Sitting at Starbuck’s yesterday, I overheard some 20-something girls sharing stories of their most embarrassing moments. They didn’t seem to reveal anything too earth-shattering from where I was sitting. You walked in on your father-in-law in the bathroom? Yawn. Is that really the best you can do? I went back to enjoying my iced decaf grande skim latte with Splenda when I started thinking: just what exactly would I claim as my most embarrassing moment?
Life is filled with so many little gaffes and fumbles along the way, that it’s hard to choose just one. I guess there was the time I tried to give myself a bikini wax and almost blacked out from pain. Close, but probably not one for the record books. Locking myself out of the house? Too mundane. Wearing my shirt to school inside out? Who hasn’t?
No, when I look deep inside myself, in the dark, tiny corner where I cram all my painful memories, I’d have to say it was The Great Dirty Joke Incident of 1979.
Here’s how it went down: Lincoln Elementary School playground, 3rd Grade, Spring 1979. I was tired of playing four-square, and the tether ball was occupied, so I decided to see what all the boys were talking about by the drinking fountains. Turns out, they were telling jokes. Dirty jokes. The kind 3rd graders learned from 4th graders, who learned from 5th graders, and so on. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t care. I wanted in.
There were two particular jokes going around that day. One kind of rhymed and was peppered with swears, the other was full of dirty sex stuff. I, of course, chose the dirty sexy one as my own. I’m not sure I really even understood it, but it felt so empowering to say the words. It was such a rush to see the shock mixed with delight on the other girls’ faces as I told them the joke.
I wasn’t indiscriminate about who I shared my joke with – I selected my audience carefully. Or so I thought. After recess was over, I saw our janitor, Mr. Bruce, stop my teacher in the hall. Hmm… that’s odd, did someone throw up? Does Miss Labrador need him to fix the sink in our classroom? Oh well.
“Jenny, can you come out into the hall please?”
“M-me? You want me to come out there? Umm… okay.”
Ohmigod, what’s going on? I’m Jenny the Straight-A Student. I get to do special smart projects while the other kids are reading about some dumb girl and a horse. Teachers write that I’m a pleasure to have in class on my report card. I get to grade everyone’s spelling tests! I don’t get called out into the hall!
“Jenny, Mr. Bruce informed me that you were telling a joke during recess. A very bad joke.”
It was at this point that I started to feel a little dizzy, and my stomach tightened in on itself.
“Jenny, Sara B. told Mr. Bruce the joke, and said that you were the one telling it to all the girls outside. Is that true?”
Et tu, Sara B.? Et tu?
“Uhh. I… well, I umm, there were some people saying some things, and umm. Well, I just told a joke that I heard.”
“Tell me the joke, Jenny. I need you to tell me what the joke was.”
My eyes started to glaze over, and my tongue suddenly felt very dry and thick. My palms were dripping. Am I breathing? I can’t breathe. My mind was racing frantically, playing the joke out over and over in my head. How could I change it? Make it not so dirty? Quick – replace all swear words with innocent ones: shit becomes poo, piss becomes pee. Oh god, what word can I possibly use to replace that horrible four-letter one for the male member? The real word is worse than the swear!
Think, Jenny, THINK! Act like you don’t remember it all! Pretend you didn’t get it! Make it shorter, forget the punch line! For the love of god, Jenny, make yourself faint! MAKE YOURSELF FAINT!!
While fighting back tears, and desperately trying to catch my breath, I did it. I told the teacher a dirty joke. It was without a doubt, the most humiliating moment of my entire life. When I opened my teary eyes, I was amazed to see that this unprecedented shame hadn’t turned my body to dust.
Miss Labrador quietly led me back into class, and never said another word about it. Clearly, she understood that having to tell her this joke was worse than any punishment known to mankind.
I’m sure some of you are wondering if I still remember the joke. Yes, in fact, I do. Not the whole joke, really. Mainly just the punch line – sometimes it haunts me on quiet, stormy nights. So, no, you won’t hear the joke from me. I’ve learned my lesson – you’ll have to talk to Sara B.

But Wait! There’s More!

There’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a while now, but I still hesitate to type the words. It’s something that very few people know about me, and I don’t really even talk about it with the select friends who do know. It’s kind of like we have an unspoken understanding.
I was afraid to tell my parents for years, not because I thought they wouldn’t love me. I just worried they would look at me, well… differently. But now it’s just becoming more and more difficult for me to keep this a secret so I need to let it out: I am completely and dangerously addicted to infomercials.
I love watching TV, but I don’t have cable. I am weak, and get sucked into bad television shows very easily, so I cannot allow myself to live with the temptation of 127 channels. Sure, this has meant sacrifices. I have never seen Sex and the City, The Sopranos, or Six Feet Under. Without MTV, popular bands remain phantom voices over the radio. I may have eaten lunch next to the lead singer from Coldplay last week, but how would I know?
Without cable, I’m left with eight working channels including Telemundo and the Jesus channel. In between all the Sabado Gigante variety shows, the Jerry Springer transvestite brides and the Maury Povich who’s my baby’s daddy episodes, my only refuge is the welcoming embrace of the infomercial.
There’s something so familiar, so unpretentious about the infomercial. Whether they’re selling tighter abs, smoother skin, or the perfect rotisserie chicken, I feel like they’re speaking just to me. Like they somehow know exactly what I need, and can see inside my soul.
I remember exactly where I was the first time I saw the Ginsu knife commercial. Are you insane? You can’t cut a tomato after you just tore through a tin can with that knife! But by god he did. He sliced through that ripe, tender tomato like a hot blade through butter. I still get a little tingly thinking about it.
I didn’t see any of this as a problem, until one Thursday afternoon a few weeks ago. I had just learned how to save hundreds of dollars a month in groceries by vacuum-sealing my own meats when I flipped on a few minutes of Dr. Phil. The topic of the day was addiction, and Dr. Phil was holding what he likes to call a “structured intervention” with a 20-year old drug addict and his family.
At first I just rolled my eyes, but as I listened more carefully, I started to recognize some similarities between this junkie and me. The cravings, the denial, the late-night phone calls, the shame. Suddenly I started to wonder what would happen if my family and friends ever tried to stage one of these interventions with me:
Dr. Phil: “Now Jenny, your family wrote to me for my help in getting you to recognize your addiction. I’m here to help you hold up a mirror and look at what your dependence on infomercial products has done to you and your family.”
Me: “I don’t even believe this (bleep). This is private stuff. Mom, why did you have to talk to me on national TV? You lied to me to get me here, and now you want me to trust you?!”
Dr. Phil: “Mom, Dad. You’re not dealing with your daughter right now. You’re dealing with the addiction.”
Mom: “Honey, we love you, but you do have a problem. We have your credit card statements, and in the last month alone you’ve spent over $1700 on George Foreman grills and accessories. And just look at what we found in your hotel room!”
One of the producers would drag out a giant box on stage. With a dramatic flourish, Dr. Phil would pull the black cloth off the top of the box, revealing my secret stash:
1 Jack LaLanne Power Juicer
1 Ab Roller
2 Ultimate Choppers
1 Showtime Rotisserie Grill
1 RonCo Food Dehydrator
4 Pocket Fishermen
1 Flowbee
3 Tubs of Nads Hair Removing Gel
1 Hairigami
1 Thighmaster Gold
2 Nail Dazzle French Kits
I’ve seen enough Lifetime dramas starring Meredith Baxter-Birney to know that admitting you have a problem is the first step. But where do I go from here? Is there some sort of Suzanne Somers Rehab Center for the Infomercially Dependent? And if so, do I get a money-back guarantee? A free solid flavor injector?
And what exactly would I do there? Maybe they would teach me how to function without the aid of revolutionary infomercial products: I’d re-learn how to chop vegetables with a regular kitchen knife, do sit-ups with my feet under the couch, and cut my hair without the use of a vacuum cleaner.
This all probably sounds silly to people who’ve never had an addiction. But I have to admit, some nights when I’m having trouble sleeping, I still like to think about genius inventor Ron Popeil’s sweet, loving voice saying to me, “Just set it… and forget it.”


I need to get a job really soon. I’ve been unemployed for more than two months now, and I’m starting to lose my mind. Sure, there are some definite perks: my house is immaculate, my bills get paid on time, nobody complains anymore when I don’t wear pants. But all of these benefits combined still don’t outweigh the unbelievable stress that comes from being in a one-bedroom apartment all day long taking care of twin four-year-olds. That’s right, I’m talking about my two Siamese cats – Punch and Judy.
Unless they’ve owned a Siamese cat before, it’s hard for people to understand what I’m talking about. Most cats meow. Some just mew. I’ve even heard stories of cats that just kind of silently mouth the word “meow”. Siamese cats, on the other hand, scream. They yell, they demand, they shout. All the time, and for no apparent reason.
I’m starting to worry that my landlord is going to evict me. Other tenants give me dirty looks in the hallway, people let the laundry room door slam in my face, and somehow the Chinese takeout menus and political flyers always end up in my mailbox. In fact, I find myself wishing that the neighbors would hold loud parties, or take up the drums, or have fussier babies. Anything to take some of the focus off of me.
At one point, I actually took Judy to the vet to see what was wrong with her because I thought this just could not be normal behavior, even for a Siamese. She does this thing, pretty much every night, where she frantically paces around the living room like a dingo’s got her baby, and every time she passes the fireplace, she screams. Not just a quick meow, but a long howl that gets progressively louder with each second.
I did some research online and diagnosed her as having hyperthyroidism. She has all the classic symptoms. It was the vet’s first guess as well, so I was pretty excited at the idea of just slipping some Synthroid into her tuna fish every day and regaining my sanity. But unfortunately, when the blood test came back, the vet had to inform me that she was perfectly healthy. Damn.
The vet’s only suggestion was Valium. While I weighed this option aloud, expressing some concern about developing a dependency, the vet clarified that she meant for Judy. So my choices were to either have a cat with ADHD sprinting around my apartment all day, or live with some sort of crank addict jonesing for Whiskas liver snaps. What to do, what to do? I chose the drug-free route, but it’s comforting to know that I do have the option of getting her some meds in the event of an impending eviction.
When I first started spending more time at home, I wondered if maybe the cats were just yelling all the time because I was there. Maybe they didn’t do this during the day when I was away. Once I went back to work, they’d settle down and go back to their normal routine, right?
I hung onto that naïve belief for a few weeks, until one day when I was leaving my apartment. I thought I heard my cats yelling goodbye to me, but then realized that the sound was coming from the neighbor’s door.
Then I heard my neighbor’s voice:
“Who are you talking to, sweetie?”
Apparently, my neighbor’s two-year old daughter has been crouching by their front door, conversing with my cats for the past several months. This poor child’s first word may have been “meow” and it’s all my fault. I need to get a job really soon.


My upstairs neighbor hums – ALL the time. I can hear her right now, humming something that sounds like it might be a song, or the alphabet. Before I get into analyzing that, let’s just talk about how unbelievably thin these walls must be. How can you hear someone humming clearly through an entire floor? There’s only so loud you can hum, I mean, c’mon!
Every time I hear her hum (which, since I became a stay-at-home-mom without children, is every single day), it makes me wonder how much of my life she can hear. Not that there’s a lot to hear – most of my conversations happen inside my head – but still, it’s a little unnerving to think that she can hear every word or sound I make.
I’ve also realized that almost no one in my building has a job that requires them to actually leave the building. What is that all about? I have an excuse for not leaving – I’m unemployed. Don’t they understand that sometimes I want the building all to myself without humming and creaking and baby cooing and breathing?! Damn bunch of get-to-work-at-home people.
I think my upstairs neighbor is a therapist of some sorts. Or a hooker. She has some shady business type name on her mailbox, and I hear her buzzing people in pretty regularly throughout the day. Once she buzzes them in, though, I never hear talking. Honestly, I’m really not trying to listen. It’s just that if I can hear humming, I could certainly hear some sort of muffled conversations. So why do people keep coming over and not talking? Either because they’re undergoing hypnotherapy/childhood regression procedures, or are bound and gagged and tied to the bed. Oddly, the latter scares me less.

Here, Pigeon Pigeon Pigeon

I didn’t always hate pigeons. Like most people, I pretty much paid no attention to them. As a young child, I think I even may have liked them. I remember in 2nd grade for Show-And-Tell, my friend Scotty brought in a stalactite he had found under the Lincoln Park bridge. Mrs. DeLeo looked a little heartbroken when she had to inform him that his geological treasure was really just a collection of pigeon poo. I told him I still thought it was neat.
So you see, I didn’t always want to drop-kick pigeons. For me, the turning point was when I moved to Paris for a year during college. Like any big city, Paris is home to a lot of pigeons. In fact, by my rough estimations, I would say there are approximately 14,259 pigeons for every human being living in the city. And while I haven’t spent a lot of time with, say, New York pigeons, or even Chicago pigeons, I would venture to guess that Parisian pigeons have the most annoying and aggressive attitudes in the world.
Almost every flat building surface in the entire city of Paris is covered with row upon row of 4-inch spikes to keep the pigeons from landing. And any surface that isn’t protected is covered with about 4 inches of pigeon crap. So I guess all the constant circling around in search of somewhere to land has made them particularly irritable.
Most birds are somewhat afraid of humans, except in big cities where for some reason, tourists think it’s really neat-o keen to feed the birds and have their pictures taken covered with diseased plague carriers. Thanks. Thanks for taming our vermin. And we wonder why the French hate Americans.
I was able to tolerate all of this, until about my sixth month in Paris. After a particularly long and stressful class on La Literature Francaise, I stopped into a bakery to pick up my favorite lunch of a camembert sandwich and some Orangina. I scoped out a spot that seemed free of fowl, sat down and started to unwrap my sandwich. The moment I took that first huge bite of soft cheese and crusty bread, it arrived: the ugliest f**ckin’ pigeon I had ever seen in my entire life.
For starters, it only had one eye. It had remnants of a second eye, kind of like a water mark. When it turned its head a certain way, you could see where the eye might have been. Then this pigeon probably had, at best, a dozen feathers left on its body. I can only assume that it was plucking them out in a vain attempt to disguise itself as a rat. Finally, I noticed that it was kind of hobbling toward me, not the confident stride of most Parisian pigeons. When I got the courage to look down, I realized that it had a club foot. No lie, my friends. This bird’s left foot looked remarkably like a stick shift.
Within seconds, I felt my throat closing around the partially chewed piece of sandwich. The muscles clamped shut and I just couldn’t swallow it. That bird knew exactly what he was doing – he was a pro. His own hideousness was his ticket to unlimited food. I coughed out my bite of sandwich, tossed the rest of my lunch at his one good foot, and knew I had been beaten by the best.

Ugh – I Just Lost My Tappetite

A guy threw up in tap class last night. Not on the floor – he made it to the bathroom, thankfully. It was about 112 degrees in the studio and I guess all the shuffle/ball/changes finally got to him. Unfortunately for all of us, the fencing class is held in the studio right before our tap class, and let me tell you, those fencers sweat like pigs. It’s really kind of disgusting – they take off their masks to reveal purplish red faces, with their hair all matted down and stuck to their bloated heads. I hate fencers. I hate them so much. Why don’t they all go back to the Renaissance Faire where they belong?!
So about 30 minutes into the class, Gary shuffled his way out the door and ran to the bathroom to puke. After I got over my initial disgust, I admired his commitment. He actually came back into class, but just sat on the sidelines sipping water. The teacher offered him some cheddar flavored Goldfish. He wisely declined.
Gary’s kind of an odd duck. Nice enough guy, but he is a little spastic in his dance style. I’m always a little afraid to stand next to him, for fear of being clothes-lined. And he has this annoying habit of practicing while the teacher is trying to show us the moves. I’m learning that it’s so important to listen for the correct rhythm when you’re learning new steps, otherwise you just make a stream of nonsensical noises. So when this guy keeps tapping while the teacher is trying to teach us something new, it has the same effect on me as when my brother would tease me by repeating everything I said:
“Matt, did you take my dollar?”
“Matt, did you take my dollar?”
“Shut up! Give it back to me!”
“Shut up! Give it back to me!”
“Stop saying everything I say!”
“Stop saying everything I say!”
“Quit it – I mean it!”
“Quit it – I mean it!”
“Mommmmmm!!! Matt’s copying me!!!!!!”
“Mommmmmmm!!! Matt’s copying me!!!!!”
Well, at least my brother wasn’t into fencing…

I Need Dough, And Plenty Of It…

So I’m not really a good cook. That’s not a judgment, merely stating fact. I guess it’s not so much that I’m a bad cook, just an infrequent one. Kind of like saying I’m a bad scuba diver. I really wouldn’t know either way.
And much like a novice diver, who gets stung by the occasional jellyfish, from time to time I feel the pain of straying too far into the culinary depths without a guide. This time, it was pizza that got me.
I can’t really get into too many of the details because this project is all part of a get-rich-quick-so-I-can-stop-searching-monster-for-jobs-every-freaking-four-hours-of-every-freaking-day plan. I have a vision for a new product that is going to revolutionize how people eat out. And I have a brilliant name for it as well. Both must remain under wraps, but I can tell you that it involves pizza.
I’ve roped my friend Natasha into this scheme, mainly because she has the week off before she starts her new job. And because she, too, shares my vision. Unfortunately, she’s not a good cook either.
We decided to do some test runs of my new product, so I hit the Jewel in search of all the key ingredients: Cheese. Sauce. Pepperoni. Dough.
I tried to find the little Chef Boy-Ar-Dee boxes of pizza dough because that’s what Nat recommended. Found cornbread and pie crust mixes, but no pizza dough. Then I hit the frozen aisle, and found a big bag containing three frozen balls of dough. Nat was going to come over yesterday to test this out, so I let them thaw out on the counter. Plans changed, she got home too late, so I put the dough back in the refrigerator so we could make the pizza today.
This morning when I got up to eat my usual breakfast, I opened up the fridge, grabbed some cake, and shut the door. You know how sometimes you see something out of the corner of your eye, but it takes a few minutes to register in your brain? Well, that’s what happened to me after I took two steps into the dining room. I put the cake down, went back to the refrigerator, and opened it up to find what appeared to be an episode of “I Love Lucy” being filmed in my kitchen.
The bag of dough had expanded to at least five times its normal size – I’m not kidding – it was the size of a bed pillow. Apparently, you can’t just put dough in the refrigerator – it must remain frozen at all times until the moment you’re about to pop it into the oven. Sure it says “Keep Frozen” in big blue letters on the bag, but who really thinks you have to read instructions for dough? The bag had ripped open at the seams, and gooey pizza dough had oozed out all over my freshly cleaned refrigerator.
I promised Nat that I would keep the dough-beast alive long enough for her to see it before I put it out of its misery. She’s on her way over with a box of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee dough right now. I may need to keep searching for that dream job…


My friends Natasha, Seamus, and I have been taking tap dance lessons for the past six months. None of us had ever taken tap before, and it was a choice between this and fencing. After a friend told me about her experience wearing a sweaty, smelly rented fencer’s mask, the choice was obvious.
We’ve finally moved up to Tap II where the range of skill levels is really broad. A few of the really good students occasionally help the instructor out with all of us remedial students. I’ve nicknamed one of these superstar students Midge. I feel kind of bad about that – I jokingly called her that once to Seamus and Nat because she’s really little, and the name just stuck. I think her real name is Kathy. Or Helen.
For some reason, I don’t like Midge. Maybe it’s because she’s so small. Maybe it’s because she gets a real smug look on her face when she tries to show me how to Buffalo. She’s not all that, with her size 5 1/2 tap shoes. I just don’t like her.
Or maybe it’s because she kind of looks like me. She wears similar glasses, and has brown curly hair. One day we were both wearing blue t-shirts and white pants, and when I looked at her in the mirror across the room, I felt like I was seeing a carnival funhouse version of myself. I had to move to the other side of the studio.
My friend Seamus has discovered that when he does certain steps, his right hand moves uncontrollably. We all believe this to be some strange neurological disorder. Whatever quadrant of the brain controls tapability obviously affects the other motor skills. We like to call it Jazz Hand Syndrome. On the complicated moves, his right hand just starts flapping back and forth involuntarily at his side, like he’s secretly waving from a parade float. Just when I had gotten used to this distraction, we learned a new side step move. Suddenly, Seamus’ thumb popped up like he was hitching a ride. Now we call him The Fonz. AAAAAYYYYY!!!!

Father’s Day

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and for the first time ever, I decided to invite my family over and cook for them. I had my mom, dad, grandmother and aunt over to my apartment in Chicago for a home-cooked lunch. To most people, lunch wouldn’t seem like a big deal – just slap together a few turkey sandwiches and some chips and be done with it. But my grandma comes from the old school farmer mentality (although I’m not sure anyone in her family ever farmed) where lunch is the biggest meal of the day. This is apparently why she calls it dinner. To this day, I still get confused when she invites me over for dinner. Dinner is lunch. Supper is dinner. Breakfast is still breakfast.
So on top of the stress of having to prepare a full meal for relatives for the first time in my life, I also had the stinging memory of my grandmother’s question the first time I invited her over to my house when I lived in Milwaukee:
“Do you keep a clean house?”
This was her first question. Honestly. And without hesitation I answered, “Yes,” but then started to taste acid in the back of my throat as I thought about the last time I scrubbed my kitchen floor. So for the past three days I have been mopping, dusting, disinfecting, and reorganizing every inch of my apartment. Never mind the fact that my grandmother has glasses as thick as ashtrays and wouldn’t notice a dead pigeon on the floor let alone a piece of lint. I had something to prove.
With the cleaning under control, I was now left to the much more daunting task of making the meal. My father’s request was pot roast. I typically eat toast and cheese for dinner, so cooking a four pound slab of marbled beef didn’t exactly put me in my comfort zone. I googled “pot roast recipe” and found exactly 167,000 entries. After reading through dozens of recipes requiring exotic ingredients like balsamic vinegar reductions, or wine soaked figs, or potatoes, I decided to go for the old reliable recipe on the box of Lipton Onion Soup Mix.
It actually turned out quite well, and my grandmother paid me the greatest compliment a 93-year old woman can give a 33-year old single gal in the city: “Well, Jenny can get married now. She’s a good cook, and her house is so tidy.”
After lunch/dinner, I gave my dad his Father’s Day gift, which was permission to stay at my apartment and watch golf while the gals and I went to the garden shop down the street. His eyes welled up a bit as I handed him the remote.
In addition to being an excellent cook, my mother is also an amazing gardener, so she was truly in her element at the store. She also loves to chat with strangers when she’s picking out plants, and at one point, I noticed that a crowd had gathered around her. There were about six gay men following her around from plant to plant, asking her recommendations.
“Does this need full sun?”
“What do you think about these two plants together?”
“Will these come back next year?”
My mother had become an instant celebrity. And she had an answer for everything.
“The common name for this is Moses in the Pulpit. It’s a very hardy annual, and you can bring it inside as a houseplant in the winter.”
“There’s actually a bulb that forms from this plant that can be split and replanted in other areas of your garden.”
“A solution of urine mixed with paprika is the best thing I’ve found to keep the deer away from your rose bushes.”
I really didn’t need to hear that last suggestion spoken aloud, but the crowd just nodded in approval, and wanted more. She had become a pied piper of sorts. As we were leaving amidst groans of disappointment and a flurry of final questions, the lone woman in the group said to me, “You sure have a lovely family.”
I couldn’t agree more.