A Short Story
(This means I made it up, Craig)
Rumor had it that Tami Winslow drank Drano when she was a young child. The acid ate through her mouth and upper lip giving her the look and voice of a soft-spoken hare-lip. She wasn’t a friend of mine – we ran in different circles, but she was somewhat of a freakish attraction in our first year of junior high school, to be whispered about and discussed behind her back.
Tami was in my English class and sat in the last seat in my row. As I passed back the less-than-remarkable graded papers, I couldn’t help but notice the sad and pathetic fact that she always dotted the “i” in her name with a little heart. I wasn’t cruel to her as some of the other children were, but I pitied Tami for her handicap, her home in the trailer-park and her tacky clothes from K-Mart.
Tami and I also shared 5th period gym class and the masochistic charms of one Miss Kotel, obviously nicknamed, Miss Kotex. Everyone hated Miss Kotex as she never failed to go to great lengths to embarrass the teenage girls that were her charge. It wasn’t uncommon to find some scorned young lady had taken out her revenge and written obscenities involving Miss Kotex on the crumbling walls of our basement locker room. This was the case one morning when I rounded the corner behind the showers and discovered Tami Winslow writing her opinion of the hateful teacher with a black marker. Apparently, Miss Kotex had humiliated Tami by referencing her scarred mouth during calisthenics and had provoked the timid girl into action that was not usually in her nature.
“Don’t tell” she pleaded in her soft lisp. I shook my head and hurried out of the locker room and up the stairs to the gym.
What I did next is a mystery to this very day and haunts me during the times I feel the need to self-flagellate in my adult life. I did tell Miss Kotex of Tami’s stunt, though ironically I had done the same the week before. Tami and her mother were called into the principal’s office and “appropriate actions” were taken. Tami was made an example for any student wishing to deface the walls of our dilapidated locker room walls.
We all watched for weeks as she was forced, during 5th period gym, to paint the entire wall of the graffiti-filled locker room. The vulgar slogans of the disenchanted slowly disappeared beneath the strokes of the gray paint, including the one Tami had written, “Miss Kotex has penis envy.” Tami painted the whole wall with the exception of one small heart. The heart that dotted the eye in her “penis” had defiantly been left untouched.
I may have mentioned I am not a fan of balls (footballs, baseballs, etc.) but I am a fan of my children. At least that’s what I tell people.
Because I raised my two older kids as a single parent, I got away with whispering in their ear that team sports were only for the “weird” kids. And there was no one to tell them otherwise. Not so this time around. Max and Sam have kicked and thrown and run their way from the hospital, in which they were born, all the way to this year’s basketball league champions of the Inverness Park District. All with the overwhelming support of their father.
This is what I get for thinking
I originally thought the basketball thing would be a good idea because the boys would be gone for practices and games. The added bonus was that as their coach, Craig would too. Now, if I give you the impression that I don’t care to spend quality sports time with my family, then I have hit the mark. It’s true. After 28 years of raising kids and another 11 to go, I value the little privacy I have. If I can steal an hour or two to catch up on Rock of Love Bus Tour (with Brett Michaels – no less), I unabashedly take it.
Our community is fairly small so most of the kids on our “Turquoise” basketball team were either classmates or friends, and Roger and Jay, the other two coaches, are neighbors. But, what started out as a friendly instructional league, (think wiping away tears and kissing boo boo’s) turned into an all out gladiator battle complete with a fight to the death. Worse, I wholeheartedly admit that I became part of the mob scene rooting for the lion to tear the limbs from the nine-year old boys on the opposing “Fuchsia” team.
2-4-6-8 Shout! Chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out!
This is somewhat surprising as I usually could give a rat’s fig as to who wins any game. But I think I smelled blood and this stirred some primal instinct, hidden under layers of latte’s and biscotti, that rose to the surface and spurred me on to places I’ve only imagined.
This didn’t happen overnight. During most of the season, I held court with Sue and Liz in the coveted “coaches wives” section, not paying a whole lot of attention. We shouted out the obligatory “atta boy” every now but spent most of the time catching up on the latest gossip. But as the season progressed and the “turquoise” team rose in the ranks, we couldn’t help but be drawn into the web of excitement that surrounded our athletically gifted young boys.
We ran with the exhilaration that our husbands emoted. During the week, emails flew back and forth between the coaches, twenty, thirty, forty, a day, discussing the various pros and cons of the “picks” the boys could set (I have since learned that “pick” is a fancy name for a rehearsed “play”) . To throw off the other team, Jay and Roger cleverly decide to name the picks after animals and more than twice, I would hear Craig saying something like “Let’s do the Capuchin monkey after the Bengal tiger. I really like the monkey.” They would meet at the local watering hole to discuss in-depth, the strengths of the various third-graders who could best execute the orangutan or the snow leopard.
You don’t win the silver, you lose the gold!
Their hard work paid off and the boys finished in second place. But hold on to your hats gang – the best is yet to come. And that would be the playoffs. I am usually morally opposed to any playoffs because I hate them, but not this time. I found myself grilling my exhausted boys at bedtime, pushing them to recite the moluccan cockatoo parrot pick just one more time.
The day of the big game was cold but sunny. Anxiety hung in the air and I found myself snapping at Craig and the boys for no reason other than the joy I felt at their discomfort. The nervous energy exuded from my pores and I cleaned the refrigerator in record time while the cookies baked in the oven. I realized, in my own special way, I was putting on my game face.
I knew we had a good chance at winning the semi-final game, but it was the championship against the dreaded “Taupe” team that had me eating Oreos two at a time. They were good, but it was their coach that really burned my basket balls. All the parents disliked the loud obnoxious dad that had the nerve to scout the other teams, which by the way, is clearly against the rules. When Roger and Craig and Jay went to see teams with none of their sons on them, it was always out of pure love for the game.
Get in there and win, damnit!
The boys easily won their first game due to the fact that the other team’s best player was in the parking lot, vomiting. Liz, Sue and I expressed our sympathies to our friends from the other team whose sons just couldn’t keep up without their star, but silently and gleefully jumped for joy at the good fortune that had fallen our way.
The championship game was a close one. The lead went back and forth but at half-time we found ourselves down by eight points – unacceptable by any stretch of the imagination. Liz and I decided that this wouldn’t be the case if we were coaching and we criticized our husband’s ability to do even the simplest of tasks correctly. Meanwhile, Roger and Sue were on the sidelines engaged in a heated discussion and when she returned to the stands she commented that there was going to be hell to pay that night. Things were not going well.
The second half was a nail biter – I literally chewed off two of my acrylics while our boys amazingly made the four baskets needed to tie the game. The din of the cheering parents grew increasing louder as the tension sky-rocketed and I barely managed to utter a few words of advice to the ref before he looked at me, put his finger to his mouth and pointed to the door. But we were not to be deterred and I firmly believe that it was our incessant screaming that drove the boys to victory that cold spring day.
Pain is only temporary, but victory is forever
Then there were the parties, the ice cream, the trophies, and the trip to the emergency room for Sue and Roger. Apparently their son had broken a bone in his foot, but like any gladiator worth his salt – he carried on. My husband repeated every play of the game to anyone who glanced in his general direction and after hearing it myself four times, I reminded him I was there.
We still cherish the memories but I’m back to generally despising balls and any game in which they are used. Until next year’s championship. Then I’m in for the kill.
So I’m flying back from LA and I end up sitting next to a real live hippy. A throw back from the seventies, complete with a bushy salt and pepper beard, small round glasses, a Grateful Dead shirt and yes, there is a story here.
If you don’t already know this about me, I despise flying and only do so when a number of conditions have been met. First, I must have a gun to my head. Second, I must be fully medicated and lastly, I must do so alone – as a general rule, Craig and I don’t fly together. I have passed on weddings in Hawaii, bar mitzvahs in Cleveland and spring breaks anywhere we can’t drive. I’m lucky my husband has more phobias than me or I might find myself on eharmony once again.
My seat-mate is starring straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he will soon be puting his life into the hands of complete strangers. I notice he orders his first drink before we even begin the safety instructions and it is crystal clear to me that I will not be able to count on him should I need oxygen or help with my seat cushion/water vest. When he throws that drink back and orders another, I make a bold decision, one I have not made in years, but one I know is the right one – I decide to not take my medication. Not only might I be called upon to assist in a search and rescue mission and need to have a clear head, but I am taking a big step, one that my therapists (yes plural) would be proud of. I reluctantly put the valium away.
Could I fly this plane?
I keep myself very busy with Sudoku through the takeoff, but it is an extremely nerve-racking time and I’m not happy. I’m convinced the pilot has violated his vow not to drink during the last 24 hours and I can’t get the picture of him staggering around a strip-club out of my head. It’s only when we reach 36 thousand feet, well past the threat of geese, that I can even begin to work on my goodbye message, the one I leave my children when the engines quit.
It’s a long flight from LA to Chicago and inevitably you must speak to your neighbor, either as you climb across his lap to use the bathroom or as he leans across yours struggling to see the Grand Canyon. I broke the ice first.
“So where you from?” I ask my flying partner.
He’s mumbles he’s from LA and something else, but I can’t make it out. I nod my head like I agree and wonder if the co-pilot is a dope fiend that has managed to slip through the system, undected. I mention good-naturedly that I don’t care much for flying and my neighbor says it “don’t bother him a bit, been doing it for years”. I ask him what he does for a living and when he speaks it’s slow and deliberate.
He tells me he’s the tour manager for the Billy Joel and Elton John Face2Face concert tour. This surprises me. Having been in the “business” for a number of years and met my share of tour managers, he did not fit the stereotype of a sharp, astute administrator, who was generally the only one not drunk or high.
But this is good for me. I have a puzzle to figure out – one that is forcing me not to dwell on the flight attendant’s ditzyness (I can’t belleive she’s qualified to react in an emergency situation, Where’s Sully and his crew when I need them?) and I dive right in.
“Really,” I say. “What exactly do you do?”
Well, he mumbles, he’s not the actual tour manager. He’s the assistant. He’s the assistant, but really more like a personal assistant to Billy Joel. He’s been with him for years, been in the business since the late sixties.
Now things are making sense to me. He’s a glorified gofer. I can easily see him in this position, picking out scantily dressed women from the audience, running to get more sequins for a costume, directing the caterers to pick out the brown M&M’s from the candy dish. But as benign as he appears, it’s apparent what living forty years of a rock n’roll life-style have done; he has that detached personality of one who sees the world revolving around aging men not willing to give up wine, women and song.
Sing me a song, Piano Man
Nevertheless, I have nothing against the “Piano Man”, and his assistant and I share war stories. He shows me the official tour book and points out when they will be in the Chicago area. Somehow talk turns to Van Halen’s former lead singer, David Lee Roth, and the “bimbo brigade” he has paraded through his dressing room after his show (three lucky girls get to stay!).
Billy doesn’t do that, he tells me. But he does have some hot girls picked from the nose-bleed seats and moved to the reserved area directly in front of the stage.
“Really?” I say encouragingly.
“Well,” he continues,” Billy’s married. It’s not for him”
“Of course not,” I reply. I do know his current wife is his daughter’s age.
“It’s for the guys in the band. He does it so they can play to some pretty girls. You know, they’re on the road for weeks at a time and he just wants them to have something nice to look at.”
“That’s so thoughtful,” I tell him.
“He’s that kind of a guy,” he replies.
“Sounds like a dreamboat.” I wondered how many times he’s been married. “You should write a book,” I tell him, thinking all kinds of devious publisher thoughts.
“A book. You know, share the great stories of all the legends you have worked with.” My mind was spinning with the possibilities.
“I do have some doozys,” he drawled, ”I remember this one time, I was working with Joni Mitchell, and we were on a plane…”
I cut him off. “Is this a scary plane story?”
“Yeah, we almost crashed.”
“Um, we’re going to have to put that on hold until we land,” I said, clenching my teeth. “I don’t care much for flying.”
“But it has a happy ending,” he added, coughing that scary throaty cough.
“Evidently. But I’m not interested in hearing it now. Really. Maybe when we land.” I was jerked back to reality and it occurred to me that I could be spending my last few minutes with the roadie next door. Would we hold hands and pray together?
He was quiet for a bit and it was obvious our relationship had changed. When lunch was delivered and I asked him a few more questions, he told me point-blank he wanted to eat undisturbed. Ouch. I guess that’s one book deal that we’ll never get.
But that’s par for the rock-star course. I’ll never meet Billy Joel unless I happened to get plucked from the nose-bleed section and I have a feeling, even though I’m a number of years his junior, I’m still too old for him.
My first impression of Rosemary Russell was that of a sweet grand-motherly type. She was a bespectacled, rotund lady with an engaging smile and tight curly gray hair. I later found out that it was a wig – the result of numerous chemo treatments, but at the time, she was just my new friend, Kelly’s, mom.
Kelly had offered me a ride home from school one day in ninth grade. When her parent’s car pulled up and I saw Rosemary, my initial thought was that she was Kelly’s grandmother – she was that much older than most of the mom’s I knew – certainly mine. But Kelly had been born when her mother was almost forty-three, ancient at that time, and had an older sister, Char, who was fifteen years her senior.
I was even more astonished when Kelly opened the driver’s door and told her mother to “move your sweet ass over so I can drive.” I waited in shock for Rosemary to morph into a gargoyle and swallow Kelly’s head, but she just smiled good-naturedly and slid over. As we cruised to my house, I listened in amazement as mother and daughter carried on a less than g-rated conversation, fraught with just about every four-letter word I had ever heard. Apparently, swearing was not an issue in the Russell household.
I am not a prude. I enjoy profanity as much as the next gal, but I was much more selective in choosing my audience. Hell, when I was eight, we even had a “swear swing,” that required the user, as they pumped to the highest heights, to change the words of popular tunes to reflect every four-letter word they knew (A few that spring to mind – “Raindrops Keep #&^*ing up My Head” and “Bridge Over *$#& ed up Water”).
But my parents were never big on “potty mouths” and swearing was frowned upon in our household, more as a rule of etiquette rather than a decree of morality. And it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I had the courage, as I was driving away in my VW Beetle, to yell out the window, “F$%# off!” to my angry parents.
What did bother Rosemary were drugs and alcohol. She was fervently opposed to any contraband and her rule was that none was to be allowed in her house. Now, I will vehemently deny that Kelly and I were involved in any alcohol or illegal substance activity, but I will give up the fact that my boyfriend, Dan was. He was a pot-smoker, and one night he left his pot pipe in the cushions of the couch after an all night party at Kelly’s that many of our friends had attended.
Kelly and I were working furiously to get the spilled candle wax out of the rug (place newspaper over the mess and use a hot iron on the paper – soaks the wax right up), when Dan knocked on the door. Rosemary, an RN, had just returned home from the night-shift at the hospital, and was relaxing on the couch with a cup of Earl Grey as she watched me and Kelly iron the carpet.
I knew what Dan had come for. The pipe was his favorite piece of paraphernalia and he wanted it back. The trick would be working around Rosemary’s imposing figure.
“Good Sunday morning, Dan. How’s your mother?” Rosemary smiled sweetly as she took a sip from her cup.
“Uh, she’s fine.” I could feel Dan’s eyes on me as he looked for support, but I kept my head down and focused on a particularly stubborn hunk of wax.
“You’re up early. Here to help with the carpet cleaning?”
“Um, no, but um, I think I left my . . . wallet, yeah, my wallet, here last night. Did anyone find it?” Again I felt Dan’s eye’s on my back. Again, I ignored him.
“Feel free to look around,” Rosemary offered. “What does it look like?”
“You know – just normal. Black I think.” Dan began to crawl around the room on his hands and knees peering under the sofa and behind the plant.
“Where do you think you left it?”
“I guess it could be anywhere,” Dan continued, as he lifted a pillow from a chair.
“Could it be in the sofa?” Rosemary said. “Could this be it!”
She dramatically reached in the folds of her nightgown and pulled out the pipe then triumphantly thrust it into the air. “Is this what you’re looking for? Is this your wallet, Dan?” She glared at him over her silver cat-eyes.
By this time, Kelly and I had sat back on our heels, absorbed in the cat and mouse game playing out in front of us.
He looked at me but I just shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t about to get involved in this situation that would most certainly entail a protracted discussion on the evils of marijuana. He was on his own.
At that point, Dan must have decided that the best defense was a good offense. “That’s mine, Rosemary,” he said in the bravest voice he could muster.
“Not anymore, mister. You know how I feel about doing the pot. You broke my rules. It’s now my marijuana … smoking … thing …” She tucked the pipe in her ample bosom.
“But, Rosemary,” Dan protested. “That cost ten dollars. It’s my best pipe – I got it in Mexico.”
“I know dear. I’m sorry.” But she didn’t look sorry.
She waited patiently for a moment before Dan lost the stare down, then she closed the deal. “Dan, will you please give your mother my regards when you go home?”
Dan got the hint and left, mumbling under his breath, knowing that not only had he lost his best pipe, but that Rosemary had gotten the best of him.
“You girls need to finish up,” she said cheerily as she drained the last of her tea. “We need to have another little chat about the rules.”
We groaned, but knew we were getting off easily. There was so much more that she didn’t know. If she did, a lecture wouldn’t be the punishment.
After a drawn out fight, Rosemary Russell lost her battle with breast cancer and passed away when I was twenty-three. She always wanted us to remember the happy circumstances of her life, rather than the sad ones of her death. This is a Rosemary story that always cracks me up.
My mother exaggerates more than anyone else in the whole world. This is not just my opinion – ask anyone who knows her and they will attest to this. It is impossible for her to state just the plain facts and it is one trait, I’m happy to say, that I was fortunate enough not to inherit.
I don’t hold this against her. Years of shock therapy and a minor lobal proctonomy have taught me that this is her way of communicating. I just needed to learn how to divide down to the lowest common denominator. It sounds technical but it simply means that one needs to take what she says and divide by the first number out of her mouth then add one.
Let’s do the Math
Example: If she mentioned that she got over a million calls regarding the neutering of Bob, her cat, then you would take one million and divide it by the first number she mentioned (one million) and add one. Since I am an accountant, I will quickly do the math for you and come up with the correct number of. . . 2. My mother received approximately two calls concerning the removal of Bob’s testicles.
Now, being overly critical of her, I would venture to guess that this was a gross exaggeration and she really received only one. Probably the vet calling to make sure Bob had moved his bowels.
Pete, my step-father, already had a vast understanding of my mother’s affliction long before we did and is proficient in this language. He is also kind enough to translate her verbiage when numbers aren’t involved, but an accurate assessment of a situation is needed. Case in point: when she called me to tell me that their car blew up and Pete and the four dogs barely escaped with their lives, the call went something like this.
Claudia: This was the most horrific thing that has ever happened to us. He’s lucky to be alive – I could be planning five funerals right now. I don’t how Pete sensed that something bad was going to happen, but he did. It was like he had a sixth sense about it. The phone has been ringing off the hook, everyone has called… it almost made the local news. It’s been crazy around.
Me: Can you put Pete on the phone?
Claudia: Let me see if he’s up for taking calls. Pete! (screaming on the other end)
Me: What happened? How are you?
Pete: I’m fine. My toe hurts a bit.
Me: From the truck fire?
Pete: I accidently kicked the leg of the sofa.
Me: No, I mean how are you holding up after the fire, you know, barely escaping with your life and all.
Pete: Oh, that. I saw a bit of smoke coming from under the hood, so I stopped and pulled over. The engine had over-heated and the paper boy gave me and Buddy a lift home.
Me: You’re alright?
Pete: Except for the toe.
Mental illness does run in my family so you can certainly understand how we have learned not to call her out on these stories. I did this once when I was young and foolish, and the treatment and medication required to repair the damage was so extensive that it cost close to a million dollars. I kid you not.
(say that three times fast)
My dad is a frugal man. Notice how I thoughtfully use “frugal” instead of the ‘C’ word? Well, for one thing, I respect my father and, for another, I would never want to hurt his feelings. At least not to his face. My siblings and I save the ‘cheap’ shots for when he’s not around.
My grandparents had ridden out the depression and my parents had been drilled, bombarded and otherwise brainwashed into the mantras that used plastic Cool Whip containers didn’t just grow on trees and throwing away old issues of National Geographic qualified you for that special place in Hell, reserved for the frivolous and wasteful.
(In a related and totally true story, ask me, when our house got TP’d in high school, where the used toilet paper from our trees ended up. If you guessed in a paper bag, next to our toilet, you win big!)
Both my mother and father believe that, if faced with the choice between cheap and not-cheap, well, there is no choice. For many years I subscribed to this adage until I realized that cheap is sometimes – well – crappy. It doesn’t necessarily mean a well-made product that costs less. It could also possibly mean a poorly-made product that costs less. I know this first hand having bought my share of plastic shoes from Big Lots or socks from flea markets with pretend elastic.
Accounting for Nothing!
Now, as you may remember, not only was I an accountant in a former life, but I was also a single mother on a very tight budget, so I would not consider myself a spend-thrift. As a matter of fact, I would submit that I am fairly practical. Having said this, when faced with a choice between Heinz ketchup and the no-brand option from Dollar Tree, I reason that the price difference of 69 cents is not a deal-breaker, and I’ll splurge for the good stuff. On the other hand, I’m happy with a designer knockoff bag from Target or a fine pair of Zirconium earrings from Sears.
My father, not so much. I have received shoes two sizes too big, because they were on sale and men’s shirts because “you can hardly tell the difference.” My son, as a teenager, was once the recipient of a pair of beige wrinkle-free pants with what looked like a built-in diaper, because “they were practically giving them away.”
My dad is a habitual shopper who makes the rounds at Kohl’s, Target and Meijers just looking for a good deal, whether he needs it or not. If one comes available, he mentally combs his list of family members that he can rationalize giving that particular gift to. It’s actually very exciting. You never know what could be in the brown paper bag with your name scrawled in black magic marker that is your birthday gift. It could be a slightly damaged George Forman grill or perhaps the purple leggings with the matching belt you once had your eye on in 1988.
Wealthy is as wealthy does
My father and step-mother, Janet, are not what I would call rich in the traditional sense of the word. On the other hand, they live a very comfortable life between a small but meticulously maintained home in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a condo on a golf course in Naples, Florida. They have health care and pensions and, though they live on a budget, they do not worry where their next meal comes from or how they will make their mortgage.
So you may find it surprising that they did not have air-conditioning in their home in Michigan where the humidity in summer rivals that of the jungles of Southeast Asia. July is a particularly steamy month and it wasn’t unusual for my father to mention how they, once again, slept in their basement because it was so darn muggy. The basement he is referring to was updated in 1974 with orange furniture, shag carpet and dark wood paneling, and has been preserved in that state ever since. It also, does not have a bathroom.
“Why don’t you guys just go get an air conditioner? Look, Sears has them on sale this week,” I would beg as I showed them the Sunday circular.
“Oh, we don’t need one. We enjoy sleeping on the couches. It’s very dark down there.”
“But, Dad, you have to go upstairs in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.”
“Well, then you father can check on the house,” Janet would add. “And besides, they’re so darn expensive to run. Maybe next year.”
“What are you waiting for?” I countered, more than once. “It’s not like you’re getting younger every year. How old do you have to be before you don’t feel guilty for making yourself comfortable? There is no age limit in Kalamazoo for a good night’s sleep.”
I bugged them enough that last year they finally relented. I think it was the point I made that, when they were ready to sell their home, it would be difficult to find a buyer in this day and age who would be willing to make the same sacrifices that they did with the sleeping arrangements.
The thought that they might not get the full value their home deserved forced their hand and they broke down. They bought one of the cheapest models.
Passing stones, throwing stones, Rolling Stones
Last summer, I got a call from Janet telling me my father was in the hospital. He had a kidney stone and was in horrible pain. We rushed to Kalamazoo and by the time we got there, he had passed it and was sitting up in a chair, ready to tell his story.
“So,” he began, “I was so sick last night. I was throwing up and had a fever. I was miserable and I had stomach problems,” he looked at me and mouthed the words ‘the runs’ before he spoke again. “I was running upstairs all night to use the bathroom.”
“What do you mean, ‘running upstairs’?” I asked. “You have a ranch home.”
“Well, we were sleeping in the basement.”
At this point, I need to share with you that this exchange took place during an oppressive heat wave in July.
“Dad, you were sick, running to the bathroom every five minutes, and had a fever. You were passing a kidney stone for heaven’s sake. Why in the world didn’t you have your air conditioner on? The one time, when I can’t think of a better reason to be comfortable and near a bathroom, you were in the basement on a sofa,” I said exhaustedly.
“We only use it when it’s an emergency,” my parents stated in unison.
And there you have it. In a nutshell.
I really don’t hate my husband. As a matter of fact, he’s my favorite spouse so far. But, and this is a big but, he’s a sports freak, and a football maniac. He’s what we in the business call a whack-job.
If I would have known this on our first date I may not have gotten so drunk with him. I might possibly, still, be happily employed in some hell-hole job, miserably trying to balance a corporate checkbook, driving a Saturn and sharing some dumpy apartment with a great guy who I would later find out was gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
But, he worked his black magic and instead, I was hoodwinked, tricked, and bamboozled. When he noticed that I sported a nineteen incher that didn’t even have basic cable, he offered up that he too, didn’t watch much TV. Sure, he held a mild interest in his hometown Cleveland Browns, but the real joys in his life were long walks on the beach - pina colada in hand, and marathon late-night chats of damaged old-flames.
Admitting it is the first step
I admit I’m not the sharpest knife in the deck and in time I figured out this was his ploy to get into me into something more comfortable. But what’s a girl to do when a fella offers to lunch for hours and shop for days at a time? You can understand my dilemma when I found out that, not only was he a football fan, but he was a fan of any ball or racquet or club or stick. He was drawn to ESPN like Michael Phelps was to a bong and I soon discovered just how serious his obsession was.
Sunday morning, during football season, the TV would go on at 9:00 am and four meal deliveries and fifteen hours later, he would finally get up to relieve himself. I once caught him watching “classic” ESPN (which I totally don’t get – you already know who won) and not only had he seen the game a number of times, he was there…at the game…when it was played in 1976! He has a pornographic memory for useless trivia and he can recite any sport statistic you’d care to challenge him on from golf to poker to women’s badminton.
Agreeing to disagree
Over the years we have come to an understanding concerning his proclivities. I enjoy solitary beach walks with my pina coladas and he has agreed to only watch the championship of any sport. But as many of you are aware, there are championships just about every hour on the hour for any sport you can imagine. It has since come to my attention that I negotiated a bad deal but I am not the lawyer in the family. The good news is that, since I have found my higher calling, it doesn’t bother me so much and only when it puts my children’s lives in danger do I even say anything.
Case in point. Because of some minor issues I have, we enjoy driving the twenty hours from Chicago to Florida for family vacations. We have never encountered any substantial obstructions before, but this year was different. Hurricane force winds escorted us out of Florida, torrential rains in Georgia kept us company for most of the eight hour drive through the state, and numerous hail, thunder and snow storms followed us for the rest of the way. We were fortunate enough to be traveling during the college playoffs for basketball so I thought we could take a break from the excitement of listening to comments about sweaty teenage boys (see previous “Tale of Two Loser’s” blog!) but that was not the case.
Now, before I rip my husband a new alligator hole, I will confess I sometimes drive with one hand and occasionally take my eyes off the road. Not at the same time, of course, (the only exception was when I did and hit a bale of straw that rolled off the road and started a small brush fire – that’s a blog for another time). But during that perilous drive through the horrible weather, Craig was continually and frantically searching for any AM radio station that carried the games. He had leaned over to the center of the mini-van, practically in my lap, and must have been steering by some form of sixth sense because I swear, his eyes were glued to the radio pursuing the holy grail of sports stations.
Who’s the idiot now?
There are a few metropolitan areas between Chicago and Naples that broadcast the games but most of the time all the blurted out from the radio was obnoxious white noise with an occasional whisper of an announcer. I couldn’t make out one word but Craig swore he heard scores through the blaring garbage spewing from the dashboard and I was too paralyzed with fear at that point to even argue. As we careened through the mountains during a storm that only Noah could appreciate, my husband was more focused on “his” team making the final four than on making sure I would live to see my tropical drink.
Only once, did I see him revert to the ten-two position on the steering wheel and that was when we were hydro-planing across a small lake that had collected on the highway in Tennessee. As we fish-tailed about the road, barely missing the cement barriers of the construction zone, he reluctantly pulled his hand off the radio and guided us back to safety. If I hadn’t been frozen in terror, the scream still caught in my throat, I surely would have burst into tears or at least stuck him with the plastic knife I had hidden in the folds of my jacket.
So ladies, when your special friend leans over and whispers in your ear, not sweet nothings, but the desire to see “his ” team go to the Super Bowl, or he spends hours hitting redial on his cell, hoping for the opportunity to talk to “Mike and Mike” on sports radio, or even just gazes longingly at girl’s beach volleyball, beware! Red flag alert! Think twice before you take your hand off your pina colada.
The dress code on the invitation said “Hollywood Glamour.” I glanced at my husband and sighed. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to realize this meant gowns and tuxes. I’m just more of a meat and potatoes kind of girl, that’s all.
My husband works for a very wealthy man. Wealthy, like he owns four homes and has his own plane, wealthy. I must clarify that we do not run in the same circles or socialize much with “the Boss” and his wife, “Twyla”, but as a long-time and loyal employee, Craig (and I) occasionally get invited to one of their soirees.
Last month we received an invitation to “the Bosses” birthday party from “Twyla” (Thin, Wealthy, Yout-going, Lovely and Attractive). They have a home in Beverly Hills and, literally, share a driveway with a very famous movie star, who I am classy enough not to name but let’s just say she and Brad Pitt used to be married.
So we loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly.
Hills, that is.
Swimming pools and movie stars.
As we wove our way through Hollywood, four crossing searchlights beamed out towards the heavens from a location high in the hills. Craig looked over at me and raised his eyes. Wordlessly, I shrugged and wondered if that’s where we were headed. We had entered a different zone, a time zone if you will, and I searched the night sky for the unicorns and superheroes I’m sure had been hired to spirit us away to the party. This was, after all, the night before the Oscars and it was Hollywood / Beverly Hills / LA / Tinseltown / California – anything could happen.
The searchlights drew us in like zombies and, sure enough, when we reached the estate, it was apparent that we had found the mother ship. Security personnel swarmed the base of the drive directing party-goers and paparazzi alike and we followed limousines and Bentley’s up the winding road, past the heavily gated mansion of that famous movie star who was recently in that “Marley” movie, and got in line to valet our borrowed Subaru station wagon.
The wine and the valium kicked had in and I felt oddly relaxed, like I did this every day, like I belonged, like I’d come home. I readjusted my bosom, shook out my hair, and smiled to the tuxedoed men scurrying to open my door and help me out. A large red carpet led from the car to the mansion and I had to turn my head as I walked it, the bright flashes from the photogs camera’s blinding me, and the deafening screams of the paparazzi calling out my name forced me to cover my ears. (Umm… well, I may have exaggerated a bit. Not the part about the drugs and alcohol, but the part where they were screaming my name. All I actually heard was someone say was that “she’s a ‘nobody’”, but at that point, I was living the dream my friends, living the dream)
“Oh-my-God! You look fabulous! Who did your gown?” A woman, who looked just like Joan Rivers but a hundred years younger, rushed over to us and shoved a microphone in our face.
I couldn’t remember the generic name on my label, so I just smiled sweetly and replied “Dior, dahling”. The Joan impostor nodded, duly impressed, and then asked us to say a few words to the birthday boy. We offered our congratulations into the videographer’s camera and then walked into the gala. My fake jewels glistened in the fake moonlight and I walked into the party, chin held high, chest even higher.
Burka, baby, burka
Quick note. The last event I attended in Beverly Hills was for Twyla and “the Bosses” wedding. I had on, what would be considered in the Midwest, classic wedding attire – a long black skirt and a fitted jacket. My hair was pulled back in a chignon and my make-up was . . . normal. In Beverly Hills, my outfit was akin to wearing a burka – I kid you not. The female guests at the wedding wore long sweeping strapless gowns held up by their ample and overflowing cleavage. Make-up and hair were professionally done (duh!) and the jewels, oh the jewels. I swore the next fancy party I attended I would not make the same mistake.
And I didn’t. That night I was not the same frumpy bumpkin that I once was. The moment I stepped out of the family car, strewn with my nieces and nephews toys, I became as charming as Cinderella - or at least, Snow White. After giving Twyla the small gift I had made (fancy potholders), I offered up my fake fur wrap to the butler as though he were my long-lost brother. I batted my false eyelashes, air-kissed (European-style, no less) anyone who came even remotely close and even tucked a business card in my amply displayed cleavage. I refrained from whistling at the speeches and clapped politely when necessary. I thanked the “help” when leaving and didn’t even ask what they were going to do with all the extra food.
After midnight, we returned to the pumpkin for the trip back to my brother-in-law’s place. I kicked off my slippers and struggled out of my girdle (code name – “Spanx”) so I could take my first deep breath of the evening, and sat back for the long ride back to the other side of the tracks.
All in all, it was an interesting night but I couldn’t imagine living that way. I would miss doughnuts and deep breaths (two things that are near and dear to my heart), and just the anonymity that being a “nobody” brings. I would, however, take the rich part. That I could get used to.
It all started with a stone. A Petoskey stone, to be precise.
For all you non-Michiganders, the Petoskey stone is the official state rock of Michigan. Michigan is one of the few states that actually has a state rock, and for those of us who have resided there at one time or another, the Petoskey stone is a continual reminder of just how special this mitten-shaped state really is.
Petoskey stones are a valuable commodity, partly because so many have been snatched up by tourists and eager entrepreneurs, and also because they are very difficult to spot. When dry, they look like any other gray rock, but throw some water on them and the mottled net of veins that wrap round the stone magically appear—truly an amazing geological experience.
It’s not as easy as you think.
My stepfather, Pete, has an eagle eye for spotting these stones. He walks his four dogs daily on the beaches near Point Betsie, where you can find the gems, and he rarely returns home without a pocketful. My mother carefully washes the rocks and then runs them through the tumbler in their garage. The end product is a consistently shiny, lovely stone.
My parents have Petoskey stones piled in large pots on their deck, gathered in water-filled glass vases on the windowsill, artfully displayed on platters on their coffee table, and heaped in a clear cookie jar in the guest bathroom. They enjoy handing out their rocks as gifts to visiting out-of-towners who are awed by the stones but don’t want to fork over the big bucks it takes to buy one (no kidding—large stones can sell for as much as $100!).
Pete and my mother, Claudia, are opposed to selling their stones, but have no problem giving them away to their friend, Bob, an entrepreneur, who is not. Bob makes Petoskey stone lamps, picture frames, and bird houses, and is working on a Petoskey stone mouse pad (don’t ask).
This, my friends, is where my story really begins.
Last summer, as I always do, I visited my mother and Pete in the quaint little town of Frankfort on Michigan’s northwest coast. I was excited not only because I got to visit my parents and their four very large special dogs, but also because Frankfort was having its yearly Art Fair/Garage Sale. This year was extraordinary because, in addition to the usual booths of Petoskey stone pictures, Petoskey stone puzzles, and Petoskey stone animals, there was going to be a real, live local author who had self-published three books.
Now, I had just finished writing my first novel (available this spring!) and I was beyond thrilled at the opportunity to rub shoulders with another writer—especially one who had been published. I left my mom and Pete in Bob’s booth and anxiously searched for the local celebrity.
I found him sitting high on a chair behind a table of neatly stacked books. I casually picked one up, pretended to leaf through it, looked up, and said, somewhat nervously, “I just finished my first one.”
“Congratulations. You read your first book.”
His sarcastic comment threw me off. Normally, I would have chuckled and made some smart-alecky reply, but his unkind tone and my nervousness did not encourage such playfulness.
“Uh, no, I meant writing it.”
“Oh.” He glanced away dispassionately.
I was flabbergasted. How could he not be overcome with curiosity? He was a writer, for Pete’s sake. Wasn’t he the least bit interested in this woman, who had, by the way, spent the last whole year writing? Writing before everyone got up. Writing on my laptop in the car while the boys took tennis or swimming lessons. Writing while the laundry sat in piles or my husband took the kids to Mickey D’s . . . again.
I wanted so badly just to converse with this man that I ignored his rudeness. Maybe we had simply gotten off to a bad start. I tightly clutched the piece of paper on which I had written out the questions I wanted to ask and started over. After the third monosyllabic reply, I finally gave up. My feelings were hurt, I was tremendously disappointed, and I had never felt so strongly that the club I wanted to join was not accepting my kind.
I set the man’s book down slowly and wished him luck. As I made my way back to Bob’s Petoskey stone booth, I contemplated arson, and bodily harm and childishly regretted that I hadn’t made some nasty comment to him, or come up with a devastating put-down, or even said something to the effect that his books looked incredibly boring and amateurish.
But the truth was, they had not. I would have bought all three if he had humored me, or even just said good luck. But he hadn’t. He had lost not only a sale, but also the respect of another human being, another writer, who just wanted to share war stories.
Drowning my sorrows . . .
It took me a couple of banana daiquiris and some old Barry Manilow songs to get over my funk, but the will to live did return. Soon I will continue this exciting saga, and next, tell of my tumultuous rise to mid-level accounting manager (it’ll have you on the edge of your seat!). Or I could just skip to the moral of this story . . . which is – don’t judge a rock by its cover.
I bet you thought I was going to say something like “have faith in yourself” or “never lose sight of your dreams” or “don’t give up”. But sometimes you just have to connect with a person, or catch a glimpse of a half-wet rock, or be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you just have to be lucky.