Start Spreading the News

I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it: New York, New York. So I’m off to New York City for the weekend to enjoy a well-deserved break from all the daily madness and overwhelming responsibility that is childless stay-at-home motherhood. I know some of you are saying, “Wait a minute? Didn’t you just tell us you were going to Atlantic City? Was that all a big fat lie? Are your pants on fire? Everything I believed to be true is false! Is your name really even Jenny?”
I know how this looks, but really, I can explain. I tried to book a last-minute flight to Atlantic City, but the closest I could get for under $500 was New York City. And since I know some folks in NYC, I decided that maybe I should just hold off on my dreams of becoming a world champion poker player for a few weeks, and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Big Apple.
I’m actually hoping that I’ll have a few madcap adventures while I’m there so that I have something to write about when I get back. I’ve got my autograph book ready just in case I spot any celebrities walking down the street. Some people are uncomfortable approaching famous people on the street. Not me. I figure if Will Smith is comfortable asking me to shell out $9.50 to see him trade snarky comments with a robot, he darn well better be prepared for me to send a waiter into the men’s room to get him to sign my Parents Just Don’t Understand CD.
I also like to practice my “subway face” whenever I’m in New York. It’s a technique I perfected while living in Paris. Have you ever seen those 3D posters in the mall that you have to stare at for a really long time in order to actually see the image? That’s kind of what I do in the subway. I relax my eyes so that I’m really not looking at anyone, but am actually looking through everyone. That way, crazy people can be waving and yelling and playing the kazoo right in my face, but I don’t even see them. Then they start to think that maybe I’m the crazy one, and they usually switch cars.
Another goal I have is to finally put to rest this ridiculous feud between New Yorkers and Chicagoans as to which city is truly the hot dog town. Now, I will say that I’m going into this with my mind already made up, but I’ll give New York one chance to prove me wrong. If so much as one person offers me catsup on my hot dog, that’s it. Game over. Chicago wins. Catsup on a hot dog – what kind of an abomination is that?
Finally, I plan on scoping out some of the local tap dance nightclubs to steal some street moves that haven’t made their way to Chicago yet. Then when I go back to tap class and my teacher tries to blow out my kneecap by making me do some sadomasochistic hop-shuffle-hop-shuffle-hop-shuffle-shuffle-shuffle combination, I’ll just push her aside and school her triflin’ ass with some F-train throw down I picked up in the Village. Yeah, that’s right – Momma said knock you out!
So with all this on my agenda, I’m afraid I won’t be able to post any new entries until next week. I’m really going to miss you. A lot. I miss you already. God, I can barely remember what you look like. Maybe I shouldn’t go. Are you sure it’s okay? You’ll see. I’ll be back soon, and it will be like I never left. Be good, and check in on the cats on Saturday, won’t you? You’re a peach.

The Godmother

I spent last Sunday at my parents’ house celebrating my mother’s birthday. It was a small group – just my parents, my grandmother, my aunt, and me. Before dinner, my aunt, who is a nun, said a special prayer for me to find a good job. Now, although religion has never played a big part in my life, I will say that I was really touched by the gesture. I mean, heck, it can’t hurt, right?
It’s funny, but for a non-religious person, I’ve probably spent more time with nuns than the vast majority of Catholics. My aunt used to live in a convent, so we’d spend a lot of holidays there with the other sisters. And once she moved out of the convent, her home served as a way station of sorts for all the traveling nuns. It seemed like there was almost always a roving sister or two at our holiday meals. I never really understood where they were traveling to or from, but the nuns in her order were quite the jet-setters.
When my aunt lived in the convent, my brother and I loved visiting her there, in part because in a convent that once probably housed 200 nuns, there were now only a few dozen. So, it was kind of like being able to run around in an empty hotel. Looking back, it kind of reminded me of the hotel from the movie The Shining, but without the haunted shrubbery and bleeding walls.
As kids, our favorite room in the convent was the basement. It was enormous and almost entirely empty except for a piano, a couch, and shuffleboard equipment. We would just run around there like lunatics, jumping on the couch, and pounding out our idea of music on the piano. In the closet, we’d always find a few kickballs that were mostly flat. I guess it never struck me as odd at the time, but what the heck were nuns doing with kickballs? Somehow I don’t see them rallying together for a heated game of dodgeball after morning mass. Of course, now it’s hard for me to get that image out of my head.
My Aunt Therese is kind of like Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank Redemption. She’s the nun all the other nuns go to when they need something. I can’t prove it, but it’s possible that my aunt runs the Catholic black market. She always seems to get truckloads of “donated” goods that she then sells at garage sales every few months. The profits all go to the church, or so I’ve been told.
But where exactly does she get all these things? Boxes of barrettes, cases of candles, palettes of Precious Moments. I’m not making any accusations here, but I’ve got to wonder if somewhere along the way, there’s a truck driver or a stock boy who was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.
I really don’t want to imply that these transactions are anything but on the up-and-up, but it did seem very suspicious to me that one of the nuns just kind of disappeared after she accidentally destroyed twelve boxes of candles when she left them in the church van one hot August day.
I remember asking, “Aunt Therese, what ever happened to Sister Fredo? She never comes over for Christmas dinner anymore.”
My aunt just smiled a little and said, “Sister Fredo… she went away. She’s working at an orphanage in Panama now.”
“Oh really? Is she working at the same orphanage that Sister Barbara, Sister Anita, and Sister Margaret all went to?”
“Who? Oh… yes. Yes. They’re all working at the same orphanage now. I think your mother would like some help with the dishes, don’t you?”
Although I can’t confirm it, I suspect that “working in an orphanage” is the nun equivalent of “sleeping with the fishes.”
Every so often, my aunt will try to recruit me to join the convent. Although she’s in her 60’s, she’s still the youngest nun in her order, so they’re on the lookout for some fresh blood. I’m pretty sure that joining the convent is a little like joining a street gang – once you’re in, you’re in for life. Although, I imagine it’s a little bit more like the West Side Story version of a gang rather than the Boyz ‘N the Hood version. But still, whenever she brings this up, I try to avoid the topic altogether.
My latest diversion technique has been to offer up my marketing services to help the church recruit new members. I think they just need to take a little different approach in order to reach today’s younger, career driven audience. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far – it’s a little rough, but I think I’m on to something!
Stuck in a dead-end job? Going nowhere? Ever feel like you’re just not making a difference?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, we may just have the career path for you!

  • Work for a highly respected boss who knows what it’s like to serve others!
  • Tight-knit community of outstanding co-workers!
  • Team environment, relocation assistance, travel perks!
  • Business casual atmosphere!
  • Guaranteed job security!
  • Flexible hours, great benefits, ability to move up – way up!

If this sounds like your calling, send in your resume and cover letter immediately for your chance at a career that will earn you the respect of millions! Applications without salary requirements will not be accepted. 

Read ‘Em and Weep

In an effort to make myself a better, more interesting person, I’ve been trying to spend a good portion of my summer catching up on some of the reading I have meant to do all year. You know – the books that EVERYONE is talking about, but for some reason you just haven’t found time to pick up yet.
Well, finally I went out and bought the book that’s been sweeping the country, Play Poker Like the Pros by seven-time winner of the World Series of Poker, Phil Hellmuth, Jr. I know, I know – most people cannot believe it when I tell them that I haven’t read it yet, but hey, better late than never, I always say.
I’m only about a third of the way through, but I have to say, it’s every bit as good as Oprah said it would be. I’m so glad that her book club started reading the classics, otherwise I may never have even heard of Hellmuth’s masterpiece.
I really have my friend Seamus* to thank for turning me on to poker. Texas Hold ‘Em poker, to be exact. Most people, especially those with cable, are now familiar with this popular and exciting card game. It combines the best of the entire gaming world: intense drama, high stakes, clever nicknames, and dark sunglasses. Every few weeks, Seamus gathers together a group of friends and hosts a poker tournament. Somehow, I’ve actually won a few times, which is really a blessing since my cats and I have grown accustomed to a steady diet of Fancy Feast.
My small-scale success at poker got me thinking: do I really need to go back to a nine-to-five, “yessir/no ma’am” kind of job? Is it possible that there’s a better career waiting for me in Reno, NV? I mean, let’s face it – if Ben Affleck can win $360,000 in one game of Texas Hold ‘Em, then surely, with a bit more practice, I should be able to earn enough during the course of the year to keep me sitting pretty in lattes and Steve Maddens.
My parents were surprisingly understanding when I casually mentioned my latest career aspiration to them a few weeks ago. Of course, these are also the same people who said they would totally support me if I decided to quit my job without another job lined up. If only I had understood that their definition of “support” meant emotional, not financial, before I kicked over my desk, deleted the entire company database, and yelled, “Take this job and shove it!” on my way out of the office. A word of advice: it’s best to actually cross the bridge before you burn it to the ground. 
So anyway, back to my career in poker. It’s pretty much a male-dominated scene, so I was really happy when my friend Natasha* decided to start playing as well. We feel that higher levels of estrogen in the room throw off the males’ bluffing ability. It also helps that Natasha and I occasionally slip Benadryl into their drinks.
Last weekend, before we went over to play poker, Natasha and I thought we’d stray from the poker standard of beer by bringing over a bottle of scotch. We talked a lot about what type of liquor would make us stand out from the crowd, seem sophisticated yet carefree, approachable yet mysterious. As we wandered through the dusty aisles of the corner liquor store, I was struck by a phrase that has since become my mantra: scotch is for winners. I felt it as soon as I met Johnny Walker Black, and I still believe this to be true. After I won everyone’s money, however, the men came up with a new mantra for me: scotch is for really annoying unemployed tap dancers who are graced with obscene beginner’s luck.
You say tomayto, I say tomahto.
Beginner’s luck or not, I feel I at least need to give the professional poker circuit a fair chance before I truly rule it out and recommit myself to a life of blue cubicles and Excel spreadsheets. With that in mind, I will not be posting any updates this week Friday through Sunday, as I am hopping a charter to Atlantic City for the weekend. Wish me luck, and keep your eyes out for me on the World Series of Poker, airing Sunday nights on the Travel Channel!
*Please note: all names, possibly even mine, have been changed to protect the innocent. I am also trying to avoid a potential lawsuit once I start discussing the seedier aspects of my life. The Seamus and Natasha to whom I make reference in this entry are not, in fact, my actual friends Seamus and Natasha. These are different people whose names don’t even start with those letters. My real friends Seamus and Natasha will now be known as Lyle and Annabeth. If, in the future, I meet people named Lyle and Annabeth and they’re interesting enough to make it into my blog, I shall call them Humperdink and Buttercup.

A Cry for Help

It’s the end of July, and still no job. Money’s tight, bills are mounting, I bought generic shampoo last week, for god’s sake! And the feelings of rejection and failure are starting to eat at my belly. Sometimes, late at night, thoughts start running through my mind. Crazy thoughts. Scary thoughts. I try to block them out, focus on the positive things in my life, but sometimes when I wake up, I just can’t breathe, like there’s a heavy weight on me, pinning me down. Usually that’s when I realize that 30 pounds of cat decided to curl up on my chest for the evening, but it’s not only that.
This is starting to scare me – I mean, I know that most people have experienced similar thoughts, but very few truly act on them. Things will get better, right? I don’t need to do anything drastic, do I? Well – I don’t want to keep it bottled up anymore, so here I go – I have seriously been contemplating getting a roommate.
I’m really hesitant to consider a roommate because I can’t say that I’ve had all that successful a history when it comes to sharing my living quarters. I think the tone was set by my first roommate in college, Tina. Tina was a year younger than me, very quiet, wore giant glasses, and was a psychology major. I didn’t know it at the time, but over the years I came to learn that there are three types of people who major in psychology:

  1. People who were truly interested in a career helping others work through their personal issues. This type makes up the smallest percentage of all psychology students.

  2. People who took psychology in high school, had a crush on the teacher, and thought it would be an easy “A” in college.
  3. People with severe emotional problems who thought that getting a psych degree would be cheaper than checking themselves into the nearest mental institution for rehabilitation and/or electroshock therapy.

Tina, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, fell firmly into Category #3. She seemed nice enough at first, but as the semester rolled on, I started to notice some bizarre habits of hers.
Although we had cable in the dorms, there were only three TV shows that Tina would watch: Three’s Company, Little House on the Prairie, and Sesame Street. I wish that I were kidding about the last one, but really, I’m not. It was kind of a guilty pleasure that she engaged in when she thought I wasn’t paying attention, or wouldn’t be home for a while.
I used to listen with great envy as my friends would tell me stories about how they had walked in on their roommates smoking pot, or having sex with a TA. If only those were my problems! I was too embarrassed to tell them that just a few days earlier, I caught my roommate humming “C Is for Cookie”  while she waited with baited breath to find out if that day’s episode was sponsored by the number 7.
While Tina’s list of odd habits was long, the one that almost drove me to the brink of insanity was her obsession with pencils. Our desks were on opposite sides of the room, so when we were studying, our backs were facing each other. Without fail, every night before settling down to study for her latest psych test, Tina would pull out a brand new box of number 2 pencils and start to sharpen them in her electric pencil sharpener. Now, I’m not an ogre – sharpen your pencils if you want – go ahead! I mean, I will say that most people I know over the age of eight successfully made the transition from lead to ink, but hey, if carbon is your gig, go with it. My issue was with the fact that she would sharpen no less than ten pencils at a time. Slowly. In her electric pencil sharpener.
I would just sit at my desk, gritting my teeth as the “rrrrrr – rrrrrr – rrrrrr” of the sharpener droned on for minutes. Why would anyone need more than two sharp pencils at a time? Sure, you need a spare in case one breaks, but why did she need more than half a dozen? It just made no sense.
The other major problem Tina had was that she had some sort of sleep disorder that put her into an almost comatose state every evening. In order to wake up on time for her classes, she had to put her alarm clock on the highest volume it could reach. Again, fine – so you’re a deep sleeper. No big deal. Except for the fact that she couldn’t have her alarm anywhere near her bed, or she would just turn it off while she was still half asleep, and then fall right back into her sweet dreams of Bert and Ernie.
This meant that she had to install the alarm at the opposite end of the room, which coincidentally, was pretty much right next to my head. That way, when the blaring alarm would sound each morning, she would leap out of bed like a maniac, jump over to the alarm, and slam it until it turned off. Once out of bed, she was released from her sleep spell and could proceed with her daily routine. So for a semester, I had the equivalent of a mini-coronary each morning as I awoke to the sounds of an air raid going off in my room.
Years later, I received a call from the Milwaukee Police Department about Tina. No, she hadn’t been arrested. She actually was applying to be a police officer and gave me as a reference. In an award winning display of passive aggression, I just told the officer that I didn’t remember much about Tina, except that she had trouble getting up in the morning, liked watching Sesame Street, and would spend long stretches of time sharpening things at her desk.
I felt it was my civic duty.
So, all that being said, you can see why I’m a little gun shy when it comes to sharing my apartment with someone else. I guess I should really think about what I’m contemplating here, and the effect it will have on my friends and family.
I think I’ll do what usually helps me when I am overcome by these feelings – call the number a friend of mine gave me the last time I went through this.
“Roommate hotline. This is Susan. How can I help you?”
“Uhh, hi. My name is Jenny, and I’m thinking about getting a roommate.”
“Okay, Jenny, I’m going to ask you to put down the Classified section. Just put it down, so we can talk…”

Last One, I Promise

Okay, the interview posts will stop, I promise. Three posts in a row about anything just really gets dull. So, since I used up all my words during my 8-hour inquisition with the Dirty Dozen, I’ll give you the bulleted highlights.

  • BREAKFAST: Toast with peanut butter
  • SUIT: Navy
  • SHOES: Polished
  • LIPSTICK: Maybelline Long-Lasting Pure Color – Autumn
  • HAIR: Frizzy (100% humidity)
  • BEVERAGE: Water, 3 glasses
  • SMILE: Plastered
  • LUNCH: Turkey on whole wheat with sprouts, no mayo
  • CHARM FACTOR: Level 8.5
  • HEADACHE: Splitting
  • DINNER: Drive-through Chicken McNuggets

One way or another, I will have an answer in the next two weeks. At that time, I will break my promise that this will be the last post about interviewing, but by then you will have forgotten that I ever made that promise to begin with. That’s what I like about you.

I Concur

All right – I’m off to my eight hour interrogation, I mean interview, but thought I’d have just enough time for one more brief observation. Yesterday I had a second interview at a different company that went really well. The first interview I had there was with the head of the department, who is ultimately the person who will decide my fate. However, even though he thought I was outstanding and that his company would crumble without my marketing genius to guide it (I’m paraphrasing), he said that he wanted me to meet with the people who would be my peers, “just to see if the chemistry is there.”
Now, I have no problem doing that whatsoever – I want to make sure my co-workers have a pulse, too. But this started me thinking about a problem that has truly reached epidemic proportions in our country – it seems as though no one is willing to make a decision independently anymore. Everything has to go to a committee who must then confer with the sub-committee before passing it on to the advisory board so they can check with the partners who must run it past the consultants to make sure it pleases the stockholders.
I mean, if my background is a solid fit, and I’ve convinced the head guy that I can do the job, why should it matter whether or not my co-workers think I seem nice or fun? I’ll tell you why – it matters because people are paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision. The same goes for this interview today – why would you possibly even want the opinions of twelve different people, unless you’re the defense attorney in a murder trial? Why must everyone’s voice be heard? I know from personal experience that when more than four or five of the voices in my head express an opinion, I become completely ineffective.
My theory on this is that because we’re forced to make so many trivial decisions on a daily basis, when it finally comes to the big ones, we’re just emotionally and intellectually spent. Skim or whole? Asiago or poppy seed? Fries or cole slaw? Paper or plastic? Regular or premium? Menthol or lights? Scratch-n-win or Powerball? 80 or 100 proof?
And that was just during my lunch break! Enough already!
Maybe I’m just way off base with this. Maybe I’m drawing conclusions where they don’t exist because I just happened to run into a few situations that supported this wild theory. Maybe most people don’t crave constant affirmation that their opinions are valid. I don’t know, what do you guys think? 

What, Me Worry?

Forgive me if I seem a bit scattered, but I’m afraid I don’t have time for overly wordy stories about past crimes and deep dark secrets today. Important things are happening in my life right now. Critical, life-altering things. Tomorrow, I have an interview. Not just any interview, mind you. This is an eight-hour interview with twelve different people.

When the recruiter emailed me my interview schedule, I had to do a double take. Twelve people? Eight hours? I rushed back to my files to see if I accidentally submitted my resume for the position of CEO. Nope – strictly middle management material. So what could I possibly need to talk to twelve different people about? I mean, I have the ability to lay on the charm, but even on my best day I’ve only been able to win over eight people, and I’m pretty sure that alcohol was involved.

How am I going to stay fresh and dapper in my blue pin-striped suit for eight hours? I wonder if it would be appropriate for me to bake brownies for everyone. Can I maybe bring some protein bars and Gatorade to get me over the mid-morning hump?

This is a big day for me, not just because I desperately want this job, but because this is the first time in the past three months that I will have spent eight hours in the same location.

Stay-at-home-moms-without-children can’t be tied down like that. Listen, I need my freedom – I know why the caged bird sings, and it ain’t because she’s happy. I worry that my attention span has rapidly declined during my three months of unemployment. What if I start to zone out around 2:00pm since that’s usually when I walk down to the coffee shop for a decaf iced skim latte?

I don’t even know twelve people. I don’t have twelve friends, not even twelve relatives. I’m not sure I ever want to know twelve people. How will I remember who’s who? What elaborate mnemonic devices will I need to employ so I don’t call them by the wrong name?

Okay, so I’m meeting with:
Janet from IS. Janet. Rhymes with planet. Janet Planet works with computers. Computers take over the planet in I, Robot. Good – really good!
Zachary from Marketing. Zachary. Zachary. Zachary whack a flea. Flea collar rhymes with dollar. Marketing earns dollars. Zachary – works in Marketing!
Andrea from Sales. Andrea. Schmandrea. Filandrea. Hand me a… okay, I’ve got nothing. Andrea has brown hair. Let’s hope that sticks.

I’m a visual person, so maybe I could draw a quick stick figure of each of them to help me remember what they look like. Would that be unprofessional? What if I sketched the drawings under the desk? Asked them to smile for a quick Polaroid?

I’m even interviewing over lunch. Great. So now I have to worry about what to say, what to wear, and what to eat. Throw in the good night kiss dilemma and you’ll have every first date I’ve ever been on. Just stay away from the spinach quiche, Jenny, whatever you do. And the garlic chicken.

All right – I need to start prepping for this interview. If I don’t post a blog for a few days, it may mean that I have completely cracked from the dangerous levels of human interaction. I mean, you should really ease someone like me back into the workplace. Don’t just go throwing twelve people at me all at once. I might get angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.


Internet Mating

SWF, thirty-something, former professional. Seeks fun-loving companion for coffee, cat-sitting, occasional tap recital, possibly more. No game players or druggies, please.

I did it. I placed a personals ad. Not in a newspaper, of course. Please – that’s for freaks and stalkers. No, I did it like all hipster, city-dwelling, tech-savvy individuals do it: I kicked it Internet style.
Even a lone wolf like me needs to run with the pack every now and then, so I decided to try my luck in the world of cyber-romance. At first I tested the waters on I figured, any company that can spend this much money on advertising MUST know what they’re doing, right? Unfortunately, I quickly realized that my sense of humor does not translate well over the Internet, especially to complete strangers. This became painfully clear to me when, after sending a few particularly witty emails to prospective suitors, I found out the hard way what the function “Block User ID” does. These people thought I was crazy, and out of fear for their own safety, shut me off from being able to email them.
With my ego slightly bruised, yet still intact, I immediately toned down my approach, and started over by sending nice, normal emails. As I discovered, the realm of Internet dating is governed by a few cardinal rules: don’t send emails that are too long, nothing too clever, nothing that sounds overly needy, and never, ever send an email on a Friday night, lest people think you’re a loser with nothing better to do on a weekend than surf through hundreds of online profiles.
After half a dozen or so failed matches, I decided to let my subscription to run out, and tossed my profile into the Internet dating graveyard. I had completely given up on the idea of cyber dating when a friend of mine sent me some information on a site I hadn’t heard of: At her insistence, I begrudgingly said I’d give this final site a try. If only I’d had the foresight to check the cult watch website first, I would have discovered that eHarmony ranks just below Scientology, and slightly above the Hare Krishnas in terms of overall threat level.
I guess my first clue that eHarmony was a cult should have been the picture of the founder, renowned relationship expert and clinical psychologist 
Dr. Neil Clark Warren. Something about his eyes just reminded me a little too much of Jim Jones.
“Never trust a man with three names,” my momma would always tell me. And boy, was she right. She said that anyone who needed more than two names was compensating for something. Of course, she also used to tell me that any man whose eyebrows met in the middle was actually a werewolf, but that one’s been a bit harder to substantiate.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, here’s how eHarmony works: it is entirely geared toward matrimony, so Dr. Clark Neil Warren has devised a patented 29-point personality profile that will all but guarantee a perfect match, sending you and your new mate off into wedded bliss. First, you spend about three hours online taking a very extensive and scientifically proven personality assessment. Next, they generate a personality profile from your assessment that is used to find your mates. Finally, the eHarmony gurus start emailing you the profiles of people they believe have the potential to be your future husband or wife.
What the heck – what’s a mere three hours to find true love? As I waded through page after page of inane questions about whether I’d rather read a book or eat a steak, I found myself trying to figure out what the questions were after. Do I ever feel like smashing things? Never – Sometimes – Frequently – Always. Hmm… if I say “Never,” I’ll seem like a liar, or worse, repressed. If I answer honestly and say “Frequently,” I’ll seem like I have issues with rage, and may be banned from the site altogether. So I guess the safest bet is to say “Sometimes.”
Question after question, I found myself psycho-analyzing every word to uncover the hidden motive. After playing the different scenarios over in my head, I ended up answering a good number of questions with “Sometimes.” Now, apparently when you try this deceptive approach to beat the system, Dr. Warren Clark Neil decides to punish you by sending you the most loathsome personality profile imaginable. It’s been a while since I took the assessment, so I’ve pushed most of the details of my profile down into the dark lair of my subconscious, but I do remember a few key phrases like:
“You rarely express an opinion.”
“You are content watching others have fun around you.”
“You should cut your losses now, purchase a few more cats, and take up quilting.”
After spending the next week on a steady diet of Zoloft and Caramel Nestle Treasures, I decided I was ready to check back with eHarmony and see who the good doctor had lined up for me to marry. I logged onto the site, pulled up my profile, clicked on “Check Matches” and was stunned by this message: “We’re sorry, but at this time, there is no one in our database who is a match for you.”
No one? Come on now, no one? I thought, “Maybe I just need to expand my search.” So instead of limiting myself to just Chicago, I chose all of Illinois. I’m sure there are some good people who live in the suburbs, right? Still nothing. All right, screw it – let’s go with the entire US. I mean, hey, I like to travel as much as the next gal. Again, no matches. You have got to be kidding me! I then opened up the criteria as wide as they would go – the world. Earth. If you reside on the same planet as I do, I will consider dating you. I chose the planet Earth as my potential dating pool, and yes, Virginia, there is no one in the world who is compatible with me.
The hunchback in Tibet? He thinks I lack ambition. That 75-year old leper from Peru? Apparently I’m not “outdoorsy” enough for him. Not one person. On the entire planet. Is compatible with me.
Curse you, Dr. Clark Warren Neil! Curse you, and your wretched 29-point personality profile!
“Stick to the basics,” my momma would always tell me. And boy, was she right. I’m done with all these high-tech, scientifically proven Internet dating techniques. The only science I can trust is chemistry – that uncontrollable spark that cannot be predicted by self-proclaimed relationship experts, manufactured in any marketing boardroom, or quantified by some computer program. In fact, there’s a cute mop-haired guy with funky glasses in the coffee shop right now who keeps looking over at me as I’m writing this. What do I need the Internet for when I’ve got Starbucks? But I wonder if he’d consider waxing that eyebrow before I take him home to meet mom?

Foster Files Part I: Run Jen Run!

Growing up, I spent my entire childhood in the same house. It was the nicest house in the worst neighborhood, which according to realtors, is not exactly what you strive for. As the neighborhood deteriorated, most of my close friends moved away to nicer, safer neighborhoods. My family stood firm, though. I lived across the street from a beautiful park, and across the park from my school. The neighborhood had character, and my parents weren’t ready to concede and move to some pre-fab subdivision.

We just learned to deal with a few minor inconveniences that you don’t encounter in the nicer neighborhoods: we had to take our garden hose in every night or it would be stolen, and if we didn’t chain the trash cans to our garage, they would end up dumped all over our back yard. Also, about every six months, someone would smash the side view mirror off of one of my parents’ cars, but I guess you learn to adjust to these things.

So, with my list of close pals slowly dwindling, my parents had no choice but to allow me to expand my circle of friends and reach out to the wild family who lived at the opposite end of the block – the Fosters. The Fosters were unique in many respects, not the least of which was their size. I don’t mean their physical stature, although they were extraordinarily tall and thin. I mean size in terms of quantity – the Fosters had eleven children. Mrs. Foster was a very religious woman – fundamentalist Christian – so all her children’s names were chosen from the Bible. From oldest to youngest, they were: Noah, Mary, Diana, Caleb, Ruth, Solomon, Aaron, Isaac, Martha, Sarah, and Samuel.

Mrs. Foster claimed to have read the Bible cover to cover at least 20 times, and often tried to prove this to me by literally backing me into a corner while quoting scriptures. And she swore that a mole on her cheek disappeared after she touched it during a particularly moving episode of the PTL Club. But when you’re nine years old, you can overlook a lot of insanity if it means having eleven friends to hang out with at a moment’s notice.

It seemed as though the Fosters were genetically designed for troublemaking. The whole family had loud, booming voices, which they often used to yell idle threats and mean names at people walking by. Almost all of the Foster kids were extremely lean and muscular, although they rarely had to use their muscles thanks to their greatest gift, which was their speed. The Fosters were all unusually tall, and at least three-fourths of their bodies were legs. This gave them great speed, which was a good thing since they were often being chased. In fact, when I think back to my youth with the Fosters, much of it was spent running – from police cars, from neighborhood bullies, from angry siblings. When you hung out with the Fosters, you would inevitably end up running from someone.

I remember one particular evening – I was about ten and had convinced my mother to let me sleep over at the Foster’s. Sol, Aaron, and I were hanging out in the park on the swings, minding our own business for the most part. It was far too late for us to be out – probably around 10:00pm – but we were thrilled to be breaking the rules, swinging after hours, and seeing who could go the highest. I would lean my head back as the swing descended, and stare up at the stars. It made me a little queasy to see the ground coming toward me, but I loved it.

Aaron interrupted our late night swing session by alerting us to the fact that four big kids were coming toward the park. Now, to back up a bit, part of the reason that the Fosters were always running from people is because they had a complete inability to shut their mouths when they should have. It was almost as if they needed the adrenaline rush of fear to keep themselves going. And because of their speed, they knew full well that they could outrun almost anyone in the neighborhood.

True to Foster form, Sol yelled something at the boys that set them off and running toward us. They were a good 100 yards away from the park, but judging by their pace, they would reach the swings in no time. Aaron shoved a handful of rocks in his pocket, and took off running the opposite direction. Sol quickly followed, leaving me sitting in the swing alone. I leapt off the swing, jumped the park fence, and started off after Aaron and Sol.

Now, my people are not runners. I come from Sicilian and German stock, and you’d have to look far back in the record books to find an Olympic medal winning Sicilian or German on the track team. Our hips are too wide, legs too short, lungs too underdeveloped for such athletic feats. So whenever I would accompany the Fosters on one of their many trouble-filled adventures, I usually had to rely on Ruth to grab the back of my shirt and drag me along to keep up with her pace. Without Ruth there, I was left to my own devices, which were shoddy at best.

I ran as fast as my scrawny legs would push me, looking back at the group of boys who were rapidly gaining on me. Aaron and Sol were mere silhouettes in the far distance, and by this point, they weren’t even running at full speed anymore. Sweat started to trickle down my back, and I breathed in deeply to try to alleviate the sharp pain I felt underneath my ribs. As I ran, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of anger. I was angry at the Foster boys for starting this and then abandoning me, angry at myself for sneaking out so late, and angry at these kids I had never met who were rapidly gaining on me.

After only ten minutes or so of running at top speed, my legs were on fire, and I couldn’t catch my breath. At that moment, I decided that nothing these boys could do to me could be worse than the excruciating pain I was in. Plus, I was hopeful that once I caught my breath, I might be able to talk my way out of any sort of physical altercation.

I slowed my pace to a trot, then a walk, then finally just stopped dead in my tracks and turned to face my pursuers. All four boys were running straight toward me, at full speed. With my hands on my hips, I put my head down a bit to catch my breath, waiting for their impending arrival. As they finally caught up with me, I was shocked to see them breeze right past. They never stopped, didn’t even make eye contact, but just kept on running to catch Aaron and Sol.

I turned around just in time to watch them disappear around the block. While nursing my sore ribs and hobbling back to the Foster’s house, I was struck by this feeling of confused relief. I guess sometimes when you stop running from the things you’re afraid of, they just pass you right by.

Will Tap for Food

Now that I no longer have to commute to the heinous suburbs of northern Illinois, I’ve been spending a lot more time using public transportation to get around the city. I just think it’s the best way to really get to know a city. Although still a relatively recent transplant to Chicago, I am proud to call this town my home. We may be known as the Second City to most people, but Chicago will always be first in my book. That is, of course, unless that book contains a chapter called “Street Performers.”
For all of Chicago’s rich history, diverse cultural venues, fine dining establishments, and almost-champion sports teams, the city is sorely lacking in high-caliber street entertainment. Sure, you’ll run into the occasional folk singer, and there’s that one guy who has a violin duct-taped to a guitar so he can play both at once, but these are simply rare shining stars in a galaxy of mediocrity.
The last time I was in New York, I saw a full barbershop quartet on the subway singing a version of Coney Island Baby that elicited a standing ovation from the otherwise disengaged commuter crowd. And when I lived in Paris, there was a guy who would string a curtain between the two poles on the subway train and hold a fully orchestrated puppet show, replete with sound effects and costume changes. Now that’s street entertainment! I was more than happy to drop 20 francs in his hat for that show of raw talent.
For a city of three million people, you would think that we’d be able to at least somewhat compete with the likes of Paris and New York, but I am consistently disappointed by Chicago’s rag-tag bunch of street performers. I guess the final straw for me, probably because it hit so close to home, was when I was on my way to the Harold Washington Library a few weeks ago. I walked up the stairs from the El stop and passed a man who was tap dancing. I absentmindedly tossed a quarter into the cardboard box where he had crudely scribbled the words “Tips for Taps.”
After I got about ten steps away, something made me turn back. Something just wasn’t right – wait a minute! He’s not really tap dancing! He’s just kind of scuffling his shoes on the pavement and flailing his arms around!
I went back to get a closer look, and he said, “Hey baby girl! How you doing?”
I cocked my head a little and said, “So… what exactly are you doing there?”
“Oh you like that, huh? I’m just doing a little something we call the time step.”
That’s when something snapped in me. Time step? He can’t possibly mean THE
time step. The same time step that is the rhythmic foundation of every major tap dance move ever created? Blasphemer – how dare he?!?
I tossed my backpack to the ground, slipped on my Capezio TeleTone II’s, stretched my calves a little, and:
STOMP – hop – step – fulap – step – STOMP – hop – step – fulap – step – STOMP (right hand juts out for the big finish)!
“Now that’s a time step. Give me back my quarter, you fraud!”
The small crowd that had gathered around us cheered, and applauded loudly. I eagerly collected their generous tips in my empty latte cup, until a police officer wandered over and asked to see my license for street performing. Of course, I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but apparently my pal Gene Smelly did, because he whipped his out faster than I could say police brutality.
Without saying a word, I walked over to the cardboard box, dumped all my earnings into my competitor’s coffer, and walked away slowly, the sound of applause still softly ringing in my ears.