promote our various projects. So today I’d like to introduce you to three funny ladies, whose blogs I read regularly.

Darcy Perdu

Darcy Perdu shares funny true tales about her awkward adventures, embarrassing kids, exasperating coworkers and more  on her hilarious blog So Then Stories. Darcy is a two-time BlogHer Voice of the Year winner in the humor category. Two of my favorite So Then Stories are  Yikes, I Just Found a Weed in My Lady Garden! and The Horrifying Secret That EVERYONE Knew But Me)

Kelly Fox

Kelly Fox lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She inhales books, bacon, and wine, and her interests include over-sharing, Jason Bateman and crashing high school reunions. She can be found at the blog, Foxy Wine Pocket, where she writes twisted suburban mom stories. Two of my personal favorites: The Pooping Tree and Conversations With Colin: This is Not an Easter Story.

Vikki Claflin

Vikki Claflin is an author, blogger, public speaker and former newspaper columnist. Her blog, Laugh Lines, is about the hilarious ups and downs of midlife in today’s world. You will die laughing when you read Pee Test … You’re Doing it Wrong, Doctor, Can You Give Me a Lift, Sweaty Cologne, Insane 20-Year-Olds and a Trip to the ER and It’s Swimsuit Season. Pass the Milk Duds. Vikki has been featured on the Michael J. Fox Foundation  and Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop websites. Her work can also be found online at Midlife Boulevard, Better After 50, Generation Fabulous, Lost in Suburbia and the Funny Times humor newspaper. She is a contributing author to Life Well Blogged, Parenting Writes and Wrongs and has been  selected as a Humor Voice of the Year by BlogHer 2014. She is currently working on the release of her new book about the humorous side of living with Parkinson’s.

Parri Sontag circa 1969.

NYC Public Schools: I’m Sending You the Bills for My Therapy

Everything I know about public humiliation began at P.S. 193.

In Brooklyn, in the late sixties and early seventies, we gathered in the schoolyard every morning, awaiting the signal to line up by class. Until that time, the boys flipped baseball cards, hoping to score a Willie Mays, while the girls flipped Partridge Family cards, praying to win a coveted David Cassidy.

Sometimes one of us initiated a raucous game of TV tag. Other days, we played Chinese jump rope, hopscotch or taught each other how to do “walk the dog” with our Duncan Imperial yoyos.

This was the dreaded window in my morning when the class bullies liked to sneak up on a fat kid, steal a personal item like your Judy Blume book or stocking hat, then toss it from person to person around the schoolyard in a maddening game of “saloogi” – Brooklyn slang for monkey in the middle for a crowd.

At some point in the chaos, Mr. Wilpan, our vice principal with an Einstein hairdo and a scary glass eye, shouted into his megaphone that it was time to line up and get ready to march into the stairwell and up to our classrooms. Each class lined up, side-by-side, in double lines – boys on one side, girls on the other, in size order. As one of the shrimpiest kids in the class, that put me right in front, where hiding was impossible.

Mr. Wilpan held up his fingers in peace signs, a la Nixon, signaling mandatory silence – no movement or talking allowed. To break the rules was to be pulled from your class and sent to a zone known as the “step off” ― an area against the brick building, where the concrete was painted red. Protocol for being pulled from your class was to stand with your back against the brick, like you were facing a firing squad, as the entire school stared you down. It was a place no one wanted to be. All that was missing were the stockades.

I was a good kid … a rule follower … a people pleasing third grader. But I admit, I was also a talker, and not a very discreet one at that. My best friend, Ronna, a pint-sized yapper who never got caught, routinely tried continuing our conversations at the bell. I’d whisper very loudly, “Stop talking; we’re gonna get in trouble.” And at that very moment my mouth inevitably would be seen moving and one of the guards would shout:

“You! Out of the line!”

These were big guards … scary guards … power-hungry sixth-grade Nazis in training with intimidating sashes, authentic looking police badges, and the authority to pluck anyone they wanted from the crowd. One of my siblings was one of these guards and often summoned colleagues to watch me and wait for me to make one wrong move, then nab me and order my back against the wall.

The frightening guard brigade had the power to write you “a charge,” like a ticket of sorts that you had to take home and have signed by your parents – so they could know what type of juvenile delinquent they were raising. Guards wielded pads of these charge forms and derived sadistic pleasure from writing up their fellow jacks players. It was a crowd mentality. There was a camaraderie among them – a sense of good versus evil. They believed they were using “might for right” … that an 8-year-old talking in line was surely bound for Attica.

Sometimes, a school official would come over, if you resisted arrest. It was kosher in those days to grab a kid by the collar – or even the ear – and drag him or her to the red zone. It was for the protection of our fellow man. We were hardened criminals … future killers … accused of heinous crimes like gum chewing, not facing forward, and cracking knock-knock jokes after the bell.

 Knock knock
Who’s there?
Sam and Janet
Sam and Janet who?
Sam and Janet evening. You will meet a stranger …

“You! OUT OF THE LINE!”

As you stood there with your back against the cold brick, disgraced, degraded and dishonored, the “good kids” pointed and whispered. Even the bullying thieves who tormented me daily by stealing my stuff stood in judgment.

To this day, if I pass by a group that’s laughing, I’m convinced they’re laughing at me. Am I dragging toilet paper from my shoe? Is my skirt tucked into my pantyhose? Do they somehow know I busted a hole in my Spanx? At P.S. 193, I learned the fine art of paranoia.

But the worst part for those of us who spent half our lives on the step off was the damage it caused to our futures. While the power-happy guards no doubt went on to have illustrious careers in corrections, some even becoming card-carrying, scooter-riding meter maids, for those of us with our backs against the wall, life didn’t turn out as pretty. We were repeatedly told that our indiscretions were indelibly recorded on our “permanent records.” I spent the next 12 years watching my back, living with the dirty secret that I was marked for life. Every morning I woke up and donned my invisible scarlet letter – a big cursive “T” for Talker.

I know for a fact this is why I didn’t get into Yale.

It’s why I haven’t yet gotten a publishing deal.

It’s why I’m not yet a Director of Corporate Communications.

It’s what, to this day, stands between me and Broadway.

Professional people are hesitant to take a risk on a convicted step off felon. It’s a known fact that if you’re caught red-handed having a whisper debate in line over who’s cuter, Bobby Sherman or Jack Wild from H.R. Pufnstuf, you are destined for a life of crime. There are websites dedicated to showing you whether offenders like this live in your neighborhood.

Once a talker, always a talker. There’s a very high rate of recidivism.

 

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Shooting upward makes the couple look like members of the Lollipop Guild.

My Big Fat Affordable Jewish Wedding

It was the wedding I’d always dreamed of ― at a posh estate with pristine views of autumn color along the Hudson River … a grand ballroom with spectacular chandeliers … indoor trees with tiny white lights … four-foot centerpiece topiaries of blue hydrangeas, flown in off-season from South Carolina.

As the jazz band played, well-dressed guests arrived bearing checks ringing in at enough to buy a fully-loaded Lexus. Unbeknownst to the gift givers ― who truly believed their generous endowments would help the young couple start their marriage on the right foot ― the money actually went to finance the bride’s cosmetic surgery.

By the grace of God and the fertility fairies, I was spared my place in the wedding party. The $600 silk spaghetti-strap slip dresses worn by the bridesmaids were in no way meant for a chubby pregnant gal. What an appetizing dish I’d have been … but only because most of the men there were Jewish, and I’d have been a dead ringer for a Hebrew National salami.

And the flowing chiffon scarf? Being born without much of a neck, it would have looked like it was holding my head on.

Still, the affair was so over-the-top, I couldn’t help but think my own wedding suffered in comparison. My husband’s mother was battling cancer when we got engaged, and it was so important to us that she be there on our special day. We didn’t have wealthy parents or a year to save. Besides, we were in our thirties, and it just seemed ludicrous to set aside thousands of dollars for a party, instead of a down payment on a house. So we had $2,000 to pull off this affair – honeymoon and all. And we soon realized that most couples spend more on their cocktail napkins.

I’ll never forget that first issue of Brides magazine― earmarking the most exquisite gowns, only to learn that the price tags were double, triple, even quadruple our entire budget. Five hundred dollars would barely cover a veil, better yet a dress with a bead on it. Unable to afford a princess gown or a tiara (on the one day of your life it’s kosher to wear one), I slumped onto the dressing room floor at The Wedding Bell, crying “I’m the K-mart bride!”

I finally settled on a cocktail-length dress of ivory lace that made me feel like a walking doily, then set to work hunting down a reception venue that wouldn’t charge a room fee. We settled on a charming restaurant in an old granary, on the edge of a beautiful park. Unable to finance a sit-down meal, we decided to serve heavy hors d’oeuvres, and I was sure my guests would flee my reception to go grab a steak at Gilbert’s.

This was supposed to be the most special day of my life, and I never imagined we wouldn’t be able to afford a wedding photographer or a band … that I’d be carrying wildflowers, instead of roses … that there would be no sit down dinner … no elegant floral arrangements … no twinkly lights or calligraphy place cards … no being lifted in chairs to Hava Nagila … no first dance.

I’d been to weddings with open-bars and jazz bands … ice sculptures, caviar and clams on the half shell. And those were just the pre-party cocktail hours, before being ushered into ballrooms where the actual receptions took place. Who on earth was going to fly in for Swedish meatballs and a cheese cube?

Lamenting to my best friend’s mother on a visit to New Jersey, I was finally jerked out of self-pity. This wonderful woman had known me for a dozen years.

“Parri,” she said, in a way that my motherless self needed to hear, “You’re finally getting everything you always wanted. And all you’re focusing on is the party.”

She was right, I knew. I’d been dateless and whining about it for 31 years. That’s three decades of Valentine’s Days without so much as a Chunky Bar. And now the only thing standing between delirious happiness and me were chicken marengo and a gown that would likely make me look like a stunt double for the Stay Puft marshmallow man.

When I got back to Michigan, I began pouring my heart into the part of the wedding that I did have control over ― writing a meaningful ceremony. With our budget, there were two ways to go: tacky or arty. We chose the latter. We asked our friends to give us only one gift – their time. All we wanted was help executing this wedding on a dime. Fortunately, we were active in community theater. We knew actors and singers, costume and set designers, musicians and photographers.

Our friend Scott was a former pastor, who graciously agreed to perform the ceremony, since the local rabbi wouldn’t preside over a mixed marriage. Our friend, Lynne, always a ribbon winner at the county fair, made a wedding cake that could grace the cover of Martha Stewart Living.

Rachelle made my veil, weaving in fresh baby’s breath, and sewing a matching satchel. Bob shot the video. Mike, a newspaper photographer, took pictures. Danelle made elegant tulle bows for the pews of the chapel. And Kevin and Lori – the best tenor and soprano in town – sang the meaningful pieces of music we’d chosen, as Connie accompanied on piano.

Sometimes I look back wistfully, wishing I could have had more than 50 guests, served dinner and had a dress that looked less like a tablecloth. But Jim and I just celebrated 20 years together, and I realize that the ceremony … when we promised to try to understand each other, rather than judge … to help each other be all that we hoped to be … that was our wedding. It was those words – not prime rib with four asparagus spears and an edible flower – that have sustained us on this rollercoaster called marriage.

Two decades ago, as I wrote our ceremony, I expounded on how marriages have seasons and that it’s inevitable that winter will come … but that you have to have faith that, even after the hardest winter, spring eventually will come again. But those were only words, a script. Today, that sentiment rings true in a way it never could have for my younger self.

You see, on my wedding day, I received a wonderful life partner who slices and dices vegetables, so there’s always something healthy in the fridge (I loathe chopping salad). I got a man who loves to cook, who mows in the heat and shovels in the cold … who knows his way around a vacuum and a toilet brush … who changed diapers and gave baby baths and took care of me after my bunion and knee surgeries.

Together we’ve gotten out of debt, fixed up houses, planted gardens and battled many a literal and figurative weed and grub. We’ve been through infertility, pregnancy, childrearing, child illness and stayed the course to raise a mensch. We’ve lost jobs, landed jobs, risked everything on a dream business, lost it all and started again. Many, many winters have come. But spring has, indeed, always come again. In fact, we await it as I write.

It’s ironic, really. If you can afford a big fancy wedding, people come wielding big checks. But if you can’t afford a reception that warrants the word “affair,” many of the presents you receive come from the heart and are of little material value.

I didn’t get a la-dee-dah party. No one created a cocktail in my honor. There were no Swarovski crystals catching twinkle lights as my husband spun me around the dance floor in his tuxedo. We didn’t honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast. And push come to shove, I’m afraid I’ll have to finance my own plastic surgery.

But I did get a partner in crime who believes in my dreams, holds my hand on evening strolls, and keeps me standing in a storm.

In the end, our party was bargain basement.

But the life we’ve built together is priceless.

 

 

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What Happens in the Dishwasher Stays in the Dishwasher … For Days!

At my house, emptying the dishwasher is one of those “Tag, you’re it” games, along with brushing the dog’s teeth, cleaning up fur balls, and disposing of a belly-up palmetto bug the size of small Volkswagen.

When there are no more glasses or forks left in the house, my husband is the one who typically adds detergent and presses the button to start the cleansing hum … which makes him believe he’s absolved from emptying the dishwasher, because, after all, he’s the one who “did” the dishes.

A couple of hours later, our dishes are clean, but we’ll live without them for days ― each of us pretending we don’t see the tiny green light signaling the end of the ­ cycle, silently hoping someone else will do the dirty deed of putting away the clean load. He who makes eye contact with the green light dares not point it out to the other two people in the house … because to acknowledge the light is to admit you are aware there is work to be done and haven’t proactively stepped in. The three of us have been known to eat several meals on paper plates, just to avoid opening that dishwasher door and being declared the loser. We might even go so far as to “bait” our cohabitants.

“Hey, where are all the glasses?” someone might ask, casually opening the cupboard … like maybe our stemware ran a few errands and will be back momentarily … or perhaps the juice glasses are taking some well-deserved time off in the Caribbean.

“They’re in the dishwasher,” one of the other two will say.

Suddenly, whoever reached for the glass is beyond shock.

“They are?” this person says, as if this is inconceivable. This knowledge miraculously cures their thirst, so they close the cupboard and pretend the exchange never took place.

When it comes to unloading the dishwasher at my house, all the world’s a stage and everyone’s a player.

“The green light is on?” I might say, with just the right touch of registered surprise (seriously, Meryl Streep would be impressed). “I’m sorry. I didn’t even notice.”

My husband takes a more passive aggressive approach, daring to announce that the “clean” light is on just as he heads out the door on a business trip, hoping everything will be neatly put away when he returns. Days later, he’ll go to make his coffee, only to find his precious pot and filter still being held hostage in a darkened tomb of moisture under the counter.

“I’ve been gone five days, and nobody emptied the dishwasher?” he’ll ask with a dash of genuine disbelief.

That’s when my daughter and I change our story from blindness to amnesia.

“Oh my God, I totally forgot,” one of us invariably responds.

Of course, I know there are dishes in there. That’s why I’ve used the same glass over and over again for the entire week he was away. I’ve used it, washed it and dried it on the dish rack next to the sink. Even when he’s home, I’ve been known to hand wash pots and casserole dishes from a week’s worth of meals, rather than empty two racks of squeaky clean plates and cutlery, so I can reload the dishwasher with a new load of dirty things. I will wash dirty dishes every night to save myself that 10-minute hassle of putting away clean ones. Seriously. I’d rather scrub encrusted cheese with my fingernails than put away a load of perfectly sanitized plates and let the Sears Kenmore do my dirty work.

What the heck is wrong with me?

For the life of me, I don’t understand this. I can understand procrastinating when it comes to scrubbing grout or giving our Goldendoodle a bath … or any other chore that requires getting down on my hands and knees, one of which is painfully lacking in cartilage. What does unloading a dishwasher require, really? It’s about four feet from this machine to any given cupboard. How much effort does it take? Why is it more than I can bear to sort knives, forks and spoons into a drawer outfitted with a utensil organizer? Each item has a compartment. It’s easier than a baby shape-sorting toy. How is it I can I motivate myself to do four miles of hills on an elliptical machine, but feel so unbelievably put out by having to walk four feet to put away eight three-finger coffee mugs?

What is so horrible about this chore that when one of the three of us opens the dishwasher to put in a dirty glass, we shudder to find it full of clean dishes, slam it shut and pretend we’re none the wiser?

I can identify only one deterrent ― the water that pools on top of upside down cups and storage containers. It requires delicate dabbing with a towel. And that’s apparently more than I can bear.

I will wash and fold 11 loads of laundry, vacuum the house, clean the ceiling fans, change the sheets, scrub the tub and toilet and administer drops to the infected ears of my dog … but soaking up a few droplets of clean water with a dish towel? That’s where I draw the line. Evidently this is the delicate straw that will bring my entire world crashing down.

So we continue the standoff to see who’s the most powerful under our roof ― who can keep washing and re-using the same fork, and who will break first.

And maybe, just maybe, there’s a part of me that gets some sort of secret thrill when I watch some unsuspecting chump open the dishwasher door to deposit an oatmeal spoon, only to find that it’s full – even if that chump is my husband … or daughter. Could I really be so pathetically deranged that I derive a sick pleasure from inflicting such pain on others?

Why yes, yes I am. I’m a tired mom who wants someone else to step up to the clean plate.

Now hurry up and hand me that greasy roasting pan, so I can scrub off the petrified chicken skin, before that damn green light goes off again.

Mwahahahahahaha …

 

The dishwasher isn’t the only thing that brings out my evil gene. Read Don’t Take a Chance: Why You Should Play Monopoly Before Boardwalking Down the Aisle!

 

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BonVoyage

I’m Saying Goodbye to the “F” Word

­­I have a problem with the F word.

People throw it around like it’s nothing, but I don’t agree.

Most of the time, it’s tacky and gratuitous. And when I let myself slip, it almost always gets me in trouble.

I’d venture to say that most of my marital conflicts can be attributed to this four-letter word. My Midwestern husband absolutely cannot stand it and doesn’t think it has any place in our home. And frankly, I don’t want my daughter witnessing this kind of crass behavior.

So that’s it. I’m turning over a new leaf. This vile word is officially banned from my vocabulary. From this day forward, I will never again mutter any noun prefaced with the word: “free.”

This goes for pens with the names of attorneys and insurance companies that aren’t ours.

It goes for items the neighbors couldn’t get rid of in their garage sales but think we might like. (Note to self: If the last 50 garage sales we passed had a Thighmaster, there’s no reason to believe we will use one either.)

I will no longer accept free trials of magazines, because I don’t read them; I just hoard them for the day that I might read them, then inevitably get charged for the subscription, because I forget to cancel.

That’s only one of the ways that “free” has threatened my happy marriage. I could build a literal and figurative wall between me and my husband with my totebag collection. Over the years I’ve collected hundreds of them … fancy leather totes, vinyl totes, canvas totes, plastic totes, straw totes … in every color imaginable … branded with the logos of Hillborough County Public Schools, United Healthcare, Royal Caribbean and Legally Blonde the Musical (free with a program).

My Husband Stages an Intervention

Jim tries to get me to thin my collection, to no avail. So, periodically, he stages an intervention.Before we moved from New Jersey to Florida, for instance, he set up a game in the basement that he stole off an episode of Clean Sweep on TLC.

Jim put a laundry basket on one side of the basement and made me stand on the other with a really bouncy ball. For every basket I made, I could keep one tote. For every one I missed, I had to put two pieces of my hoard in a pile to be hauled away. At the end of the game, two garbage bags were filled for Goodwill, and I got to keep a select six. I have to admit that letting go did make me feel a lot lighter.

But that was seven years ago. A new tower of totes has accumulated in my Florida closet. And apparently, if I would like to stay married to Jim, they have to go.

But as he rifles through my collection, he’s met with comments like:

“Oh, not that red one. That’s from my Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. It brings back fond memories of my recent best weekend ever with 300 fellow humor writers in Dayton, Ohio.”

“Ok, what about one of these,” he asks, holding up two identical canvas Moss Creek Goldendoodle totes.

“Those are the dog’s overnight bags,” I cry.

“How about this one, then?” he asks, holding up my Princess Cruises tote.

“That one’s reversible. That’s highly unusual in a tote. See? It’s blue AND black. And did I mention it’s waterproof?”

“Well what about this one?”

“It’s lemon yellow … perfect for the beach.”

That’s when I zing one below the belt:

“It’s your fault. You gave them to me.”

My husband was a buyer for two high-end department stores and, more recently, his own boutique, so I have “fashion” totes from every shoe company and accessories show since 1994 when we got married … which makes it kind of his fault that my totes overfloweth. Let’s face it. He’s trying to throw stones, but he’s an enabler.

“You’re supposed to get rid of the old ones when I bring you new ones,” he argues. “Okay what about this one from Pre-Paid Legal. This is hideous.”

“I know, but I thought I’d paint over it with fabric paints … or quilt over it. You know … a la Pinterest.”

“Are you kidding me?” he says, suggesting that I need a 12-step program for totaholics. He shrugs and walks away.

It’s Genetic, Possibly

Okay, I have problems. I’m not denying that. Free is a dangerous word for me. I’m not really sure when it started. I was appalled by my parents’ generation, when they pilfered ashtrays and towels from hotels, like the company stocked them as souvenirs.

“What are you doing?” I used to ask my Gram when she stuffed the onion rolls at Wolfie’s into her purse.

“What?” she’d say. “They can’t serve these again. They’re just going to throw them out. They want you to take them. That’s why they put so many on the table.”

No, my generation was going to be different. We were the generation that swore we’d never pocket the Sweet ‘n’ Low. But apparently, I still got the free gene. It just manifests itself in a different way. I have 10,000 tubes of Sensodyne toothpaste and off-brand floss from every dentist I’ve been to since 1976. I hate that toothpaste. It foams so much, I feel like I have end-stage rabies. I’m a blue gel with breath strips girl. Why do I accept these lovely parting gifts? Why don’t I just say “No thank you?”

Because they’re free. My daughter is 18, and I still make her take a Shrek sticker at the doctor’s office … after I grab a few free samples of diaper rash cream. I get so completely caught up in the fact that I scored something I didn’t have to pay for that I neglect to realize until I get it home that I don’t need it, don’t use it, don’t have a place for it, and probably don’t even like it. All I know is that when an item is free, I have to have it. And I can’t just take one; I’ll grab 10. I once left a pet fair with 10 packages of treats for a pet I didn’t own.

I’ll do a jig at a health fair, if I can score an extra coupon clipper that says “Blue Cross Blue Shield,” or more than one chip clip branded with the Prudential logo. I’ve stopped at a Publix booth and grabbed a handful plastic green gizmos that clip your grocery list to your shopping cart.

“How many lists do you have?” my husband asked.

“I thought I’d give them to friends.”

“Is it really so hard to hold a list in your hand?” he replied.

Touché.

At a running expo a year and a half ago, I got a bag full of free lanyards that you wear around your neck to hold an ID badge. Sure, I need a badge to get in and out of work … but HR gave me a holder. Who needs multiple holders? Do people change these out to coordinate with their outfits?”

Not All Freebies Come From Strangers

My problems go way beyond fair freebies. When a relative is moving and thinning out their possessions, I’m the one who inherits the “very valuable” heirloom figurines shaped like salty sailors, schoolmarms and peasant children cozying up under an umbrella ― items that every other relative has declined but that meant so much to grandma.

I’m not a collector of these dustables. They don’t reflect my taste and don’t go with my décor. Honestly, they don’t go with the décor of anyone living in the 21st Century. You cannot give these things away on ebay. That valuable figurine may have a $1,250 book value and bear the rare stamp of a Bavarian nun, but all the people who collected them drove their Edsels to the big farm in the sky. So they’re packed neatly in bubble wrap in boxes, taking up valuable real estate in four shoebox-sized closets of my bungalow.

Free is a bad, bad word.

From now I will squelch any impulse to click on Internet sites that promise free samples, send me one lousy packet of Garnier Fructis, then fill my inbox with spam for 11 months. My new philosophy is “Just. Say. No.” … no to the matching beer cozies that say “Direct Auto Insurance” … no to the free Kuhn Honda and Jeep keychain … no to the Wells Fargo lunch cooling tote and the Liberty Mutual retractable measuring tape. I don’t even want the sticker that says “I gave blood today.” Why are they trying to make that into a fashion statement?

Free never ends well. I’m even saying goodbye to free drink refills. I finally stopped to do the math and add up all the cancer-causing chemicals in one diet soda, better yet four, and I no longer celebrate the fact that the local taco, burger and chicken joints are allowing me to kill myself for free.

I don’t even want anyone’s free advice … on child rearing, marital strife, job hunting or what kind of clothes look good on a large lady.

I am done with the word “free.” DONE.

Well, except for the free samples they throw in at Clinique and Lancome counters. I love those.

But that’s it.

…  Oh, and the free panties at Victoria’s Secret. Those are worth $7.50.

But that’s where I draw the line. Right there in the sand.

.… next to the free umbrella I’ll score if I spend $75 on bras. You need bras anyway . And umbrellas are actually useful. Especially cute pink ones.


 

This isn’t the first time the word “free” has gotten me into trouble. Read When You Wish Upon a Star, Don’t Be a Cheapskate!

 

Free

 

 

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skinnydip

The Skinny Dipping Trauma That Cured Me of Public Nudity

It was the summer after my junior year of college, and I was working as a camp counselor in Connecticut. For three years, I’d been stuck at a women’s college that I sardonically referred to as “the nunnery,” and I was absolutely giddy to be socializing with guys again.

So one night, after returning from a night off in town, a bunch of us counselors decided to go skinny dipping down at the pool. I’d never been skinny dipping before. In fact, I’d pretty much never done anything against any rule before. I was a people pleaser … and an innocent one at that. I managed to make it through four years of high school and three years of college dateless. Suffice to say, I’d never seen the opposite sex naked and was pretty self-conscious about my own anti-supermodel body. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the idea of doing something improper felt like exhilarating rebellion.

I was one of the last ones down to the pool, and the other counselors were already swimming. It was really dark, and I was actually grateful that I couldn’t see anything. I slipped off my lavender hoodie robe and draped it over the fence next to my towel, then hopped into the pool in my striped swimsuit. I modestly removed my suit under the water and tossed it by my other things.

What a freeing experience it was to feel the cool water slip across my skin. It was dark in the pool, and there was something magical about being secretly naked under a thousand stars. I swam over to my friends, and there was a certain excitement knowing that I was naked with members of the opposite sex, even if they couldn’t see anything. It was my first public nudity, and it felt deliciously naughty.

So there we were, swimming in our birthday suits, talking and laughing, when someone spotted a flashlight coming toward us from across the field.

“Oh no, Hal’s coming,” someone squealed. Hal was the camp owner, and the light seemed to be coming from the direction of his house.

The next moments were like fast forwarding your DVR. I blinked and everyone was out of the pool and running back to their bunks. It all happened so fast, I didn’t even get to see any of the guys naked, better yet compare them to the pictures I’d seen in a college friend’s Playgirl. I was the last one out of the pool and ran over to the fence to fetch my towel and robe. But in the mad dash, someone had accidentally grabbed my clothes ― every stitch of them. All that was left on the fence was a robe just like mine, but pink and about 6 sizes too small. I was standing there naked and alone, with the equivalent of a washcloth to wrap around me …  dripping wet, with no towel or swimsuit … and the light was coming closer. So I panicked and ran into the woods.

There I was, naked as Eve in Eden, squatting behind a tree, hoping someone would realize they’d grabbed my things and come back to find me. The flashlight veered away, thank God. Whoever it was had witnessed the mass retreat and assumed there was no one left by the pool.

Now I was alone in the woods with mosquitoes and spiders and God knows what … shivering with one arm over my boobs, while the other clutched the pink toddler robe in front of my southern lady parts. I looked down at the robe in my hand and realized it was Peggy’s, my dear friend from college. She must have grabbed mine by mistake. Surely she’d realize how big my 2x robe was on her size 2 body. Please, Peggy, I prayed. Please realize what you did and come back for me.

Time passed and no one came. I knew I’d have no choice but to wait it out until everyone in camp was asleep, then make a run for it. So I plotted my path. I’d run from tree to tree, hide behind “Dinks,” the five-year-old cabin, then do a mad dash behind girl’s Bunk 12, across the dark porch, past the dining hall and down to girl’s Bunk 2. The entire concept was horrifying, but what other choice did I have? I prayed there wouldn’t be anyone up late, making out on the porch. I figured if I waited about an hour, that would do it.

So I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

I prayed that a possum wouldn’t bite my behind and give me rabies.

I prayed that a skunk wouldn’t offer me some perfume.

I prayed there were no foxes in Connecticut … that the raccoons were preoccupied with garbage and that snakes weren’t nocturnal. Oh my Lord, were there cobras in these woods? “I’m a city girl,” I cried. “Please don’t let anything bite me.”

When I thought enough time had passed, I braced myself for my run, my heart pounding like Bigfoot at a tap recital. And that’s when I heard feet in the grass and a tiny voice whisper my name.

“Parri” … “Parri” …

It was Peggy! My pint-sized friend realized she’d grabbed my clothes, and she came back for me!

“I’m over here,” I whispered back, waving my hand over the weeds. She tossed me my robe, I quickly slid it over my head, and we tiptoed back to our bunks. I thanked my lucky stars that night as I fell asleep, safely tucked in the covers on my cot.

But I didn’t realized just how lucky I really was until a few days later, when one of the girl counselors came down with a wicked case of poison ivy below the belt. Rumor had it she was romping in those same woods with her boyfriend.

… giving new meaning to the words “Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love.”

Rest assured, this cured me of any further need for public nudity.

Because nothing says “keep your panties on” like almost having a poisonous vine plant itself in your lady garden.

 

button

Confessions of a Teenage Stalker

When I was 15, I had a big-time crush on a junior boy who was cuter than a Tiger Beat pin up, played the piano like Billy Joel, and had a voice as smooth as Kenny Loggins. He wore a chocolate brown corduroy jacket, lined with a black hoodie, and he once smiled at me in our high school auditorium, when I turned to see who was seated behind me. I didn’t smile back … because I’m socially awkward that way. I quickly averted my eyes, embarrassed that I’d been caught staring.

If my dreamboat only knew how I lived off that smile for months, well into my junior year. Anyone who would listen knew about this highlight of my life. It was magical. And I just knew if I could meet him, he would see we were destined to be together ― to sit side-by-side at my baby grand piano as he serenaded me with Van Morrison’s Moondance.

So I did what any respectable 15-year-old girl with a schoolgirl crush did back in the ‘70s.

I stalked him.

No, not in that Fatal Attraction, leave-your-pet-rabbit-boiling-on-your-stove way. It was more like an accidentally-being-where-he-was way.

Keith (let’s call him “Keith,” because he had hair like David Cassidy on The Partridge Family) lived three blocks away from me, and he walked down my street on his way to school every day. I used to look out the bay window in front of my house and wait for him to pass, so I could leave immediately and walk behind him. If he so much as dropped a glove, I would be there to say, “Hey, you dropped something,” and our romance would be kindled. He never did. And it never was.

After school, I looked up his number in the phone book, called his house and hung up. The old “hang up” was one of the benefits of pre-Caller ID days. If Keith answered, I knew he was home. I’d hang up and, heart pounding, ride my Raleigh 3-speed up and down his block, hoping he’d come outside so I could meet him.

In time, I did meet Keith ― when he asked out one of my best friends and proceeded to try and fix me up with one of his. I was crushed ― devastated beyond consoling. You see, every boy I liked in high school asked out this same friend. And I could never figure out what she had that I didn’t. (Hmm. Now that I think about it. She wasn’t a stalker.)

I was recently recalling this crush during a conversation on how times have changed … how for years, Caller ID made life much more difficult for innocent stalkers, like me. Heavy breathers that used to call our house had to find entirely new pastimes. Technology put “breathers” out of business.

On the other hand, there are advantages to this new techy age in which we live. If I were 15 now, I could stalk a crush with military precision. Isn’t that what social media is ― sanctioned stalking … legal voyeurism? If Keith were on my radar today, I’d friend him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (that’s kosher when you have mutual friends). I’d know when he couldn’t sleep, because there would be a green light next to his name, or a status update at 2 a.m.

I’d make cute comments on his updates … intrigue him by posting deep and meaningful lyrics … entice him with flattering photos that I’d post of me Photoshopped in with the cool kids.

Thanks to social media, I’d know every concert he was going to, because he would undoubtedly post about how “sick” it is that the Arctic Monkeys are playing at CBGBs. I’d know that he liked grilled cheese better than PB& J … wintergreen Altoids better than peppermint … and that his favorite candy is Rolo’s. I’d have the facts I need to wage a successful campaign.

In time, I could step it up … pretend I sent a chat message to him by mistake … that I really meant to Facebook Kevin (same first two letters).  “Oh, sorry,” I’d say. “Hey, I saw you playing Stairway to Heaven at the talent show? You’re really good.”

By studying his profile, I’d know his favorite bands, his favorite books, his favorite songs, his favorite movies. I could say, “Hey, I hear you’re going to the Arctic Monkeys concert. Me too!” And I could insert a little emoticon of a heart, being intentionally ambiguous (does she love ME or the Arctic Monkeys?).

And the next time I “accidentally” ran into him on the way to school, I could offer him a Rolo. And he’d think, “Wow, this girl and I are so in synch. She’s the one!”

Yes, I could have stalked my high school crush in a whole new creepy dimension in this millennium. I’d have the platform I needed for an introduction … an “in.” … just like in those ‘80s brat pack movies where the cute boy meets the unpopular girl someplace neutral, like the record store. Keith would undoubtedly realize how much more substance I have than the bitchy Barbie dolls he’s hanging around. He’d ask me to the prom, I’d make my dead mother’s pink dress into something out of a Cyndi Lauper video, and I’d sail through the rest of high school with the man of my dreams.

And, if I could do it all again, this time around, I’d have one more secret weapon that I wish I’d had in my arsenal back then. A friend of mine recently told me that, many years ago, her sister took a class on how to be more successful with the opposite sex. The relationship expert told her that when you catch a stranger’s eye, if you like him, don’t look away. Force yourself to count to five – five seconds that will surely seem like an eternity. Your interesting stranger will likely look away, but it’s human instinct to turn back to see if you’re still looking at him. That’s when he’ll know you’re interested. And that’s when you melt him with your smile.

Just think of all the heartache I could have been saved with today’s technology and this tiny bit of knowledge. I might never have had to stalk Keith in the first place. All I ever had to do was turn around in that auditorium, count to five and smile back. Five simple numbers and a hidden dimple are all that stood between being a social pariah and a popular girl.

But I didn’t count.

And I didn’t smile.

And the rest, my friends, is history.

 

Surely I couldn’t have been the only teen driven to insanity by a member of the opposite sex. Tell me YOUR story!

DSCN9620_003

The Year I Gave Dad a Real Humdinger!

It was Father’s Day, and I was about 11. It was the first year without my mom, and I was on my own for a gift.

Between Christmas and his birthday, I’d already given dad Soap on a Rope, English Leather and a “World’s Greatest Dad” statuette from Hallmark. How does a kid top that? I wasn’t yet allowed to take a bus to the mall or a train to the city, so I walked up Avenue J, my local shopping district, on a quest for the perfect gift.

The avenue was teeming with shops, but not the kind where you’d buy a Father’s Day present. There was a costume jewelry store, Ratchik’s bakery, a bagel shop, and a candy store by the train station that served old-fashioned malteds and sold magazines and comic books. There was a falafel shop, a kosher butcher, DiFara’s Pizza, the Joy Fong Chinese restaurant and a candle and incense shop my parents told me catered to hippies (to cover up the smell of “the marijuana”).

Further down the avenue were gems like the House of Hocus Pocus, but I didn’t think dad would like invisible ink or a deck of trick cards. And I definitely didn’t think I could score his present at the wig shop or matronly lingerie store, where women from the old country molested you with a tape measure, then brought out all kinds of under-armor fit for your Nana.

With nowhere else to turn, I ended up at my go-to gift spot: the Silver Rod Pharmacy, where I beelined it past the Fleet enemas and O’Henry bars, in search of something worthy of my father.

Like most men in the days prior to the high-tech era, dad loved gadgets. He had an electric shoe shine machine, a weather radio, a movie camera and projector, a tape recorder and a slide projector. I wanted to get him something to add to his collection.
Silver Rod had electric razors, but dad shaved the old-fashioned way. There were Kodak instamatic cameras and transistor radios, but dad already had those things.

That’s when I spotted a tall glass case with specialty items that required the help of a saleslady. There had to be good stuff in there, right? That merchandise was so special, it was under lock and key!

Peeking into the case, my eyes landed on an excellent gift … the gift of all gifts: a cordless personal neck massager. I just knew that would be a big hit!

You see, dad loved when we kids gave him massages. He’d get down on the carpet, while we watched The Six Million Dollar Man, and we’d karate chop him and walk on his back. In fact, one of his gadgets was a plug-in Oster massager where you slipped your fingers into these elastic bands, so a miniature motor could rest on the back of your hand. It vibrated my entire arm as I pounded on his back.

This contraption vibrated your hand as you gave a massage.

This contraption vibrated your hand as you gave a massage.

I hated that thing. It was heavy, made for the hand of an adult, and the vibrations gave me a headache. So when I saw the neck massager, I knew that was what I wanted to buy. I could give dad awesome back massages with that. And I wouldn’t have hand fatigue or run the risk of being electrocuted.

The neck massager in the case was ideal for soothing back, neck or chin pain, according to the booklet. Who on earth massages their chin, I wondered? Still, it said this handy little device could massage all different muscles that are tense from overwork.

Perfect, I thought. My dad was a surgeon, who left the house at 5 a.m. for his operations, and he worked late nights in the emergency room. He was always exhausted and achy.

The box said the vibrations were calming and stimulated your circulation for a genuine feeling of refreshment.

Perfect again! Dad needed refreshment. He could be on his feet for eight hours straight when he was in surgery. This was just what he needed to relieve soreness, fatigue and tight muscles.

My gift was high-tech at its finest in 1974. The new massager was lightweight, battery-operated and, at $8.95, I could totally afford it. So I handed over the change from my Snoopy bank, took it home, wrapped it up, and hid it in my closet, behind my Mystery Date game.
And that’s where my memory ends. I have absolutely no recollection of giving my dad his gift or his reaction. I’m sure he “oohed” and “aahed,” as dads do, whether you give them an expensive tie or a treasure box made of Popsicle® sticks. But I definitely remember that the gift remained in his closet, unused.

This all came back to me recently in a ‘Nam-like flashback, as I was driving down the highway and passed a sign for an adult superstore. In a moment of clarity, I burst out laughing as my 40-year-old repressed memory took shape in my head: the narrow rectangular box with a picture of a lady, her head tilted back, as she gently held this massage wand to her neck and shoulder … the booklet that promised deep, “penetrating comfort.”

“Oh my God,” I shrieked to my husband, laughing and snorting so hard, I could barely breathe. “I gave my dad a vibrator.”

I’m sure it was, indeed, meant to get rid of muscle tension, increase circulation and leave a user feeling refreshed … but having lived half a century now, I’m now quite certain it was never meant for one’s chin.

Today “personal massagers” have been rebranded and are sold in every size, shape, color and material in stores patronized exclusively by adults. These shops are easily identified, because they’re usually named after felines (“The Lion’s Den” … “The Pink Pussycat Boutique”) or the destination one hopes to reach with their purchase (“The Pleasure Chest” … “Early to Bed” … “Shag”). The packaging is mostly transparent, and there is little question as to the product inside or its purpose.

So, fortunately, today’s innocents will be saved the debilitating shame and horror I now feel.

I gave my daddy a sex toy for Father’s Day.

The lady at Silver Rod helped me do it.

And while I usually like to create a buzz, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go call a therapist.

 

As God is my witness, I thought it was a neck massager!


As God is my witness, I thought it was a neck massager!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tooth fairy

I Outed the Tooth Fairy and Traumatized My Child

My childhood was anything but magical. My mom died the summer after fourth grade, after an extended illness. So I spent a lot of time in a fantasy world, with a hairbrush as a microphone, belting Broadway show tunes Merman style and choreographing Gypsy Rose Lee stripteases to “Let Me Entertain You.”

I pretended to be  Judy Garland, singing “You Made Me Love You” to Clark Gable’s picture. I sang “I Wanna Be Loved By You” like Ginger on Gilligan’s Island. I imagined what it was like to be a Brady  …  or a Von Trapp … anyone but the chubby kid in the peach stretchy pants whose books and hat were stolen every day in the schoolyard, then tossed from kid to kid and abandoned on the cement when the bell rang.

So when I had a little girl of my own, I was determined that her childhood would be magical. There are too many years of cold hard reality awaiting every one of us. I vowed to keep them at bay for my child for as long as humanly possible.

When my daughter was two, my husband and I bought her a Little Tikes kitchen, and she loved to pretend that she was baking, just like mommy. We’d pop a tray full of plastic cookies into her pretend oven, and when she wasn’t looking, I always replaced them with vanilla wafers. I loved her wide-eyed look of astonishment when she opened the door and saw the “magic.”  Surprise and delight … every time.

There were lots of opportunities for magic. On Christmas mornings, Santa left surprises under my husband’s tree. (I’m Jewish. I’m not allowed to have a tree. So I pretend it’s Jim’s.) Months later, the Easter Bunny arrived with a basket of jellybeans, chocolate eggs, markers, wind-up chicks and glamorous plastic jewels. And when my daughter was on the verge of losing her first tooth, I went to the bank and got shiny golden dollars to leave under her pillow with a sprinkle of gold glitter.

“Mommy,” she shrieked, as she bounced into my room the morning after her first tooth fell out. “The tooth fairy came, and look what she brought me! She must have bumped into my bed, because she left some fairy dust on accident.”

I loved that I could do this for my child … make her believe in the goodness in the world … in endless possibility.

She continued to lose teeth, and I continued to leave golden dollars and fairy dust.

But then we moved to New Jersey when she was seven, and those Jersey kids were just a little too savvy for their own good. They tainted my midwestern child with their jaded ways. Soon she was leaving a note, asking that the fairy please leave cash.

Dear Tooth Fairy. I want paper dollars, not coins. Okay? Okay! Love _______

Dear Tooth Fairy. I want paper dollars, not coins. Okay? Okay! Love _______

Then the next thing I know, she’s coming home from school and asking me if the tooth fairy is real. I dodged the question by saying, “What do you think?”

“I think she’s real,” she said, and I didn’t argue. She kept losing teeth, and I kept making magic.

But slowly her questions got much more pointed

“Are you the tooth fairy?” she asked me one day.

“What do you think?” I asked again, never confirming or denying anything.

And then one day she cornered me and smiled a knowing smile.

“Mom, I know you’re the tooth fairy,” she said, looking closely into my eyes to see if she could see the truth. “Admit it. I know it’s you. Are you the tooth fairy? I know it’s you. It’s you, right?”

I was so convinced I’d been busted that I caved and said, “Yes. You’re right. It’s me.” Then I stupidly showed her the secret compartment at the bottom of my jewelry box, where I kept all of her teeth, my golden coins and the fairy’s signature gold glitter.

She looked at me. And, in slow motion, her smile turned into a pout. Then her little rosebud lips started to twitch. And seconds later, she burst into tears and went running from my room, flung herself on her bed and cried for an inconsolable hour. I was so stunned at her reaction, I just sat beside her and said, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry.”

Between breaths she sobbed, “I (gulp of breath) wanted (gulp) to believe (gulp) there was (gulp) ma (gulp) magic.”

And there it was: my worst parenting moment ever. She had been egging me on, but what she really wanted was reassurance that the tooth fairy was real, not my admission of a hoax. She wanted to believe in magic. And I sat there guilty and helpless, stroking her hair and knowing that I would never own one of those cheesy plastic Hallmark statues that said “Mother of the Year.”

“There is magic in the world,” I tried to console her. “There are miracles around us every day. Look at a seed that can grow into a beautiful flower … or the stars that twinkle in the sky. Look at rainbows … or how a baby grows in a mommy’s tummy. It starts out so small you can’t even see it. Then it turns into a little grain of rice … then gets as big as a jellybean. And somehow it grows ears and eyes and arms and legs. That’s real magic.”

She wasn’t buying it. She just kept crying and crying, then suddenly looked at me, with panic in her eyes.

“What about Santa and the Easter Bunny?”

Good God, if the tooth fairy warranted this many tears, what would happen if I outed them all in one day?

So I did what any good-meaning but severely misguided mother would do.

“Oh no, they’re REAL,” I said. “Santa and the bunny are REAL.”

That Christmas, when we went into Manhattan to have her picture taken with Santa at Macy’s, I slipped one of the elves a note with her name and hobbies, so the big guy would know something about her and greet her personally.

“How are you liking New Jersey?” he asked. “And what’s this I hear you’re on the swim team?”

And she believed.

To this day, that magic lives at my house. There are no presents under our tree until Christmas morning. And come Easter, giant white footprints mysteriously appear around our neighborhood. They smell a lot like talcum powder, but I’m Jewish, so what do I know?

All I know is that the Easter Bunny still leaves a basket somewhere in the house and, next month, my high school senior will have to hunt for it, like a 5-year-old. My husband thinks this is ridiculous, but it’s tradition. Besides, there’s not a person on the planet who doesn’t (at least secretly) enjoy finding treasure … no matter how old they are.

Gone are the days of Betty and Veronica comics, coloring books and a brand new box of Crayolas. EB still brings jellybeans and chocolate eggs. He might bring a Starbucks or iTunes gift card, some movie tickets, a lipstick, a novel. And the rest of the basket is filled out with pricy sundries that mom and dad would have to purchase anyway. Last year, the bunny brought a Costo-sized box of razor cartridges … among other things.

“The Easter Bunny brought me deodorant?” my daughter asked with disbelief, flashing me a look that said, “Seriously mom?”

I just shrugged and said, “Wow. He’s very practical.”

My little girl recently turned 18. Does she know the truth by now?

The deodorant look she gave me speaks volumes, but she’s not talking.

And neither am I.

Because just in case she does still believe …

There’s no way in Candyland I’m going to be the one to break it to her!

 

Lesbian Barbie 2

The Day Barbie Decided Ken Wasn’t Her Cup of Chai

When my daughter was three, I considered it part of my motherly duty to expose her to all kinds of music from country to classic rock. We had a little game, where I would play a song and see how quickly she could identify the artist.

“Who’s singing?” I’d ask.

“Pink Floyd!” she’d shout. “

“What about this one?”

“Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers!”

Leaving no stone unturned, I played punk and pop, baroque and big band, blues and Broadway. So one day, we were driving home from child care, listening to the original cast recording of Kiss of the Spider Women ― a very peppy, very dancey soundtrack, sprinkled with poignant ballads. And I was oblivious to the fact that she was not only enjoying the music, but actually listening to the words.

For those of you who don’t know the show, it takes place in a prison in an unnamed Latin American country. The main characters are cell mates. Molina is a flamboyant homosexual window dresser, serving eight years for corrupting a minor. Valentin is a very heterosexual Marxist revolutionary who has been tortured almost to the point of death.

Molina cares deeply for Valentin, who wants nothing to do with him. But prison officials believe that if they release Molina to go see his very sick mother, he will lead them to Valentin’s Marxist conspirators … that Valentin will try to use Molina to get a message to his girlfriend, who is part of the same political movement.

And that is precisely what happens. Each man’s motivation comes out in a duet called “Anything for Him.”

Molina sings:

I’d do anything for him
He must know
I’d do anything for him
I want him so

Valentin responds:

He’d do anything for me
I can tell
He’d do anything for me
I know him well
If we touch before he goes
He’ll make that call
He’d do anything for me
Anything at all

So we’re listening to this soundtrack in the car, when my toddler says:

“Mommy, the man in that song made a mistake.”

“What do you mean,” I asked.

“He’s singing about loving another man,” she said.

I couldn’t believe it. She was so perceptive that she wasn’t just listening to the music; she was digesting the lyrics, which by the way, didn’t even mention the word love.

“No,” I said. “He didn’t make a mistake. The man in this show is singing about another man.”

She looked at me, puzzled.

“Honey,” I said, “Sometimes men marry men and women marry women.”

This was not a concept she’d ever fathomed, based on what little she knew about love from The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas and Beauty and the Beast. So she started giggling, thinking I was surely teasing her.

“I’m not kidding, sweetie,” I said. “Usually men and women marry each other. But sometimes, men marry men and women marry women. And that’s okay too.”

She looked at me intensely, waiting to see if my serious expression would break into a laugh, so she’d know I was joking.

“Do you remember meeting my friends Marc and Gael when we went to Florida last year?” I asked. “… the ones who gave you that little stuffed witch for Halloween? They’re a couple, just like mommy and daddy.”

She nodded her head, to convey that she understood, and we drove on, enjoying the music.

A few days later, I was whipping up dinner, when I peeked into the playroom to see my little girl brushing Barbie’s hair and putting her in one of her finest lavender gowns. Soon Ken, decked out in his tuxedo, walked up to the door of her Pepto pink dream house and said, “Barbie, will you go out with me?” And Barbie (usually pretty accommodating) said, “Nah.”

Then Barbie went off to tend to the miniature turkey in her oven and water the plastic tulips on her patio. Skipper dropped in and asked if she wanted to go to an amusement park and ride the rollercoaster, and they left. When Barbie returned home from whizzing around the air, Ken came knocking again.

“Will you go out with me?”

And again, Barbie said, “Nah.”

Repeatedly, Barbie went off on adventures and came back home to find Ken on her doorstep, asking for a date. Poor Ken kept getting shot down.

Finally, he got bold, stood up to Barbie and flat out asked, “Why won’t you go out with me?”

That’s when Barbie responded, “I’m not that kind of girl.” Ken got tossed in a heap of naked dolls, while Barbie glammed up again and went out to dinner with Ariel.

“Oh my God,” I laughed as I realized what my daughter was doing. “Barbie’s a lesbian.”

Now I have to interject that we lived in a small town in Michigan with some very right wing Christians that wrote into the newspaper almost daily, quoting biblical passages and denouncing gays as the devil’s messengers.

“Good God,” I thought. “What if she plays like this at someone else’s house? My kid’s going to be the playground pariah.”

I wanted her to grow up color and gender blind, accepting other people for who they are on the inside and knowing that it is okay to be who you are. I wanted her to know that someday, when she decided who she was, we would love her unconditionally, no matter what. But was it safe to play gay Barbie in a town full of “crispies?” (my friend Colleen’s name for religious people who believe that anyone who doesn’t share their particular set of values is going to burn in hell.)

“Daddy and I believe it’s okay for people to love whoever they want, even if it means a boy loving a boy or a girl loving a girl. But not everyone agrees with us,” I said. She needed to know there are people with other belief systems out there.

“There are a lot of people who think boys should only marry girls and girls should only marry boys,” I said. “But WE think it’s fine for people to marry whoever they love, no matter what color they are, or if they’re boys or girls … or if they’re Jewish like me or Christian like Daddy or Muslim, like Baba. We think it’s okay to love whoever you want to love.”

Still, I had to somehow let her know that she could play however she wants in our home, but she needed to play “the regular way” with people who didn’t share our values.

Which of course led to lots of questions.

“What about at Julie’s house?” she asked. “Can my Barbies and Danielle’s Barbies do anything they want at Julie’s house?”

“What about at Olivia’s house? … What about with William and Ellen?”

Short of giving her a list which she couldn’t yet read, I really wasn’t sure how to handle this. How was she going to know when and where it was safe to play as she pleased?

And then I started thinking, “This is ridiculous. Let the chips fall where they may.” If my daughter is invited on a playdate and Barbie and Belle want to get married … or if Ken decides to run off with Prince Eric, so what? Anyone who is going to ban a toddler from their home for not sharing their religious values and trying out new scenarios isn’t really someone whose home I want her in anyway.

I have many friends with many different belief systems. But the one thing we all share is a “live and let live” philosophy. Rarely does anyone feel the need to save my soul, and when they do, I listen, because I know they’re coming from a good place and they’re worried about me.

But the bottom line is that anyone who feels that they can rightfully judge another human being, because they know definitively that their way is the only way, isn’t really someone I want in my life or my child’s life.

So I told her not to worry about it … that I was wrong. And the next time we were in the car, I played another song from Kiss of the Spider Woman, where Molina the window dresser imagines a conversation with his mother.

“You’re not old; you’re still beautiful” he says to her.

“I bet you say that to all the girls!” she laughs.

“There are no girls, Mama … I have brought you such shame!” Molina says.

“No, Luis,” his mother soothes. “Only if you did something cruel, or uncaring.” And she sings:

You could never shame me
There, I’ve told you so
Many things confuse me
But this I know
Let the neighbors gossip
At the mention of your name
You have never brought me shame

And I made sure my daughter understood how her daddy and I feel about her.

My toddler is a teenager now, and I’m proud of the young woman she’s become. She has friends from every walk of life and feels as comfortable going to Christian rock concerts with her Lutheran pals as she does manning the Purim carnival with her “Jew crew.”

When I ask what’s up with those kids with door knockers hanging from their noses or gauges so gigantic, each earlobe can accommodate a cucumber, she reminds me not to be so judgmental.

Several of her friends have felt safe enough to “come out” to her. And it didn’t phase her in the least when she went to homecoming last year and a boy in a dress came up to her and excitedly exclaimed, “Girl, I love your shoes!”

She glanced down at his feet, looked up, and beamed.

“Oh my God,” she said. “I love yours, too!”

 

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A street sign that reads: Helpful Tips

Mom’s Helpful Hints Fall on Deaf Armpits

As I headed out to CVS, my 17-year-old daughter asked me if I could pick up some deodorant, because she was almost out. I came home with a brand she’d never used before ― my personal fave, which I think is worth the extra buck-fifty:  a clear, unscented anti-perspirant/deodorant gel.

She came into the kitchen and thanked me, then turned to go back to her room. That’s when I pointed out that I wear perfume and sometimes moisturize with fruity lotions, so unscented deodorant is best, because you don’t have a third smell wafting from your underarms. She silently agreed, again turning for the door.

Clear gel is supreme, I added, because it doesn’t leave tiny white deodorant balls in your armpits or powdery residue on your clothing. She nodded at my second valid point and, once again, headed for her room. I smiled with pride that I had solved so many of life’s annoying problems with my clever purchase.

That’s when I thought I would offer one last tidbit of knowledge.

“I have this same deodorant, and the gel tends to ooze out, even when it’s capped,” I said. “So what I like to do is turn the dial backwards a couple of times, so this doesn’t happen.”

“Mom,” she stopped me. “I really don’t need any more of your deodorant wisdom.”

There I was, just trying to be helpful, passing on tidbits of my 51 years of sundry intelligence, and this is what I get?

I’m really not sure what I expected … that my daughter would run over, give me a great big hug and say, “Thank you, mom. I am so lucky to reap the benefit of your half century of personal hygiene insight. You are a deodorant goddess. Can I also have your thoughts on sanitary napkin wings and the perfect dandruff shampoo?”

On my own behalf, I was raised to believe that mothers and daughters shared these private moments.  Anyone who watched TV between 1970 and 1990 knows that a special day is supposed to arrive ―  while horseback riding, frolicking through in the woods or pensively strolling by the sea ― when your daughter is supposed to turn to you with that embarrassed smile and ask, “Mom? Do you ever feel  … ‘not-so-fresh?’”

We’re women. We’re supposed to bond over cleaning products and deodorizers. And after these talks, she’s supposed to dance on the beach, free of the rags that oppressed our suffragette sisters … and the Amish.

And regardless of whether or not ballet classes were part of her childhood, I’m pretty sure she’s supposed to leap.

Young girl jumping in meadowMy daughter, however, has been a huge disappointment in this department. She never seems moved or impressed by my well-intentioned advice. In fact, most of my counsel falls on deaf, uncaring armpits.  And I am frequently told that I have “serious issues.”

Apparently, I can turn anything into a lecture, from the way she brushes her bangs:

Honey, they’re supposed to be more spiky, not feathered. They’re flipping up. You look like you’re wearing a toupee. You’re a beautiful girl. Why are you wearing your hair like Donald Trump? You need a trim.

… to the proper way to paper a truck stop commode.

Now you want to make sure there is no human flesh contact with that ebola-laden seat. Do lots of long strips all the way around. And don’t forget the front part, where you can make direct contact with the bowl.

“MOM. I am not three!” she cries. “I know how to paper a toilet seat!”

I don’t mean to go on and on. I really don’t. But I can’t stop myself. My mind is always racing.  And I keep thinking up new ways to accentuate my point … or add just one more Heloise-esque tip. It’s like helpful hint Tourette’s.

“Okay, you’re right. You’re right,” I say. “… Flush the toilet with your foot.”

“MOM!”

“I’m just trying to be helpful,” I shrug.

“You are so annoying.”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry.”

And I just can’t help myself.

“Don’t forget when you wash your hands to dry them on a paper towel. And use that towel to open the door. There are a germs on the knob too.”

 

 

This piece originally appeared as a guest blog on My Life and Kids. This sometimes informational, sometimes hilarious blog is written by 2013 Parents Blog Awards Finalist Anna Luther, whose work has been featured in The Huffington Post. From A 10-Second Cure for Muffin Top to pictures of 30 Houses That are Messier Than Yours (so that moms can STOP cleaning and feel good in comparison), Anna has a refreshing voice that is worth hearing and will make you smile every time. Find her on Facebook, on Pinterest and Twitter @LifeandKidsBlog.
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Women in bikini

Oh Crap. I Forgot to Diet for Swimsuit Season!

Summer: the one time of year I actually think it might not be so bad to join a religious sect that wears robes.

Each year, women all over the Western world face a dreaded unveiling … an event requiring months of preparation … dieting, shaving, waxing, weight lifting.  For most people, the prep season starts about now. But in Florida, pre-game is over. The most beautiful months of the year are upon us. Spring break is less than a month away, and suddenly I’m thinking pilfering the Butterfinger heart my kid got for Valentine’s Day wasn’t the best idea.

A year ago, I was in the best shape of my life, after losing 65 pounds and becoming a runner. Then a gym injury, coupled with some stressful events in my life, led me to binge my way back to the unhealthy place where I started. Somehow in the last 12 months, I started thinking “Just do it” meant “Life’s short; eat the cake.”

So here I am, faced with shopping for a plus-sized swimsuit, cursing the fashion industry for letting men wear baggy trunks that cover their non-cellulite-ridden thighs, while women are relegated to these French-cut numbers that ― unlike swimsuits in the ’70s ― don’t just show your leg, but your hip, your fat roll, and parts of regions down yonder that one is now expected to landscape with the finesse of gardeners at the Biltmore.

Obese woman dressed in swimsuit with beach umbrella.Why is it, I wonder, that non-European men get to cover half their legs, while we women get the material equivalent of a macramé plant hanger?

Through the years, I’ve tried every swimsuit imaginable, searching for that one phenomenal find that would bless me with body of a Miss Universe contestant. Just name the trick; I’ve tried it: Black is slimming. Stay away from large prints. Stripes should be vertical or diagonal, pointing toward your waist.

One year, I was sitting at my desk at work, when my friend Jo Anne called with what seemed like the miracle I’d been hoping for.

“Parri, I was at Jacobson’s this morning,” she said. “They just got in a truck load of swimsuits with tags that say they’re guaranteed to make you look 15 pounds slimmer.”

Finally. Could it be? I could actually stop praying for a tapeworm?

I dropped everything, took an early lunch, and raced across the street to my favorite department store. The suits were about $100, but I’d have forked over my kid’s college fund while singing Zippety Doo Dah for one brief shining moment of looking like a cover girl.

Back in the dressing room, I huffed and I puffed and I shimmied into one of the new miracle suits, like a Hebrew National salami being packed into into its kosher skin. And when I was done, what I saw in the mirror was nothing short of astonishing. Dear God, I had the torso of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.

What the tag didn’t mention was what I now refer to as Thighness’s Law of 12-ply Lycra: What goes in one place must come out someplace else.

I had so much fat rerouted under my arms, I looked like I had a third and fourth boob … or gargantuan armpit tumors ― you pick. And so much stomach flesh was rerouted south that my belly button was in my lady garden and I had saddlebags that could double as end tables. I’m not kidding. Each side could have supported a lamp.

Over the years, I’ve tried every method known for detracting attention from my body. I’ve worn shorts over my swimsuit. I’ve sat in the sun and sand, schvitzing to death in a beach cover up. I’ve wrapped my beach towel around my waist like a terry cloth sari

I’ve even considered one of those humorous numbers that they sell at tourist boutiques: an oversized T-shirt with an airbrushed mural of a thong-clad centerfold with a tiny tan waist and breasts the size of genetically-engineered cantaloupes ― pouring out of a skimpy bikini top. Tempting as it was, I like my privacy and didn’t want to get stopped on the beach for my autograph when people mistook me for Pamela Sue Anderson.

And then one day, my husband looked at me in my shorts, dying from the heat on the beach and said, “Why don’t you take those off?” He kindly pointed out that wearing shorts didn’t fool anyone into thinking I was any smaller. I was hiding nothing, so I might as well be comfortable, cool off and go for a swim.

I wish I could say that the story ended there … that I embraced my body and lived happily ever after. But the truth is, while I did take off my shorts, I’ve continued to be self-conscious of my body ― at every size ― especially on the beach. When my husband and I took a cruise several years ago, I searched out lounge chairs next to the fattest ladies on the ship, figuring my body would look better in a lineup.

So here I am: the middle-aged product of yo-yo dieting since the age of eight. I lose 60 pounds, I gain back 65. I lose 65 and gain back 70. And here’s the God’s honest truth. I am a woman who has let society’s image of beauty dictate how I feel about myself. I’ve tried to accept the large me, but I reject myself in the mirror. And the irony of it all is that I don’t know anyone who I think is ugly ― large or small. And I want more than anything to embrace myself the way my friends embrace me … and the way I embrace and accept others.

I’ve spent years not letting people take my picture. And I’m tired of being excluded from my own scrapbooks, because the fashion industry has shamed me into deleting myself from my own life. I’ve spent too many years feeling like I’m “not enough.”

I may never be a size 2. And that’s okay. When I was in the best shape of my life last year, I was a 12. I felt energetic. I slept more soundly. And I finally became athletic, achieving the goal of running my first half marathon. (I started tanking at mile 9, but darn it, I finished!).

Today I’m back to struggling with high cholesterol and sleep apnea. I’m always tired. My lower back aches when I’m standing, so even walking the dog is painful. But I’m going to fight to get back to that 12 ― and to be comfortable in my own skin, whatever my size.

This is who I am right now ― a funny, fun-loving, kind person who also happens to wear a 2X. And I’ve decided to no longer be intimidated by the racks of bikinis paving the way to the oversized black suits with the skirts. Magazines with surgically- and Photoshop-enhanced miniatures of real women will not shame me into the shadows anymore.

So this year I’m going for the pretty swimsuit … one that’s colorful, like me. Maybe I’ll buy the hot pink suit … or the one with the large floral design … or the one with (gasp) horizontal stripes. And maybe I’ll find myself with my eyes blacked out in the Glamour “DON’T!” column. But I’m done hiding in heat-absorbing, sweat inducing black three-ply Lycra that pushes my liver into my armpit. I’m going for one of those bright, happy suits that we plus-sized girls are supposed to avoid like gluten. And I’m smiling as I just think of breaking all the fat-girl rules.

And rest assured, fashion industry: If I ever do get to a size 2, I still won’t want one of your thongs.

Because string is not a dignified garment.

It’s something you use to tie up the recycling.

 

Champagne and gifts

What’s Wuv Got to Do With It?

I remember having to decorate a shoebox with red construction paper and cake doilies so my sixth grade teacher could distribute Valentines into our “mailboxes.” These were the days before the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality … before the entire class got invited to a birthday party … before parents sent in heart-shaped lollipops for every child on a list.

By the time the teacher finished calling out names, my carefully decorated Valentine box was pretty much empty … give or take a few sentiments from unpopular comrades like Ginger Snapper, who wore her pet iguana to school as a pin.

That was actually one of my better Valentine’s Days ― saved by a dad who never forgot to bring home mini heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for all three of us kids ― and a giant box for mom.

It was the Age of Aquarius. Peace and love abounded. But not when it came to being the chubby kid with the stretchy old lady pants and the Peter Pan haircut ― the poster child of awkward who saw nothing wrong with proudly donning her Girl Scout beanie and sash to school on meeting days.

As time went on, Valentine’s Day carried even more baggage. It was no longer about who liked you as a friend. It symbolized young love that I never had the good fortune to experience.

How necessary is this day, I wondered? It’s hard enough to make it through Christmas and New Year’s dateless. Must we extend the season to include forced admissions of love through heart-shaped candy and cuddly bears declaring “I wuv you?”

I grew to hate the pink and red aisles at pharmacies, dime stores, supermarkets and Hallmark stores. You couldn’t shop for deodorant or diet soda without walking past endless displays of red ruffled boxes of chocolate … stuffed dalmations that bragged “You have spot in my heart” and stuffed squirrels holding satin hearts that declared, “I’m nuts about you!”

Valentine 1The older I got, the fancier the aisles got. Then retailers like Target popped onto the scene with heart-shaped picture frames, candles and other material expressions of desire. Now you could not only say “I wuv you,” you could say it with home dec.

For years, I dreamed of the day I would be among the chosen few ― that someone would look my way and think me worthy of red roses, Godiva pralines and a note that would send me into a diabetic coma: “Parri, you are my sole reason for living. Without you, life is two-dimensional at best. You fill up my senses, like a night in a forest. Like a mountain in springtime, like a walk in the rain…”

When that didn’t arrive, I lowered my standards. I would have gladly accept mums, Russell Stover and the pre-written sentiment on a Susan Polis Schutz card.

When by age 30 love still hadn’t come knocking, I rationalized that flowers die, teddy bears collect dust, and chocolate just meant another month of paying for Weight Watchers. Plus anyone whose sole reason for living was another person was mentally unstable and in dire need of psychiatric help. Of course, my apathy was no doubt caused by years of unprofitable Valentine’s Days ― three decades without so much as a Rolo.

True love seemed to elude me. As the years passed, I became a one-date wonder. There was the jerky blind date who rolled down the window of his green Fiero to cat call hotties walking by … the angry man who hated his mother, big government, yuppies and anyone not as bitter as him … the preppy who decided to become a Jesuit priest … and the divorcee who confessed on the first date that he was a recovering sex addict.

Valentine 3At one point, I tried taking out a personal ad, with respondees including a rock collector who was hairier than Sasquatch; a  mortician of some religious sect that didn’t dance, who bolted when he discovered I was a Jew; and several inmates at a nearby maximum security prison.

And then one day it happened. I got a guy. Not just any guy, but a smart, sensitive, sweet, funny, talented and relatively well-adjusted Renaissance man who liked his mother.

“I’ve arrived,” I gloated to myself. “This year will be different. This will be the year of hearts and flowers, chocolate and an overpriced card with imitation velvet.”

I envisioned a romantic dinner with Rogers and Hart tunes softly playing. I daydreamed of something red and silky in a Victoria’s Secret box.

When the big day finally arrived, this man of my dreams handed me a card with a paw print, signed by his cat, then dryly asked, “Are the festivities over yet?”

Of all the guys on all the planets, I chose one who doesn’t celebrate card-company-dictated occasions.

Almost 20 years into our marriage, I’ve moved beyond the disappointment. My husband signs his own cards now, and sometimes even includes a touching sentiment (the best gift of all, because unlike me, he is a man of few words). I know he would shower me with red roses if I would let him, but I’d rather keep the 75 bucks in our checking account for more lasting purchases.

Last year was the first time we ever even had a date on Valentine’s Day and actually went out to dinner. And while it was lovely, we didn’t spring for the special fixed price lovers’ menu, so we apparently weren’t deemed worthy of a tablecloth or a candle.

But every so often throughout our marriage, this man of mine comes home with a surprise for no occasion at all … a bouquet of tulips … a dress he thinks will look pretty on me … a pair of earrings … an iPod, because mine died and he knows how much I need music in my life. And when he makes these gestures, it means so much more, because he isn’t prompted by Hallmark.

My husband is a man who will zip back and forth to Publix four times, as I keep discovering new ingredients I’m missing for a recipe. He pumps the gas, while I stay warm (or cool) in the car; scrubs toilets, because it’s my least favorite job; and wakes up an hour early to chop vegetables and fruit, so I’m not tempted by the artery-clogging selections in my office vending machine. He hugs me when I walk in the door, cooks fabulous low fat meals, and walks the dog at 11 p.m., when he’s as tired as I am.

He thinks of me every day of the year, not just on those worthy of store displays. And that’s something I’ve come to appreciate.

Valentine 2As for the cuddly bears speaking baby talk?

Wuv is a many splendid thing.

But love …

That’s something you can’t buy at Target.