A Publishers Life…
What I should have been doing: holding Lisa’s hand as she labored with her first child.
What I really was doing: balancing a plate of brownies as I ran around the hospital looking for an entrance.
I was out of sorts, discombobulated, if you will. Maybe it was my “inner idiot” messing with me, maybe it was my insecurities, I don’t know, but I wasn’t my usual confident, poised self. Lisa had specifically chosen me, out of her handful of competent friends, to guide her through the child birthing experience and so far all I had done was, well . . nothing.
Working out the kinks
The frigid December air swirled around me, but the jogging had warmed me and I transferred the plate of brownies to my left hand and unzipped my parka. A car slowly cruised up next to me, but before I could wave them past or flip them off, the window rolled down and a man’s voice called out, “Lise? Is that you?”
It was Dave, Lisa’s husband.
“Hey, Dave,” I replied, my voice strained from the exercise.
“What the heck are you doing?”
“Looking for an entrance.” I slowed my pace a little to catch my breath. “What are you doing? Who’s with Lisa?”
“We forgot the camera.” He stopped the car. “And no one’s with Lisa. Hop in.”
I followed his instructions and got in the warm car. Dave, being the kind of annoyingly charming guy who always knows the right thing to do, parked the car and got us immediately to the maternity ward and to Lisa’s room.
Still no sense of humor
Lisa was mid-contraction when we walked in so she didn’t look very happy. She declined a brownie and when the pain subsided asked politely if she could have more ice chips to suck on.
This was my chance for redemption. I immediately barked out to the nurse that we needed ice chips. And by the way, who was in charge of the ice chips and why hadn’t Lisa’s ice chip bucket been filled!
I wasn’t the only one surprised at my outburst. Both Dave and Lisa took notice as the nurse stalked out. I wanted to apologize and start over, but that ball had already started downhill and was picking up speed.
It was soon after the ice chip incident that things really started not going so well. I found fault with the TV, the the paper towels in the ladies room and the organization of the linnen closet, to name a few. My inner idiot had muscled her way into the room and became irritating to the point of obnoxiousness and I was powerless to stop it. Worse yet, I joined in.
Not the sharpest knife in the drawer
“Can’t you see my friend is in pain,” I screamed out to the attendant as Lisa began another contraction. “When will she get some relief? Who do you have to sleep with to get an epidural around here?”
I ran out into the hall looking for Lisa’s doctor.
The head nurse grabbed my arm. “If you can’t get a hold of yourself, you’ll have to be removed from the room. You’re scaring the patient.”
“That patient has a name – Lisa! And Lisa is in pain.” I brought my voice under control. “When can she get some drugs?”
“We’ve already ordered the epidural. Doctor will be here any time now.” In an odd way, she reminded me of that crazy nurse from One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest.
“Great. That’s just great. When he finishes his cigarette, tell him we’re waiting!” I rolled my eyes and went back into the room, just in time to watch Lisa’s monitor registering a contraction. A big one.
“Okay, Lisa,” I warned, “this is a doosey! It’s gonna hurt and hurt bad so get ready. Here it comes!” I watched the monitor as Lisa grimaced in pain and Dave held her hand. The hand holding was supposed to be my job, his was the camera, but in the confusion, everything got turned around.
“You’re peaking!” I yelled as Lisa doubled over in pain. When it was over she brushed her hair from her eyes and whispered, “Drugs.”
My clue to over-react
I marched back out into the hall. I was sweating profusly and my knuckles hurt from squeezing Lisa’s foot. Going through labor was beginning to take its toil on me. Not only was I a mess, but Lisa wasn’t doing so well either. Watching her twist and turn in agony was more difficult than I expected and I was powerless to help.
“Where is the damn doctor?” I grabbed the frightened janitor, who was shaking his head and mumbling in Spanish. I stomped to the nurse’s desk. “Why is it taking so long to get an epidural? This is crazy. Lisa’s writhing in pain and you’re not doing anything! Trust me when I say customer service will be hearing from the Schmagenbuch camp tomorrow”
I turned on my heels to go back to the room but an iron grip clamped on to my arm. It was Nurse Ratched.
“You’re not going in there,” she spoke softly, a terrible grin on her face. “I warned you once before. You will stand in the hall. You will not say a word – to anyone. You will behave yourself or I’ll have you removed from this hospital. Do you understand?” She leaned in and put her mouth to my ear. “I eat people like you for lunch.”
She may or may not have said that last part, I don’t quite remember, but she scared me. And she scared my inner idiot because as I looked around, she had disappeared. I was alone and embarrassed. And I was missing out on the birth of my dear friend’s child.
The doctor soon showed up and administered the epidural. Hospital personnel rushed in and out of the room and within an hour I heard someone call out “it’s time”. I continued my stand of shame outside the room and again, I wanted to apologize but it was not the right time. Lisa was having her baby.
Shamed into submission
At the last minute, Nurse Ratched took pity on me. “If you think you can participate without causing a scene, you can join us. Do you think you can do that?”
I nodded and walked slowly back in the room. Dave actually smiled at me and asked me to film the birth – he was busy holding his wife’s hand. I eagerly grabbed the camera, excited to be doing something that wouldn’t get me disbarred from the hospital.
Of course, this story has a happy ending. My actions were soon lost in the exhilaration of a healthy baby girl being born. Isabelle was beautiful and Dave and Lisa were on cloud nine.
My inner idiot was nowhere to be found. As usual, she had high-tailed it out of there when the going got tough, and once again, left me to fend for myself.
Not to worry, she’ll be back. I’m sure of it.
Note: Lisa and Dave declined my offer to assist in the birth of their son, Jack, fifteen months later. I guess they felt they were “experts” by then.
Have you ever felt “undead”? This is not the opposite of alive – it’s the “no-man’s-land” where you don’t fit in anywhere. No? Okay, how about discombobulated? Where you get that feeling that you have absolutely no idea of what to do so you start doing things that don’t make any sense but you feel better because at least you’re doing something? Yeah, I got you there.
Being the mentally stable and organized individual that I am, I have only had this feeling a few times in my life. When my good friend Lisa Schmagenbuch called to tell me her contractions had started and she needed my assistance in the delivery room, well, that was one of them. This was not sudden or unexpected – it had been the plan for at least six months. Lisa and her husband Dave were relying on me to be the experienced rock of knowledge in their time of uncertainty.
Nothing surprised me more when, after Lisa called to let me know her labor was starting, I turned to my common sense and found it had slipped out the back door. This is not a good thing because standing in its place, grinning like a fool, was what I call, my inner idiot.
Stupid is as stupid does
I have not had good experiences with my “idiot”. She has substance abuse issues, continually has her foot in her mouth, does stupid things just for fun and has an IQ bordering on mentally challenged. Her insults are harsh and usually hit below the belt, and this is just before she kicks you. I have seen her do things that have made me laugh, but mostly made me cry, and I cringe when I see her coming. The worst part – she is extremely strong-willed and fights with her are ugly and never end up in a good place.
Ironically though, I often count on her and I can’t remember a time when she hasn’t been around. I have turned to her on many of occasions; my inner idiot has never said no to me and is at my beck and call. I have heard her described as belligerent – and it’s true, she won’t take no for an answer. She’s obnoxious, rude, and bossy, but she’s been a friend since childhood and there’s a certain comfort in that. Sounds crazy, I know, but (note to my “friend” Bonnie) I am ridiculously loyal to those close to me – whatever their issues – and I am unable (or unwilling) to give my inner idiot up.
Lisa loses her sense of humor
So, there I was, listening to Lisa tell me she and Dave were on the way to the hospital and I should meet them there. But, before I could get a word in, my idiot interrupted and spoke up, “What should I wear?”
I could hear Lisa’s labored breathing in the silence that followed. I sensed that she wasn’t in the mood for jokes, but this was no joking matter. What does one wear to a birthing? This was a legitimate question – I had never attended one.
I waited patiently until she finally caught her breath. “You can’t go wrong with black,” she managed to get out.
“Short or long-sleeves? Practical or casual chic?” I mentally went through my closet.
I could hear Dave in the background urging her to hurry and Lisa, ever the diplomat, suggested that I ask Craig what he thought, as they were in somewhat of a rush.
Craig! I scoffed to myself. He was useless when it came to couture and was color-blind to boot. He would be, let’s see . . . zero amount of help. I called my friend Kelly to ask her what she wore to my third birthing.
But, she didn’t remember and actually had the nerve to say that it wasn’t important. Lisa was counting on my emotional support and I could show up in a sack – I just needed to be there.
It’s hard always being right
I hate it when people don’t do what I want. As a result, a teeny tiny attitude crept in and for the next forty-five minutes I fought it off as I tried on a few different options, finally settling on a cute black number that I had only worn once.
By this time, I was actually feeling (and looking BTW!) great and, with brownies in hand, drove off into the night. I swung by Starbucks for a latte and arrived at the hospital with plenty of time to spare. After all, this was her first and it would be a long night.
In the dark, the hospital looked way different. I had been there recently, twice in the past two years for my own births, but they had moved the parking garage or torn it down or covered it up and I couldn’t find it. Northwest Community is a big hospital and the streets that circle it are all either one way or dead ends and I became increasing frustrated as I passed the emergency room for the third time.
“My God,” I shouted out to a doctor that I cut off as he tried to cross the street. “What? You trying to keep the riffraff out?”
“I’m sorry?” He looked at me like I had two heads.
“Where have you put the parking lot?” I yelled.
“It’s always been right there.” He pointed to a structure in front of me. “Are you alright?” he said, faking concern.
“Like you care!” I retorted. I gunned it and flew across a speed bump, my minivan bottoming out as I turned into the parking garage.
I will admit it was at this time that I started getting anxious. It had been almost two hours since I had last spoken to Lisa and I was beginning to feel light-headed. The caffeine was making my heart race and as I drove up and up the parking ramp looking for a space, I wondered why I had ever agreed to deliver this baby. I found a spot on the top outside level and, in the December chill, made my way back down to the first floor and found myself outside the emergency room once again.
The woman at the front desk stopped me with a brusque, “What can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for the maternity ward.”
“Other side of the hospital. Go out the emergency doors and follow the signs. Can’t go in this way.” She pointed her long boney finger out at the cold dark night.
I stuck my tongue out at her and headed back where I had came from. I was now, definitely, discombobulated.
To be continued (one last time-I promise) . . .
I don’t usually like to brag, but there are some things I do, and I do well. The first that comes to mind is yodeling naked in the shower, a close second is starting a land war in Asia, and the third is birthing babies. I don’t kid myself that I can compete with Octomom, or Kate, but four times is nothing to shake a stick at. I’ve done it alone, in front of an audience, twice with no drugs, and once as I was arguing with my mother . . . on the phone.
As a matter of fact, my reputation was such that my presence was requested by my good-friend (let’s call her Lisa Schmagenbuch), at the birth of her first child. She knew that I had expertly handled all of my own birthing events and was impressed with how effortlessly I had sailed through my personal sea of pain. Of course, I agreed. And frankly, being a role model comes as second nature to me.
But, it’s no secret that the bigger they are the harder they fall. This is the story of my tumble from grace and the valuable lessons learned as I plummeted from heights of greatness to the humbleness of defeat. It’s not easy to show weakness and vulnerability, but know this – I share this story with you for one reason only, and that is – it is a required step in a particular “class” I am associated with.
Looking for Lisa
Lisa Schmagenbuck was clinging tightly to the hope that a certain aging rock star would marry her. But, besides a few brief stalking episodes, they had never met and we all thought Lisa would become an old-maid waiting for him. Then she was introduced to “Dave” and we were all thrilled when he asked her out. He was not a rock star, but he was successful, handsome, intelligent, and it didn’t bother him in the least that Lisa practiced witchcraft as a hobby. I’m sorry, not witchcraft – astrology (I always get the two mixed up).
Within the year, Lisa broke up with the rock star she had never met and accepted Dave’s request for her hand in marriage. They had a fairy-tale engagement, marriage, yada yada, and a year later Dave and Lisa found themselves staring at a cross on a urine soaked stick.
Lisa has always looked up to me and since becoming a wife and now an expectant mother, she relied on me more than ever. I couldn’t go five minutes without her calling, wondering whether she should have a bagel or toast for breakfast. Now, we all know that a bagel in the first trimester is a given, but these are the kinds of things that Lisa was clueless about. Please don’t blame her. It wasn’t her fault – she was the youngest of four and had been waited on and babied her whole life. Once again, I think this is another example where we can point the finger at the parents.
It was apparent she was headed for trouble when, during one training session I held, she put my infant son’s diaper on backward and inside out. Then there was the time she made a tuna-noodle casserole and forgot the peas! Her washcloths were always folded incorrectly and don’t get me started on her silverware drawer. Dave appeared unscathed by these “issues”, but I knew the hard, cold slap of reality would be a painful one for my dear friend, and I vowed to be there to witness it when it happened. I just didn’t know that I would learn something in the process.
You don’t know what you don’t know
When Lisa asked me to be in the delivery room with her and Dave, I knew at once that it was a duty that I would have to perform. Besides my own experience, I had actually never see a live birth, but judging from my successes, I felt confident I could assist. We talked at length of the things she would need in the delivery room: lipstick for pictures, refreshments for the hospital staff, “Footloose” on DVD, flattering birthing wear and of course, a CD mix of her favorite tunes.
For a brief time, Lisa seemed preoccupied with the Lamaze Method. It took a few weeks, but I explained to my inexperienced friend, over and over, that breathing came naturally – she didn’t need to pay someone to help her do it, and besides, I wasn’t sure how legit the whole methodology was. Sometimes these “necessary” classes are scams. I can say this with confidence as I had taken the class three times and I didn’t remember it doing much more than relaxing me when the pain became the greatest.
We discussed our birthing plan in great detail. The brownies were in the freezer – ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice and Lisa had chosen a couple flattering shades of lip stick. We went with basic black for the birthing wear but were still up in the air on whether or not to include her former flame’s songs on her CD mix. Other than that, the stage was set.
I sometimes say “Hindsight is 50/50 – could have gone either way”. Looking back, this was definitely the case. We could have sailed through Lisa and Dave’s birthing debut, but it didn’t happen that way. Like most disasters, you either blame someone else or wonder “what if?” “What if” I hadn’t lost my temper? “What if” the brownies had gone over better? “What if” the whole epidural debacle was just a dream? Could I have done something differently? You betcha! But what?
To be continued . . .
At one point in my life, I hadn’t thought much about midget strippers. I was young and naïve and under the impression that all strippers were the good-looking athletic type. But (you can see where this is going) we all know that assuming anything can be the kiss of death and I was wrong – sorely wrong – anyone can take their clothes off for money.
This next blog is not for the faint-at-heart or the politically correct, but I can assure you that you will learn a little something about yourself. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be a better person for it.
The year was 1993. A town in Waco had become popular, Prince was known as that “bat-crap crazy” artist, and Michael Jordan retired for the first time. And me, I had managed to get through my fifth college and come out, for the first time, with a diploma.
It was a time to celebrate and I decided to host a party for myself, acknowledging the fact that I had finally finished something I started. Sure it was fifteen years later than when I first walked the campus of Central Michigan University, but I am a slow learner and, frankly, I had issues that I now understand are my mother’s fault.
The party was to be held in the 600 square foot shoe box my children and I called “hell-hole home”. Anyone who cared to affirm that I had actually graduated came, and I found myself surrounded (probably for the first time) with the warmth and love that came with such an accomplishment. As I remember, it was a lovely party and the joy that we shared transcended the heartache of the world.
But it all went terribly awry when, during a chorus of Kumbaya, Kelly looked out the window and gasped.
“There’s a midget carrying balloons headed towards the apartment!” She crushed her cigarette out in her beer can and added, “And he’s dressed like . . . an Arabian Sheik.”
A little something special, just for me
We all rushed to the window and, sure enough, a very small man with very large balloons was skipping towards us. As he came closer we could hear him calling out, “Leath! Oh Leath! Where are you? Dandy ith looking for you!”
I assumed, since my name is not Leath, he was looking for someone else. But he wasn’t. He just had a lisp. “Dandy” arrived, teeth as large as the big bad wolf, with his boom box and balloons and bowed deeply. “At your thervice, my lady,” he announced. “Dandy is all yourths for the nexths thirty minuths!”
As he dug through his bag, I searched the partygoer’s faces wondering who could have done this to me. There was a stunned silence as I met each person’s eyes and I found only confusion and disbelief. No one had that “ha ha” look – they were as surprised as I was. Only when my daughter, Gracie, who was just five, burst into tears did anyone even move.
By then he had slipped a cassette into the box, removed his shirt and pants, and was dancing seductively, wait . . . seductively is not the word I want. Let me rephrase that. He was moving towards me in a strange way and holding out, what appeared to be, a bunch of grapes. As he swiveled his hips to “Ice Ice Baby”, he held the fruit out to me, winked and whispered, “Feed me baby.”
For the first time in my life, I couldn’t move or speak. Bizarre is one word I can think of to describe the situation that I found myself in. Humiliated, embarrassed, and shocked are a few more. But it was also funny. Funny in that really sick way that we all enjoy every now and then, especially at someone else’s expense.
After that, things went to hell in a hand basket. Both my sisters, who are self-professed instigators, started screaming, “Take it off. Take it all off!” That’s all it took before the others joined in and the party very quickly went from a love fest to me feeling like Piggy, in the Lord of the Flies. I may have looked like I was enjoying the gyrating midget as I fed him grapes, but it was all I could do to hold it together and not throw myself off the second story balcony.
Dancing with the Stars
Dandy pumped and danced as the crowd cheered and egged him on. He sang loudly as he moved around the dance floor, his huge fake teeth causing him to shower anyone in his way with spittle. I drew the line at having him sit on my lap and tickle his belly, but I couldn’t resist throwing a few grapes in his general direction and watching him dive to try to catch them in his mouth. At one point, he spun like a break dancer on the floor, his sheik’s headress flying out behind him, and we had to physically contain my sister, Becky, from joining in on the action. She apparently has some fetishes I am unaware of.
Finally, my little Dandy collapsed on the floor, panting like a worn out puppy. The music stopped and the manic giddiness disappeared and it became weird again. We helped him pack up the remainder of his grapes and handed him his sheik’s clothes, thanking him for stopping by. He told me to keep the balloons and shook my hand before turning to walk out of our lives forever. I thought Becky would actually break down as she followed him out telling him that “if he was ever in the neighborhood . . .”
With friends like that . . .
For some reason, my friends think it’s funny to do stuff like that to me. It has been suggested that they are actually being hostile when they send a Dandy or, on another occasion, a Naughty Nerd, but I choose to believe it comes from a good place and not an ugly place some crazy shrink has dreamed up.
I have my friend, Denise (who couldn’t make it to the party), to thank for Dandy. I can say with all seriousness, he is one midget stripper that I will never forget. And that, my friends, is just the kind of gift that keeps on giving.
There are certain guidelines that are suggested the “cleansor” follow. First, it’s best to choose a target that can’t fight back. This will eliminate spouses, family members and Rush Limbaugh. Second, make sure your digs are confusing enough that you can always claim that the “cleansee” took you out of context and didn’t understand what you were trying to say. An example might be something along the lines of “I didn’t mean stupid. Stupid has more than one meaning. Sure it can mean dumb, but it can also mean injudicious.” Chances are they will not know the meaning of that word and will be unwilling to admit it. Snap. Point scored.
Let’s get started
My personal opinion is that once you hit middle-age, you can’t, with a straight face, say that you are a “rocker”. You can claim you enjoy rock n’ roll, or you used to be a “rocker” but that’s it. When your hairline is receding or you stop buying your bras from Victoria’s Secret, you have given up the right to use hip verbiage or hand signals.
If I hear one more suggestion that Paula Abdul is an alien, I will personally issue a call to my own mother-ship and lodge a complaint. Paula has always been misunderstood (the sure sign of a genius) and even though she speaks in tongue at inappropriate times, it is all a part of her act. And it’s obvious that she is an excellent actress.
I am tired of seeing women who are old enough to have grandchildren in bikinis and miniskirts (Hello Demi Moore . . . Jennifer Aniston?) Have some self-respect ladies! You may look hot but you’re not fooling anyone. Your insecurities are written all over your face and trust me, that is one thing Botox won’t cover. I am not envious (give me a break – I choose to wear stretch pants), I’m just concerned that you may be headed for a fall and frankly, I don’t have the stomach for one more break-up.
I wonder if Glenn Beck is as charming in person as he is on TV? I love a man who can cry on cue and act as melodramatic as a teen-age girl on a bad-hair day. There’s definitely something appealing about Glenn Beck . . . something that makes me want to tell him Sarah Palin called and wants him to run as her VP. Then tell him I was pulling his leg. Is that wrong?
There should be celebrity regulations on whining and complaining about being a celebrity. Unless you have been granted special permission by Paula Abdul, you can’t mention that you are tired of being thin, rich or talented. Also, no more droning on about open crotch shots by the papparazi; if you think you might accidently spread your legs at an obscene angle when getting out of a car and you aren’t wearing underpants, make sure your parents won’t find out and have to explain that one to the bridge club. (Lindsay, Paris and Britney – it’s called common sense, but there’s nothing common about it. The upper-class can also enjoy it.)
Am I the only one that is confused by Justin Timberlake’s appeal? Sure he’s kinda funny and can sing like a girl but so can Prince and I haven’t heard much from him since Purple Rain. I wonder if JT hadn’t pulled that “wardrobe malfunction” stunt with Janet Jackson if he wouldn’t still be on the Mickey Mouse Club. Think about it.
I think it’s so unfair that Joel Stein gets his own column in Time Magazine. The last I knew, he was trying too hard to be funny on that silly show “I Love the Eighties” (who doesn’t love the eighties, Joel?), but as a self-professed hater of America and a lover of porn he has somehow risen in the ranks. Well, I’ll do you one better, Mr. Stein. I hate the world, no – the universe, and I not only love porn, I think I’ll marry it. Get over yourself, Mr. I’ll-say-anything-for-attention.
Is Ryan O’Neill as crazy as he says he is? My bet is yes, probably even crazier. Crazy and asinine are two traits I personally know are hereditary and his children have had the poor luck of picking up at least one, if not both, of those genes.
As I read what I have just written, it occurs to me that some will see this exercise as mean-spirited and insensitive. This is totally not my intention and with all due respect, might I suggest that you are being a bit injudicious?
It always surprises people when I tell them that I have an accounting degree. I’m sure this is because I don’t act like an accountant or dress like one or talk like one. I’m not like all, you know, um . . . put your net worth income in hedge funds. Oh wait, I think that’s finance – but you get the drift.
When I first mentioned to my partners, Dawn and Kristyn, that my background was accounting, they were suspect then curious.
“Really? asked Dawn. “Did you graduate?”
“I sure did. When I was thirty-two,” I told her proudly.
“From an accredited school?” Kristyn pressed.
“And you have a diploma?”
“Somewhere,” I replied.
Honesty is my best policy
But in all honesty (and I pride myself in being honest – to a fault), I’m not really a good accountant. If I were to interview myself, I would find me charming and witty and a good cook, but when it comes to the numbers, there are issues. This dates back to my diagnosis of having contracted a viral infection called Fibrosis in Bottom Brain Involving Numbers & Graphs (F.I.B.B.I.N.G.) when I was a small child.
Because my parents were never interested in my well-being they did nothing to treat it and it has affected my ability to, well basically, count. And tell time and a number of other digit issues that I share only with my therapists.
I don’t want to jump back on the “blame your parents” bandwagon - again! I am an adult now have accepted and embraced the fact that they were to blame but there’s nothing I can do about it. Sure, I can tease them with not caring for them when they are old and kid them about leaving them in dirty diapers for days, but I digress, I was talking about how they royally screwed me with the whole disease thing.
So, needless to say, I did graduate, (no thanks to them) but I limped across the finish line. The horror story that I will share with you haunts me to this day and I have many a reoccurring dream that puts me right back in the situation – with the exception that I am only wearing a towel.
Marketing, shmarketing . . booring!
Marketing classes always threw me for a loop. The vague terms for the airy-fairy concepts were so different than the vague terms for the accounting concepts and I found the subject tested my patience and understanding. I studied many hours, often late into the night with my good friend, Karen, trying to master the ambiguous ideas.
The last final of my college career was my Marketing one. It was also on Friday, the last day of finals and at 3:00, the last time-slot for a final – the last of the last of the last. Karen had been over the night before until the wee hours and when she left, we were exhausted but confident we could hold on to the “A’s” we currently had going into the test. (At this point I should explain that I what I lack in certain areas, I make up for with enthusiasm and many many hours of rote learning)
What’s that about the early bird and the worm?
I decided to show up an hour early to the test and sit outside the auditorium where the exam was being administered. I didn’t want anything goofy to happen and I sat, fully prepared, on the bench beside the exit doors and waited patiently for the current exam to finish.
Eventually, students began filtering out; their faces flush with excitement at having the last of their tests behind them. I recognized many of them from the business school and from possibly other classes we shared, but when a girl that I had actually done a marketing project with walked out of the doors and gave me a funny look, a feeling of panic hit me like a ton of bricks.
I raced into the auditorium and flew down the aisles, past Karen, who called out in a loud whisper “Are you finished?” and over to the teaching assistants at the base of the stage. I breathlessly explained my situation, stating I had actually been in the building, right outside the doors for almost an hour. I told them I thought the exam started at 3:00, when it fact it was apparent it had started at 1:00.
They looked at me like I had two heads and one cigarette. There was nothing they could do they said, and I saw them sneak a glance at each other with raised eyes. They certainly weren’t going to wait another two hours while I took the exam, especially when other students had finished and could have shared questions from the test.
The best they could do was had me an empty answer sheet and say good-luck. I had fifteen minutes, which was just enough time to color in every ‘c’ answer throughout the entire exam.
Do not believe this! (I know from experience)
The rumor that “c” answers are correct more often than not, is simply not true. I failed the test and squeeked by my marketing class with a C-. I did not graduate with high honors as I expected I would but, I did still manage to graduate and that’s a good thing.
Now, of course, it doesn’t really matter. I didn’t miss out on any jobs because of that marketing grade that I know of. And actually, the first job I was hired for as an accountant, was by an ex-football player who liked the fact that I had worked food service at a previous Super Bowl.
I was totally devastated when I missed that final. I had restarted my college career as a mother and a “non-traditional student”, paying for the whole thing myself and working two jobs. At the time, it seemed like an unjust ending to a Cinderella story and it put a damper on the graduation party, though the midget stripper did cheer me up. (Yes, you read that right)
I feel differently now – actually, just the opposite. Matter of fact, it makes for a great story.
It has come to my attention that certain people think I whine and complain too much. Well, if my voice sometimes sounds like nails on a chalkboard it’s actually because I have a physical condition, Lateral Inverted Epiglottis (L.I.E.) that tricks people into thinking I may be complaining, because it sounds like I’m complaining. But really, I’m not.
It’s just a misconception that everybody and their brother have about me and I’d like to set the record straight. There’s a big difference (Craig) between asking for a reasonable explanation and going on about the crummy weather or the incompetence of wait staff at a certain restaurant. Anyone can complain (Mother), but it takes a special someone with advanced verbal skills to be able to get the bottom of a problematic issue in a way that is articulate and productive.
I, of course, will explain.
I have to do all the dirty work
Last week I called a certain company called Sallie Mae (smelling trouble already?) to discuss an ongoing issue that we have. Because my husband’s name is on the account and mine is not, Brett would not divulge any information.
“But, Brett,” I said very diplomatically, “I have all of my husband’s information.”
“Yeah, but I need to get his permission.”
“You need his permission for me to give Sallie Mae some money? Even at Chase Bank you can deposit money into someone’s account without their permission.” I banged my head repeatedly on the desk. “I can get him on the phone in a flash, but how do you know it’s my husband?”
“Well, he’ll have to give me his social security number.”
“I have that.”
“Yeah, but I need it from him.”
Am I crazy?
At this point my voice gets a little agitated. “Brett, would you agree that anyone with a deep voice that identified himself as Craig and had his information could access his files. I could grab my mailman and he could read off his social security number. How would you know it’s Craig?”
“Well that’s fraud.”
And Sallie Mae shies away from that, I know. “I’m just saying, Brett, that as a security measure, it seems weak. What if my husband’s name was Pat or Terry and I had the correct information? Would you talk to me then? How would you know it wasn’t him? ”
I heard Brett mutter quietly, “Jesus, lady.” Then louder he said. “Do you want to file a complaint?”
“I’m not complaining!” I said exhaustedly. I wondered briefly if Ashton Kutcher was punking me. “I’m pointing out the ridiculousness of your ‘security’ policy. It makes no sense at all. Any ‘man’ could theoretically give you our information. Your security is a ‘deep voice’.”
Throw me a bone, Brett!
I just wanted to hear from him that he understood my point. It wasn’t a complaint, it was a . . . a something, but not a complaint.
“Well, irregardless, I can’t give you any information without your husband’s consent,” Brett said with authority.
The fact that he used the non-word irregardless burst my bubble and I knew I’d lost. “Hold on, I’ll get him on a three-way,” I said as I surrendered and put a call through to Craig.
Craig verified to Brett that I was allowed to write Sallie Mae a check towards his account and that was a small victory, but although I’d won the battle, I’d lost the war.
“Brett,” I said sweetly, “the next time you have a staff meeting, would you at least bring up the lack of security with your security policy?”
I swear I could hear him snort. “Sure. I’m writing it down in my notes right now. Is there anything else I can do for you Mrs. Arnson?”
“Uh, no, and actually, it’s Marinelli not Arnson. My husband and I have different last names.”
“I’m sure you do,” he said and this time there was no mistaking the sarcasm in his voice. “Anything else, Mrs. Marinelli?”
I knew he wouldn’t appreciate me pointing out it was Ms. not Mrs. so I bit my tongue. “No thank you, Brett. I think I’m all set.”
As I hung up, I’m pretty sure I heard a derogatory comment from the other end, but I couldn’t be sure it was directed at me. After all, Sallie Mae probably gets a lot of complaints.
The following is a true story. And the kind of incident that occurs frequently enough so as to prompt my sister, Becky, to say, “Why do those kinds of things always happen to you?” I’m not sure, but as a writer, I’ve been blessed with a fate that has been sprinkled with unusual and tempered with bizarre. I’m also lucky to be alive (as I’ve been told).
So I’m on my way to visit my mother and Pete in northern Michigan, my boys buckled in the minivan and deeply engrossed in a highly educational DVD. I was bored. We were in no-man’s land – my cell couldn’t get any reception, the boys weren’t fighting and even the satellite radio keep going in and out.
I became obsessed with mastering the cruise control. Keep in mind that in the ten years we have owned a Honda, I had never used this feature, located right in front of me on the steering wheel. But as you may have guessed, I am also blessed with the ability to multi-task. So, not only was I driving a 3000 lb vehicle at 70 mph with my young children and a dog in the back, I was also trying to figure out the mystery of the confusing cruise control.
It was NOT my fault, I repeat, NOT my fault
Here is my disclaimer: Even if I had seen the bale of straw sitting in the middle of the road at the crest of a small hill, it would have been too late to do anything. I hit the bale bomb with a resounding “thud”, and though it’s half the size of a bale of hay, it still packed quite a punch. The car shuddered, the boys threw off their head sets and began screaming, the dog started barking and thick smoke obscured all the windows except the windshield.
So you completely understand the decision I made, I will outline the facts.
1. I was in shock! This is important to keep in mind.
2. We were in the middle of nowhere.
3. My phone didn’t work.
I couldn’t figure out the smoke thing. My car was still running and I didn’t detect any funny sounds, but the heavy dark smoke had enveloped us. I could hear other cars honking (as if I were unaware!), but I was afraid if I pulled over, I would be stuck. I thought I should try to make the Big Rapids exit, two miles up the road.
Suddenly, as I neared the exit, the smoke instantly disappeared. I looked out my rear view mirror and saw a small fireball rolling back down the highway. It came to rest at the side of the road where it promptly burst into a large fireball.
This is where I had my ah hah moment. I had been dragging the bale of straw under my car and the friction had caused it to ignite (the smoke!) and when it burned down enough, I had shaken it loose. I was instantly relieved that we weren’t dead, but I was still visibly upset and I needed to see what kind of damage I had inflicted on my beloved minivan. I pulled off at the intended exit and headed for the only gas station, a mile down the road.
Rule of thumb – Know your Audience
I got out to inspect my beat-up car and immediately started recounting my situation to the large tattooed fellow on the Harley Davidson, getting gas next to me. Remember, I was still in shock. As I was explaining my story, I noticed a smell, a funny smell, one that I recognized from back in the day – the guy reeked of marijuana!
It was just my luck that the biker dude was stoned to the beejezus! The whole area was filled with the stench of pot but I had already engaged him and I didn’t want to appear rude or insult the dope-fiend, so I finished my story.
“Well, that explains it,” he drawled.
“What?” I asked.
“Why you smell like Cheech and Chong.” He nodded towards the van where my two boys’ faces were pressed against the window.
“Me? What do you mean?” I turned around and smoke was still pouring out from every crevice of my van. Smoldering pieces of straw stuck out from the door jams, the windows and even the gas cap. It then came to my attention that the smell of burning straw smells suspiciously like you-know-what. He wasn’t the pot-head - I was!
“I’m a responsible mother! I only did that once,” I gulped, “back in college.”
“I bet you didn’t inhale, either,” he chuckled.
Just then, a small group of fire trucks and police vehicles, their sirens blaring, passed the station, racing out towards the highway.
“Looks like you have some ‘splaining to do, Lucy.” The biker/comedian pulled his helmet on. “Good luck,” he said sincerely as he roared off.
The Walk of Shame
I slowly walked in to the gas station and announced to the two gals listening to the police radio that I thought I might be the one who started the brush fire out by the highway. They looked at each other as if they had never started a fire and handed me the phone.
Later, as the police were taking my report, the officer mentioned, more than once, just how lucky we were to be alive.
“You know,” he said as he took my registration, “those gas tanks are made outta plastic. If you’da pulled over with the bale still stuck, the car probably woulda exploded. You’re lucky you hit it straight on,” he added, “most folks would have jerked the steering wheel one way or another, coulda hit a car or veered off the road.”
So, it was a good thing that I didn’t do as common sense would have dictated. By not seeing the straw bale in time and not pulling over immediately, I may have inadvertently done something right. . . by following some crazy, shock induced logic; I may have saved my family from, well, something not good.
“I could have been planning three funerals right now,” my mother commented when we arrived safely in Frankfort. “Four, if you count the dog . . . and this is a busy weekend.”
I do hate to put people out.
There’s an obvious problem with idle threats and that is – they don’t work. The threatenee (Craig) soon realizes you’re spitting in the wind and the threatenor (me) just gets increasingly frustrated. Yes, I’m talking about the “divorce” threat and it has long lost its ability to shock and awe.
“If you don’t take out the garbage you can look for a letter from my attorney,” I have been known to say.
“I am your attorney,” Craig has been known to answer. Boom! Not a threat.
Or, I could mention that if he doesn’t clean up the garage, run a bubble bath for me or pick up the pile of dog poop in the yard, he might find me heading out the door to singlehood.
“Don’t forget the kids,” he’d call out, “and take that crazy dog, too.” Snap! Not a threat.
I can hear many of you armchair psychologists calling plays from the bench. “If you have to threaten you have bigger fish to fry than the garbage” could be one of them. Well, don’t think for one minute you have me fooled. Anyone who says they haven’t used threats or bribes or blackmail or any form of coercion with their husband or children is still listing their weight as 125 pounds on their driver’s license. As they say, denial ain’t just a river in Africa.
If I had a nickel for every complaint . . .
So anyway, back to my complaining and my threats to Craig. If you don’t already know, I wrote a book last year called “Falling from the Moon”. I could go on and on and on about how hard I worked and the hours sacrificed late at night writing or the TV shows I gave up to spend the time toiling in front of my computer, but I won’t. I’m just not that kind of a person.
What I will tell you is that I read only that one book in two years and I read it about a hundred times! I still did a crappy job at self-editing, but that is not my area of expertise. It is actually something my husband is very good at. I had hoped he might take one tinsy iota of interest in my accomplishment and do me a solid by reading through it and pointing out any typos or grammatical errors that I had overlooked.
Can’t pull the wool over my eyes
But I’m sure you can already read the writing on the wall. He protested that he had already put in eighty hours at work or that he read contracts all day or blah blah blah. He falsely promised that as soon as he could catch his breath he would, that he was interested. He just had a regular job, that by the way, paid the bills. The excuses were staggering and it wasn’t long before I went from “when you get time” to “I’ll divorce you so fast it will make your head spin!” One can only take so much heartache and abuse.
I think it was when two of his best friends found themselves in divorce court that he saw the light and did what was in his best interest. Almost one year to the day that I finished the novel, he proudly announced to me that he had read “Falling” and proclaimed that “it was just like a real book”.
At this point, I had a choice. I could hold out and pout for a while (which has its advantages) or I could cave and discuss it with him. My excitement at having a conversation about something other than American Idol or the upcoming Cleveland Brown’s football season won out and my heart raced as I blubbered, “Really? What did you think?”
“It’s not funny,” he replied.
“It’s not supposed to be. It’s historical fiction.”
“Well, then it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.”
My heart sank a little knowing that the last book he probably read was “Where the Wild Things Are” . . . to the children a few years ago.
“No really, Honey, it was great.” He gave me a little hug and continued, “I couldn’t put it down and even got teary-eyed in a few places. And the story was very engaging and I found myself caring about the characters and you didn’t leave any loose ends. “Actually,” he looked at me with a renewed respect, “I’m impressed. It was a really good book.”
“You think?” I asked. The image I had of me sitting on some barstool, vodka in one hand, cigarette in the other, faded away. I wouldn’t have to go back to serial dating!
“Yeah, I really mean it.” I know him well enough that he is honest to the point of obnoxiousness. He really did mean it. “It would be a great movie,” he added.
All my dreams were coming true. I would be the next Margaret Mitchell and “Falling” would be my “Gone with the Wind”. It would be made into a blockbuster movie and I would buy a small island in the Caribbean, next to Johnny Depp. Life was good.
“Have you sold any?” Craig had the nerve to ask, always the kill-joy.
“Not yet.” I stated indignantly. “But no one knows that the book’s for sale. I haven’t announced it.” My words own words rang out loud and clear as my island get-away slowly slipped into the sea. It was apparent I needed a way to let a large number of people know that they could buy my book on Amazon or through our website bookstore. I’m not the brightest knife in the drawer, but I’m sure something will come to me.
Hmmm . . .
It’s funny. When I was growing up in Michigan, I couldn’t wait to get out of the state and what I considered the blue-collared city of Battle Creek. The cereal factories, the non-descript row homes, the downtown that could hardly be considered a hub of culture and it all embodied a background that I didn’t want to be associated with.
I certainly saw myself as more of a sophisticated kind of gal – one who enjoyed the enhanced opportunities that a metropolitan city would provide. Like Dim sum on Sunday mornings in Chinatown, a downtown that boasted a skyline comparable to none, renowned universities and museums a cab ride away – the cultural diversity that Chicago could offer.
It wasn’t that I was used to these things. There were no European trips or sports cars wrapped in a red ribbon sitting in my driveway on my sixteenth birthday. My parents weren’t successful entrepreneurs or trust-fund babies, they were teachers and we lived a middle-class existence where, when you could start working, you did. We drove American made cars, ate at Red-Lobster on special occasions and vacationed in northern Michigan during the summers
When I left for Illinois, I hardly looked back. When people asked me where I was from, I laughingly said Michigan as though it were common knowledge that anyone who could get out, would. I loved my new life, even though I was living in a two-bedroom apartment in Schaumburg and driving my Saturn into the city to work. I wasn’t necessarily living the good-life, but I was awful close to people who were and that sort of thing rubs off. We all shared the unspoken knowledge that, yes, we had arrived. To where, I couldn’t tell you, but it was somewhere other than Battle Creek.
My life went through another change when I met Craig and the apartment turned into a house and the Saturn to a mini-van. It was an effortless transition into a new life, one that I had not actively sought out, but rather expected would happen and I settled in, totally comfortable in my newest role.
You can run, but you can’t hide
But, as anyone wise will say, you can take the girl out of Michigan but you can’t take Michigan out of the girl. It took a couple years, but I did begin to miss trees, and crickets and the stars that light pollution didn’t hide. I missed leisurely drives in the country where you lick your vanilla cone and watch the horses or the late evening farmer finish his plowing. Ice cream in the suburbs means traffic and lines and a three dollar baby cone.
I looked forward to family visits where we took long walks through the woods or on the beach or just sat on the porch with lemonade, gossiping about the latest small-town scandal. It wasn’t hard to convince Craig to vacation on Mackinac Island where walking through horse manure seems charming and fudge is the official hors d’oeuvre, served before every meal.
Even Battle Creek was different than what I remembered. It wasn’t smoke you smelled from the factories, but the sweet aroma of Frosted Flakes and Rice Crispies drifting through the city. The row houses reminded me of the days when my best friend, Tala, and I would sneak into her older sister Sherree’s bedroom to look at her Led Zeppelin album covers when she wasn’t there. I recalled riding the bus downtown to shop at Robinson’s department store and eating hand-pressed burgers and shakes at Speed’s Coffee Shop. Was my childhood far enough behind me that all things once evil had magically become nostalgic?
Returning to the scene of the crime
This weekend I’ll return again for my class reunion. It’s a bit easier as FaceBook has allowed me the opportunity to pre-connect before meeting up with the classmates from Lakeview High School Class of 1979. At one time I may have turned up my nose at the chance to see faces that may or may not have been friends, but I view things differently these days. I’ve grown up now and it doesn’t matter to me how much money you make or how big your house is. I want to hear how your brother is doing or what happened to your sister, the swimmer. I want to tell you how sad I was to hear your mother passed away and how glad I am that your dad made it through his by-pass surgery with little complication. I want to see pictures of your kids, hell, your grandkids, and hear about your life and what you’ve been doing for the past thirty years.
Sure, I’d have liked to have lost the twenty pounds that have found their way home and you betcha I have a hair appointment scheduled this week for a “touch-up” but frankly, I feel pretty comfortable with what and who I am these days. This is not a claim I make lightly or have even made much in the past, but I have lost much of the baggage that I had dragged around and I don’t feel the need to be anything other than what I am. Trust me, I still have my issues, but they’re not as life-threatening as I once thought they were.
So, this weekend should be fun. Kelly comes in on Wednesday and the kids are at camp, so we’ll have plenty of time to reminisce of days gone by and old war stories. I’m looking forward to seeing the faces of the “kids” I went to school with and remembering the few that didn’t make it to see this reunion. All in all, I’d say it ain’t so bad.