My Own Fast Food Nation

My first job, when I turned sixteen in 1977, was at Wendy’s.  I had waited my whole life to do two things – drive a car and get a job.  From my thirteenth birthday on, it was all I could think about.  I applied for the position the month before my birthday knowing that the processing, assuming I was offered the job, could take some time.

Cool.  Then not cool.  Then cool again.

Cool. Then not cool. Then cool again.

All my friends worked at Wendy’s including my boyfriend, the head burger flipper, who got me an interview with Cheryl, the manager. 

Cheryl was an intimidating figure who carried herself with the self-assurance that came with such a high-ranking position.  She was pleasant and friendly, but there was no getting around the fact that she meant business and she made it clear there would be no Tom Foolery on her watch.  We snapped to attention whenever she was near, knowing that if she caught you taking an unapproved break she would push a rag in your hand and announce “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”

Tough as Nails

Cheryl was strict, but fair.  If she detected someone illegally helping themselves to a single with cheese or failing to punch in on time, she might issue a warning.  Next offense could get you sent home.  Third time was no charm and we watched more than one embarrassed violator turn in their name badge and kerchief and slink out of the store, tail tucked between their legs.

Lookin' good, Billy Ray.

1977 fashion - Lookin' good, Billy Ray.

I worked extra hard to please Cheryl.  I wiped the ashtrays in the lobby like no one’s business, practiced my handiwork on the register, and vacuumed the carpets with the gusto my mother never could inspire.  I even wiped the urinal in the men’s room – a job most unpopular with the staff and often ignored.
 
My hard work paid off and I was soon rewarded with a badge that read ‘Crew Leader’ and all the responsibilities that came with it.  I walked proudly into “my” restaurant every noon, and to “my” position at the cash register, knowing that I was responsible for getting our customers a hot meal.  Cheryl made a game of pitting the front line against the cooks in a race, each trying to leave the other in the dust as we moved through the lunch rush.  She kept track of the score, telling each side separately that she thought they were the faster team and she was secretly rooting for them.

Admit it.  Your parents had a fuzzy toilet cover.

Admit it. Your parents had a fuzzy toilet cover.

When my best friend’s mother got cancer and Kelly and I chose to show  our solidarity by wearing a thin gold chain, Cheryl went to bat for us with the Regional Manager to make an exception to the “no jewelry” rule. 

She once asked me to drive her new Ford Mustang back to her house when her boyfriend came to pick her up, and to this day I remember how carefully I drove, terrified that I would somehow wrap the sports car around a light pole or pick off an innocent by-stander and wind-up having to deliver the news that would certainly seal my fate as an ex-employee.

Paying my fast food dues

I worked at Wendy’s for almost two years.  By the time my eighteenth birthday was in sight I was looking for a higher paying job as a waitress, besides Cheryl had been offered a promotion to Regional Manager and would be leaving.  There didn’t seem to be any reason to stay, anymore.  There was a new crop of sixteen year-olds and I was over the fast food thing.  Besides, with Cheryl gone, work wasn’t fun anymore.

He was not gay!

He was not gay!

As I moved up the chain in the world of Food and Beverage, I always remembered Cheryl and the work ethic she installed.  I adopted her old slogan of “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” More than once, I asked myself in a difficult situation, what would Cheryl do?  She was such a great inspiration and example for a young girl and I often think of her and wonder where she ended up. 

To have such an impact on someone’s life is powerful. And, when I think of the fact that in 1977, Cheryl was only nineteen years old, it makes it even more amazing.
 
When I was sixteen, nineteen was a world away.  Nineteen was an adult.  Nineteen could drink and buy alcohol (that really was back in the day) and nineteen could be a store manager at Wendy’s.  Was nineteen in 1977 different than nineteen in 2010? 

Somehow, I think it was.

 

 

How I became a psychic

I do not believe in astrology.  However, I am a Gemini, the sign of the twins, and I’m only speaking for one twin.  The other twin is a believer. I also admit I may be prone to exaggeration, but I promise you the following story is true.

imagesCA7OZAHZIn January, I attended my good friend Lisa Schmagenbuch’s monthly party (remember her birthing experience?).  The interesting twist on Lisa’s monthly parties is that you never know why she is throwing one.  I have attended jewelry parties, life coaching parties, home good parties, clothes parties, and raising your self-esteem parties. There are always two things in common with her events: 1) plenty o’ food and drink and 2) the need to bring a checkbook.
 
But this party was more esoteric than her usual shindigs.  For a mere $60 (cash only, please) you could purchase 12-15 minutes of time with Jorianne (aka Sister Christian), The Coffee Psychic.  Sister’s claim to fame was her ability to read your future from the cream she poured into an average cup o’ joe.   Apparently, the way the Coffeemate settles into the coffee means a lot more than you think it does.

imagesCA0NQIA0(FYI – in case you’re in need of an exorcism, worry no more.  Sister can get rid of that devil once and for all for the bargain rate of $500.  Unless you have a particularly stubborn demon - then it’s negotiable.)

A fool and her money

Some of the gals

Some of the gals brave enough to be photographed

So there we were, all fifteen suburban moms waiting anxiously to hand our  money over to the local clairvoyant (yeah, do the math – Sister was netting almost $300/hour). 

Things got off to a rocky start though when our telepathic tutor announced that no alcohol was to be consumed until after we had finished our session with her.  A hush settled over the room and an awkward silence followed.  It was only until Lisa offered to babysit each of our children for a night that the gals even began to come around, but the natives were restless and trouble was a brewin’ (no pun intended).

Sister stood before us – a handsome blond, in her early fifties, with plenty of nice jewelry.  She looked sweetly around the room, staring at each of us as though she knew our secrets and announced, “If you see me barking like a dog or baying like a sheep, there’s no cause for concern.  I sometimes channel animals.”
 
But this was cause for concern because I do not channel animals nor do I speak their language.  I also am concerned about taking advice from a cow – we usually just eat them.

Sister Christian

How could you not believe her?

“Also,” she continued, “If I say something that doesn’t apply now it’s because I might be referring to something that has happened to you in a previous life or something that will happen in your next life.”
 
Wow, what a disclaimer – when else could something have happened?

“Lastly,” she stated, “I want you to hear something.”  She pressed ‘play’ on a small hand-held tape recorder and we listened to Sister Christian and a client talking.  All of a sudden, a loud and clear ghostly voice interrupted the session. “Sister,” the spirit continued, “Sister . . . Sister.”
 
“Did you hear that?” Sister shook her head and held the recorder up to the heavens.  “That was the client’s dead grandmother contacting me – right in the middle of our reading!  Can you believe it?”

Frankly, no, I couldn’t believe it.  Was she kidding me?  I’m no techy, but in this day and age I’m going to need to meet that spirit and get something in writing before signing on to that program.

Not as smart as I look

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Notice the Gemini symbol looks like pi symbol? Smart and psychic - not so bad, huh?

Sister wrapped up her intro and we all chose lots to see who would go first.  I, of course, drew #15, so I would get to spend the next 3 1/2 hours eating chips and guacamole and waiting for my turn at bat.  The good news – I would have the opportunity to listen to the stories as, one by one, the gals came back from their reading and spilled on what had gone on.

“She told me I would get warts and my husband’s ex-girlfriend was stalking him,” Dawn grabbed her first margarita and chugged it.

“She told me that we would have catastrophic financial troubles this year,” Jenny added as she poured herself a glass of wine.

“Yeah, well, Sister told me . . .” Meagan took a deep breath, “I would have another child.”

“NO!” we all shouted in unison.  Who was this woman that was wreaking havoc on the lives of innocent people?  I couldn’t wait to get my shot with this poser.

Taking matters into my own hands

Finally, at a time that I normally would have been sleeping for a couple of hours, Sister called me in.  I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep or the lack of margaritas, but the bravado I had planned on had lost its charm.  I knew I would do something, I just didn’t know what.  Sister smiled sweetly at me and I offered up a cheery “hello.”

She put her hands to her temples, closed her eyes and asked in a quiet voice, “Is there a ‘Bob’ in your family?”

“That would be my brother,” I answered.  But this is not true.  My brother’s name is Mike.

“How about a ‘Sue’?”

“My mom,” I lied.

She looked up at me, surprised.  “Dave?”

“Oh, my gosh.  That’s my uncle!” I exclaimed.

At this point, I wasn’t sure why I was fibbing to this poor woman just trying to make a buck (or three hundred). Maybe I was waiting for her to be psychic and call me out on my obvious falsehoods, but she didn’t.  Either I was a really good liar or she was a really bad psychic.

Now this is the crazy part . . .

She was visibly elated and her hands shook as she poured the creamer into the coffee and watched as it sank into the swills.  It was a moment before she sat back.  “The cream has spoken.  You have some kind of a gift.”  She rubbed her temples and continued.  “But you are afraid to share it. Hmmm . . . what is it?  What are you hiding?”  She was genuinely curious.

“Well . . .,” I started.  I now knew why I was jerking her chain – after three hours and enough artichoke dip to kill a horse, I was enjoying myself.

“Go on – don’t be afraid.  You’re in a safe place.  Sister is here.”

I took a deep breath before I went on.  “The thing is . . . I’m a psychic, too.  I see . . .” I almost said dead people, but I didn’t want to push it so I finished with, “the future.”

“I knew it!” She tapped the desk with her palm. “In a previous life you were a witch or a shaman or a mystic.  You had psychic powers and they have stayed with you.”  She closed her eyes and shook her head.  “You need to explore your gift, don’t let it scare you, let it lead you.”

“Praise Jesus,” I said, caught up in the moment.  But she was so excited about my supernatural abilities that I was beginning to feel sorry I had lead her on.  And oddly enough, I do feel like sometimes I know the future – like when the boys get home from school, I always know there will be a fight.

She pulled out her business card and pushed it across the table.  “I want to show you how to use your gift.  I want to teach you how to explore all the universe has to offer. I can help you.”  She reached out and touched my hand.  ”And I’m running a special this month for a price you can’t beat.”

Only if she teaches me how to communicate with my dog.  I’d like to know why he bites people and poops everywhere but in the yard.

One Bad Mutha

I am a bad mother.  Ask anyone.  I continually favor one kid over another, I never let any of them do anything fun, I don’t know anything, and I am mean and grossly unfair – always.

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford - the ultimate "Bad Mutha!"

At least, this is what my children tell me.

They have mentioned, more than once, that, if I could go away their lives would be perfect (I wish), that they would live happily ever after (works for me), and that the adult therapy I have assured them they will need, will not be necessary (doubtful).

Like most bad mothers, I take their insults with a grain of salt.  I can even go toe to toe with them on the mouthy thing.  When told they can’t wait until they’re eighteen, I tell them I can’t wait even more.  When one of them mentions I favor the other, I say you’re absolutely right – he’s always been my favorite.  It just rolls off my tongue.

Sad, but true

A quick insight:  I have been a mother for almost 30 years – and I still have 10 left to go.  If and when Sam ever leaves, I will have had children in my house for 40 years and will have gone from being a teenager to, basically, retirement.  Yeah, that hurts alright.

So, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in the field of parenthood.  Maybe not a good expert, but at least an experienced one. 

Here are a couple examples of my parenting skills.  Feel free to use at anytime.  (Disclaimer – I cannot guarantee that children will not be mentally harmed by my advice – use at your own risk).

Kid: Sarah always gets candy in her lunch.
Me: That’s because Sarah’s mother still thinks cigarettes can’t hurt you.

Kid: Joe got a car on his 16th birthday.
Me: Joe’s parents must really love him.

Kid: Bill’s mom always lets him do whatever he wants.
Me: Bill’s mom is in rehab.

They’ll get you every time

I guess Bette Davis was no peach either.

I guess Bette Davis was no peach either.

Now, every once in a while things can backfire.  When 11 year-old Gracie told me she was tired of playing the flute and I told her she had to finish her commitment, she accidentally beat the $300 instrument against a cement block until it was mangled and then explained to me that it fell.

When 5 year-old Marcus decided being grounded in his room constituted an emergency and called 911, it took some explaining before the police realized he had not been locked in his room forever and needed food and water.

When 6 year-old Sam wanted to run away and I helped him pack his bags, I thought I was using reverse psychology.  But when I got a call from a store 2 miles away (they had caught him shoplifting a candy bar) and they asked me to please pick up my young son, I had egg on my face.

You just can’t win
 

How about their step-mother?  (I always wondered if their father was an idiot?)

How about their step-mother? (I always wondered if their father was an idiot?)

It’s a fine line, isn’t it?  Frankly, I feel somewhat put out that spanking went out of style just when I became a mother.  It was a lot easier for my parents, they didn’t need anything more than a “Because I said so and if you ask me again I’ll tan your hide.”  It obviously worked – I saved all my insults and tough talk for when they left the room and did whatever they told me not to, anyway.  I just did it behind their back.

My generation has been forced to resort to explanations and understanding.  This works fine for the first 100 times you say, “But I am not Susie’s mother.  If I was, she wouldn’t get a cell phone for her eighth birthday.” And then you explain, again, how important it is for her to grow up slowly, that there will be plenty of time in the future for her to spend $400 on a monthly cell phone bill.

How much can I take?

But throw me a bone here – we’re only human, right?  You can’t keep up that pace.  How many times can you hear “That’s not fair!” before you answer, “Well, guess what?  Life’s not fair.  Get used to it.”  And you leave it at that.

And now, they’re getting even younger.  I swear I saw a two-year old scolding his mother for not letting him get a cookie. “Bad mommy,” he screamed as he stomped his feet.  When the harried mother glared at me as I pushed my cart past, I had to remind her that I was on her side.  She needed to focus her rage where it was intended – at the toddler, not at me.  I actually enjoy watching other people’s children being punished.  It makes me feel like I’m part of the club . . .  The Bad Mother’s Club.
 

How about her for "Mother of the Year?"

How about her for "Mother of the Year?" Has Britney regained your trust?

I like the sound of that.  It sounds edgy and dangerous.  Mutha . . .yeah, I’m one bad mutha.  Don’t mess with me, I’ll ground you so fast it’ll make your head spin.  Hah!
 
When I mentioned to my husband, Craig, that I was starting a Bad Mutha Club he asked why it couldn’t be a Bad Parent’s Club and be open to all parents, no matter their gender.

Well, for one thing, “Bad Parent’s Club” doesn’t have the same vibe to it as “Bad Mutha Club” and secondly, I can’t always do everything for him.  If he wants a club, he’s free to start one – but, this was my idea and I can’t have him always latching on to my coattails. He has to grow up sometime.

I get by with a little help from my friends

Paula Addul

Paula's reaction when her accountant showed her the bill from her plastic surgery!

I’m positively giddy . . . school girl giddy.  Guess why?  No, Paula isn’t returning to American Idol (I wish!).  And nope, Kate and Jon haven’t reconciled.  But, almost as exciting . . . I’ve hired an accountant!

Okay, so you may not get that funny tickle in your tummy or need to use the restroom, but this is a special milestone for me and our blossoming company, Windy City Publishers.

Surprisingly enough, I have convinced, yet, another friend to join our little family.  Doris and I go back, way back, to my first few years in Chicago.  We bonded when, as senior accountants for a troubled hotel company, we single-handily saved them from financial ruin (at least that’s how I remembered it).

Doris

Doris is a no-nonsense gal who actually enjoys accounting and is proficient at it.  She’s no drama queen, keeps her nose to the grindstone and stays out of trouble (or she’s just really good at not getting caught).  Just like me.  Maybe that’s why we get along so well.

I had been telling Dawn and Kristyn that I had become too busy to work the numbers, but in reality it was literally (figuratively?) boring me to death and squelching my creative instinct.  Not to mention, I have a small bald spot on the side of my head where I have pulled out the hairs – one by one – while looking at long columns of numbers.
 
Dawn and Kristyn initially looked skeptical when I mentioned Doris could “cook our books” (this is my own phrase that comes from a combination of my catering and accounting background.  It has nothing to do with illegal or unethical activity). 

imagesCAGF9I03

Jon and Kate going over the divorce settlement with their accountant. Not happy campers!

But, the good news is that I am an excellent sales person.  “We” decided that WCP needed a professional and they jumped on board quickly because, apparently, it is important to them that our bills and employees get paid on time.
 
When Doris first arrived at our Global World Wide International Offices in Palatine, Illinois, I welcomed her with a warm hug and a raspberry martini.

“It’s 9:00 in the morning,” she said, not blinking  (FYI – you can always tell a real accountant by their steely stare, their passion for butterscotch and their penchant for Lou Reed).

“Is it?”  I winced as I dumped the drink down the drain.  “I hadn’t noticed.”

“We should get to work.”  She carefully arranged her coat then pulled out a portable adding machine.  “Where should I set up?”

“Right this way, ma’am.” I said saluting her.  This was going to be just like old times – Doris working the numbers and me, supervising and keeping it real.

I showed Doris the books and, while she looked at the numbers, I filed one nail to a sharp point.  Idea – no need for toothpicks, hmmm.  “Look, Doris, built-in tooth cleaner.”

She looked up.
 
“Impressive.”  She put her head down but quickly looked up again.  “Have you paid Craig this year?”

“Nope.”

“Kristyn?”

“Uh uh.”

“Dawn?”

“I give her lunch.”

“What’s this?”  Doris pointed to a line item labeled “Swiss Bank Account.”

I Googled Famous Accounts and this is what came up.  Seriously - there are none.

I Googled "Famous Accountants" and this is what came up. Seriously - there are none.

“Hmmm, that’s weird.”  I scratched my chin.  “That should be our savings account.  Kristyn probably did that.  Sometimes when she gets bored she gets into the system and messes with it.”

“What about this expense?   ‘Dale’s Escort Service and Spa’? For $850?”

“Oh, yeah . . . that’s personal.  That’s a mistake, an honest mistake.”  I poked my sharp nail into a pencil and then balanced it perfectly on an upright finger.  “Hey, can you do this?”

Doris peered over her glasses at my finger.  I thought I saw a glimpse of envy in her steely stare. 

“What about this, ‘Money owed to @#$%^&*’.”

“Ah.  That’s money I owe Dawn.  I just blanked on how to spell her name.”
 
“Have you begun to do your 1099’s?”  Doris was like a machine, typing furiously and moving the mouse like no one’s business.
 
“My what?”

“Your 1099’s?  It’s what you need to give to your employees by January 31st.  Next week?”

“I’m working on it, but . . . “  I sighed a long sigh as I drilled my nails on the desk.  “I think I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Can you fill them out?”
 
“I’m assuming you have the forms?”

“You have assumed incorrectly.  I do not.”

“Well, it’s too late to get them from the IRS for free – they’ll never get here in time.  You’ll have to buy them.”  She clicked away.  “You can get them at Office Max.  $25.00.  Next year, order them in advance and you can get them free.”

“No biggie.  We have plenty of money.  Look at our bank account.”

She clicked away again.  “You haven’t balanced your checkbook in three months.  You have $38.67 in your account.”

“That does not sound good.”  I pulled out another hair from my bald spot.  “I’ll just go out back to the money tree,” I joked half-heartedly.

Doris clicked and typed and a few minutes later she announced she had done all she could do.  She promised to return and, as collateral, I held her birth certificate until she did so.  I walked her to the door and thanked her profusely.

“I don’t know how I have gotten along without you, Doris.”  I patted her on the back as I handed her a plate of leftover enchiladas and a butterscotch candy.  “Thanks, I appreciate your hard work.

She had tears in her eyes as she took the gifts. “No problem.” 

She walked out the door but, just before I closed it, turned and said. “Hey, if that idea for the tooth-cleaner ever pans out . . .”

“Sure, Doris,” I replied.  “You’re in for a cut.”

It’s not easy being an idea person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanking the “little people”

So I haven’t written a blog in a while.  Get off my back, people!  You don’t realize the work that goes into one of these babies – creative genius does not come cheap or easy.

Sorry, that was the manic part.  The depressive part is that I really enjoy blogging.  Exposing my friends and family’s secrets gives me a greater thrill than passing along bad news.  I’m just running low on time.  Every time I sit down to write, some Tom, Dick or Harry interrupts me with some ridiculous request.

Example: The small blond one who lives with me might ask, “Mom, can I have some breakfast?”   Of course, he doesn’t see the candy bars right in front of his nose.
 
Or, “Lise, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”   I swear, Craig will intentionally will throw himself under a bus to get my attention. And breaking his leg to do so – don’t think I don’t see right through that stunt.

Kristyn and Dawn also have developed a bad habit of bothering me with work-related issues, especially during The Price is Right.  It would bother me even more if I was paying them.

I could sit here and blame others all day and, believe me, I would if I thought they might acknowledge anything was their fault.  But, I know my mother won’t, so I’ll move on. 

Skipping ahead to the “me” part – my resolution this year is to write once a month.  And it’s that time of the month.

Doing what I do best

I’d like to begin my first blog of the year by acknowledging and thanking some random people in my life.  Without their accidental input I may have taken a different path and who knows what dumpster I would be living in.  So, even though at the time I may not have expressed my gratitude in a socially acceptable way, I offer it up to them now.
 
To Mr. Deal:  In eleventh grade you thought I was skipping your journalism class and called my mother to rat me out.  But, I wasn’t at the mall – I was at home doubled over in agony.  Isn’t it funny that I might have died, all alone, when my appendix burst?   But, lucky for me, my mother did come home.  And even though she also didn’t believe me and returned to work, I had the last laugh when I was lying on the table prepped for surgery.  Funny, huh?  Thanks, Mr. Deal.

To the well-built fellow at the health club: Initially, I thought you did the double-take because I looked especially fetching in my workout clothes.   But when you burst into gales of laughter and pointed out to your goon friend the toilet paper I was dragging around, I realized this was not the case.  What you don’t understand is that, now, I am diligent about checking for such things every time I leave a public restroom.  I’m happy to report it has only happened once since then.  Mucho gracias, buff dude.
 
To the guy I had only one date with: Without your generous offering of cheap tequila, I might never have known that it didn’t agree with me.  I also appreciate the fact that you never sent me a bill for having to have your carpets cleaned or your floor mopped.  I do regret the cat incident, but frankly, cats are a dime a dozen.  Anyway, I wish you only the best.

To the woman at the cocktail party: Thank you for pointing out in harsh and vulgar terms that, just because a woman is older than the man she came with, she is not necessarily his mother.  I discovered that wealthy older woman are free to date men of any age and this is not a bad thing.  That information has come in handy more than once and I appreciate the fact that you could share that with me without the use of physical violence.

To the boy who called me names (as a teenager) on the Putt Putt course: You confirmed my suspicion that 16 year-old boys do not like to be called gay, or to be told that they are lacking in, uh, certain areas.   I also ascertained that a big mouth is no match for a sharp tongue.  But, outwitting a dimwit isn’t an accomplishment, anyone can do it.  And dimwits do not “grow out of it” as they get older, they get worse.
 
To my original college roommates:  It is clear, as an adult, that having one’s boyfriend over 24/7, in a room meant for half a person, would be considered rude.  Also, covering his eyes as you change clothes isn’t really giving you much privacy.  I am grateful that you had me moved to another floor during break as opposed to the middle of the school year.  That was classy.

To the woman at the toll booth that wouldn’t accept my fare in pennies:  Thank you for not calling the authorities after I ignored your instructions and gently tossed the money in your general direction.  I learned that my aim is, indeed, poor and that if I can’t afford to pay the tolls, I shouldn’t be on the road.

And lastly, to the boss that had a picture of a playmate on the shelf behind his desk:  I know that sort of thing wouldn’t fly in today’s work environment.  But thanks to you, even back in the day, I realized a boob is a boob, whether it’s sitting in a frame or on the desk right in front of you.

Happy New Year.

Birthin’ babies – not as easy as it looks

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

scan0009

The Schmagenbuch Family. In the long-run - no harm done.

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

scan0012

All's well that ends well - no matter what some idiot does.

“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.”

scan0011

Isabelle is NOT afraid of me. She's just a . . . serious baby.

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.

Making peace with your inner idiot

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.

Famous Idiot #1

George W Bush Famous Idiot #1

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.

My friend flicka

Barack Obama It's a requirement for the job - why else would you do it?

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.

Sarah Palin

Gov(?) Sarah Palin? You make the call . . . you betcha!

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.

I knew it was boxers!

Billy Boy Clinton I knew it was boxers!

“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) . . .

Move over Kate Gosselin – there’s room for more than one at the bottom

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.

before

By number three, I still hadn't learned how these pictures will come back to haunt you

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.

after

Notice the lip gloss? The carefully coiffed hair? I look pretty good, huh? Took me until #4 to figure it out.

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

scan0006

Lisa is the pregnant one on the right

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.

Spoiler alert!

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 . . .

Dandy – my favorite midget stripper

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. 

WARNING!

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.

prince

The artist formerly known as "Crazy as a Loon"

michael

Just a thought - would you even recognize him with hair?

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.

both

We don't look so bad together - could he have been "the one that got away"?

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!”

dandy

This part was kind of weird - in a freaky way

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.”

me

Here I am, pretending to be embarrassed

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.

Rush, Justin, Demi – I have a bone to pick with you

This morning I woke up feeling catty.  Usually I prefer to talk about people behind their backs but today I’m throwing caution to the wind and speaking my mind to anyone willing to listen.  This is actually an exercise in “emotional cleansing” and it comes highly recommended by this one guy on this one show I saw on late night television.
rush

Tips: When Rush attacks, don't look him in the eye and if that doesn't work, play dead

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

keith

This is NOT Freddy Krueger (it's Keith!)

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. 

This is!  Hard to tell the difference, isn't it?

This is Freddy! Hard to tell the difference, isn't it?

There’s nothing sadder than seeing Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones in his wheel-chair making the rock n’ roll horns with his arthritic hand.

paula

Seriously, is this the face of an alien?

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.

demi

So she's kind of cute - big deal!

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.

glenn

Don't cha just want to eat 'em 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?
 

How are they all fitting in the front seat?  There can't be 3 seatbelts!!!

How are they all fitting in the front seat? There can't be 3 seatbelts!!!

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 know, I know, but he claims he's not.

I know, I know, but he claims he's not.

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.

ryan

No . . . of course he's not crazy!

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?