HR You Ever Going to Call Me Back?

Last week I was talking with a friend of mine about this blog, and how I fear I may be running out of things to write about. See, I’m no writer. I do marketing stuff. At least I used to, before I realized that my cats were falling behind developmentally, and decided I needed to spend more time working with them one-on-one. So far they’ve been doing really well with the flash cards.
I just mainly like to hang out with writers and literary people and artistic folks. It makes me feel creative and less corporate. So, when I was complaining about my struggles to come up with interesting topics, one of these writer-type friends told me, “Jenny, just write what you know.”
Now, I’m not sure if that advice is actually helpful to people who truly are writers, but to me, that’s about as useful as people telling me to “Just be yourself” before I go on an interview.
Write what I know. What I know. I know. Know.
So, let’s take a quick inventory of what, in fact, I know:
Marketing – I don’t even want to read about that, and I majored in it.
Laundromats – I’ve pretty much exhausted that topic. And, I’m never going back to one anyway.
Cats – I’ve got to be careful about too many cat stories. Makes me seem kind of loser-ish, don’t you think? I don’t want to be labeled a recluse.
Tap dance – hmmm… yes, still some potential there, but I need a different angle.
Unemployment – hey, wait a minute! I do know a lot about being a drain on society! This idea has legs – let’s run with it!
Okay, so the topic for today is unemployment. It’s a broad topic, so I’ll need to break it down into one specific area for this entry. Let’s go with the interview process, because anyone who has been in my situation knows that this is the most painful and drawn out of all the components of the unemployment machine.
This is the part of the process where the company is the star quarterback, and I am the treasurer of the chess club. I write him love letters. He ignores me. I tape notes to his locker. He calls me “four-eyes” behind my back. I ask him to the Sadie Hawkins Day Dance. He goes with me, but talks the whole time about how hot my best friend is and how badly he wants to get in her pa… oh wait – I’m getting off topic here. The point I’m trying to make is that the interview process is a lot like an unrequited love affair. You wait, and wait, and wait for the Human Resources people to finally deem you worthy of a rejection letter.
In addition to marketing, I also took a short sidetrack into the world of staffing, and worked for an employment agency for a while. The experience of working with the Human Resources departments at hundreds of different companies, across dozens of different industries, led me to the conclusion that the people who are drawn to HR roles are generally the least qualified to be dealing with people.
Now any of you HR people out there who might be reading this, I don’t mean you. I’m talking about the person who was in your position prior to you and really messed the company up before you were able to come in and institute all those employee-centric policies that won your company those awards that you won that one time. That’s who I’m talking about. Those HR people.
So now that we’re clear, what I mean to say is that, for people who specialize in dealing with “humans,” I have just found the majority of Human Resources professionals to be extremely cold and power-trippy individuals. My theory is that this stems from the fact that, aside from the head HR honchos, they really don’t have control over anything, except whether or not female employees get to wear open-toed shoes, and what the theme for the company’s 25th anniversary party should be. Therefore, they act with extreme contempt toward the few areas over which they actually do have control: staffing vendors and potential candidates.
Take, for example, the interview I had today: it was just a phone screen, nothing major. In fact, don’t tell anyone, but I was totally wearing jeans and a T-shirt. But it’s for a job that I’m really interested in, so I prepped thoroughly, quizzed some of my smart friends who know a lot about the industry, read every page of their website – pretty extensive research.
I responded to each of the recruiter’s questions articulately, concisely, and with great insight into the inner-workings of her company. I smiled while I spoke (you can hear that over the phone), gave detailed and specific examples, and was funny when appropriate. Heck, I was on Charm Factor 9, but this woman was unbreakable.
So when it was all over, she said in her robotic voice, “If we are interested in bringing you in for an in-person interview, you will hear from me by the end of the day Thursday. Click. Buzz. Otherwise you can assume we are passing on you. Whirr. Click. I hope that doesn’t sound impersonal, but you just would not believe the stack of applicants I have to go through.”
No, that doesn’t sound impersonal at all. In fact, I was going to ask if you used to work for Hallmark, because you just made me feel so warm all over that I’m almost teary-eyed. I love you, HR Recruiter. I love you so much it hurts my tummy.
So the countdown begins. Will she call? If she does, will she make me wait until 4:55pm just so I don’t get uppity? Will I mistake her monotone voice for an automated telemarketing machine and accidentally hang up? Will she… oh shoot! I gotta go – the phone’s ringing!

Most. Disturbing. Post. Ever.

Urgent update to previous post re: my love of laundromats: I am no longer charmed by the gritty quirkiness of public laundromats. Today, as I was leaning on the folding table in the laundromat and writing in my notebook, an adorable little boy came in, walked right up to me and said, “There’s a cock-a-roach on that table.”
At first, although I was a little taken aback by such a comment, I just kind of smiled and said, “Oh, really?” I didn’t really believe him, but then his mother looked at me and said, “Yeah, they were all over that table yesterday. I called the city on this place. The owner makes enough money off of us to take better care of this laundromat.”
Then the little boy proceeded to point out all the baby cock-a-roaches crawling on the wall and table where I was just standing. Again, still somewhat in disbelief, I looked at where he was pointing, and holy bejeezus, there were about six small brownish bugs with long antennae, scooting along the wall. Needless to say, I completely freaked. My whole body started itching as I snatched my laundry basket up and moved as far away from any surface as I could get.
After I got my hysterical body-swatting brush-down under control, a few questions leapt to mind:
1. Why was that woman just here yesterday?
2. Why did she come back if she discovered roaches?
3. Why is she letting her son try to kill baby cock-a-roaches with his toy sword?
4. What am I going to wear tomorrow after I incinerate all my clothes?
I can’t stop itching.
I’ve led a sheltered life, I guess, because the presence or absence of cockroaches has just never factored into my choice of laundromats. Until today, of course. Thinking back, I did have a friend when I was little who had cockroaches in his house. Some mean neighborhood kids called his house the Roach Motel. But I was eight, he had Atari, I didn’t care. Now, much older, wiser, and less enthralled by Donkey Kong, I would rethink my earlier decision to sit for hours on his shag carpeting, eating cold pizza and drinking Coke while fixated on the flashing colors of the TV screen.
I can’t stop itching.
So here I sit, in my car, in the laundromat parking lot, in 85 degree heat, waiting for my clothes to dry so I can run like the wind and never look back. Should I just take my clothes out half-soggy, and let them air dry at my apartment? But what if there are baby roaches somewhere? Maybe the heat will kill them all.
Who am I kidding? Cockroaches outlasted the meteors and ice ages and whatever else really killed the dinosaurs. Surely they just look at a spin through the permanent press dryer cycle as some sort of free spa day.
Sweat is running down my back, and I’m having trouble breathing, but hell if I’m going back in there. Can cockroaches jump? Do they bite? Aren’t they asexual? I’m not sure why I care about that last point, but it just popped into my head.
I can’t stop itching.
Ohmigod – is that a baby cockroach on my leg? Phew, it’s just a freckle. Yeah, nice move, Jenny. “Ohhh… I just loooove laundromats! You meet the neatest people there! It’s a real slice of Americana.”
Yeah, you want to know who you really meet at the laundromat? Cockroaches, that’s who. Cockroaches, thieves, and crazy people.
What if I throw in a few extra dryer sheets? I doubt that Bounce contains DDT, but maybe some sort of chemical reaction will happen that will at least sterilize them so they can’t lay eggs in my underwear.
I can’t stop itching.
Baby cock-a-roaches. I have always thought of myself as insatiably curious, but I honestly could have happily gone the rest of my life without knowing what they looked like.

White Collar Criminal

For most of my adult life, I have lived in apartment buildings that did not have laundry facilities, requiring me to go to laundromats. At first I felt very put off by this – it always seemed like such a hassle to have to pack up the car and drive somewhere just to get some clean socks. But the more I did it, the more I realized how much I enjoyed the experience. You really get to see a slice of life in the laundromat that you don’t encounter anywhere else.
After many years of regular visits to laundromats, I started to develop a simple theory: crazy people do not own washers and dryers. Maybe you have to fill out a license or take some sort of test in order to get that type of major appliance, but there seems to be an absolutely disproportionate number of loonies frequenting the neighborhood laundromats.
Because of this statistic, I have developed an irrational fear surrounding laundromats. Whenever I’m taking my laundry out of the giant dryers, and I have to reach way back to grab a lone sock or t-shirt, I am struck by the image of some crazy person shoving me into the dryer and turning it on. Now, I’ve never been accused of being athletic, but I’m pretty sure I could easily kick open a dryer door. Nevertheless, it still kind of freaks me out.
I remember once while I was quietly reading the newspaper and waiting for my clothes to dry, a woman came in with her two grubby children in tow. She walked with great purpose as she started leading her kids around the laundromat. In the loudest voice that could still be considered talking, she said:
And just like that, she circled the laundromat and stomped out. In that moment, I felt a very strong bond with the other two people in the laundromat as we opened our eyes widely at each other, and made the international hand gesture for “crazy” (point right finger at ear and turn clockwise).
We had all just been snubbed by a lunatic, simply because she had her own washer and dryer, and we didn’t. While the idea that this woman owned her own appliances does challenge my theory, I strongly suspect that she either got them on the black market or had a friend buy them for her.
The other problem I have encountered with public laundromats is theft. For some reason, ordinary upstanding citizens who would never even consider stealing a pack of gum from the local 7-Eleven think nothing of pilfering dryer sheets, or nabbing a jug of detergent.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, I fell victim to the laundry crime ring. Waiting for my clothes to get through the spin cycle, I decided to get something to drink. The pop machine in the laundromat, with its retro assortment of beverages, left something to be desired: Orange Nehi, Grape Nehi, and Mr. Pib. So after some internal debate, I decided to go next door to the Quizno’s to grab a Coke. I was only there for about ten minutes, but when I went back to check on my laundry, I immediately noticed that my laundry detergent was gone. I quickly glanced around the room to assess the potential suspects.
They all had the means, and the motive was clear – it was an almost full bottle of Tide Ultra With Bleach Alternative, Crisp Linen Scent. If only I hadn’t been so focused on impressing my friends with my fragrant clothes, maybe this never would have happened. Why, why did I have to buy top-shelf detergent?! A quick scan of the building showed that the culprit had made a clean getaway, and clearly mob mentality was at play here since no one would even make eye contact with me as I circled the store with great purpose, saying:
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman slowly start to point her right finger to her ear, until I burned her a look. Damn, where can I get one of those washer/dryer licenses?

Request Line

I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. Not in the sort of brooding, teen-angsty, “They’ll be sorry when I’m gone” kind of way. Really just in more of a practical, planning for the inevitable way. Somehow my friend Natasha and I started talking about organ donation a while back, and whether or not we want to donate our own organs. Although both of us are in favor of donating our organs, Nat strongly believes that if you actually list yourself as an organ donor on your driver’s license, doctors will let you die so that they can harvest your kidneys. I imagine some sort of diabolical scene:
Evil paramedic #1: “I’ve got a faint pulse! Bring the crash cart!”
Evil paramedic #2: “Wait, you moron! Did you check her driver’s license yet?”
Evil paramedic #1: “Oh sweet – she’s a donor! Go to Plan B: quick, get me that baseball bat from the ambulance!”
I consulted with my brother, who is a doctor, to see what his opinion was on this matter. He said, “Yeah, Jen. That’s exactly how it works. I get slapped with a malpractice suit if someone gets a paper cut while they’re signing out of my office, but doctors all across the world have plotted together in some mass conspiracy to intentionally allow patients to keel over on the street so that we can do risky transplant surgeries with illegally procured organs. That’s exactly how it works.”
Thank you, Dr. Sarcasm. A simple, “No” would have sufficed.
In any case, this discussion quickly led to an in-depth analysis of our dying wishes, or really just my dying wishes: how I want to be disposed of, who gets to take care of my cats, what song should be played at my funeral. Some people may call this a morbid topic, I call it being prepared.
After rattling off all my demands, I realized that I was putting a great burden on Natasha’s slight shoulders. I have quite a few complicated requests, so I figure that by documenting them, all my loved ones can share in this important responsibility.
First of all, I do not want to be embalmed. Apparently there are some state laws prohibiting this, but I’m sure we can get around those by saying that I have some sort of religious objection to formaldehyde. My goal is to be as chemical free as possible so that I can return to the earth more quickly.
That leads to my next request, which is the pine box. No $40,000 satin padded, high-gloss fiberglass, rhinestone encrusted casket for me. Just thin plywood, please. And maybe a little pillow. Again, probably not legal, but I have clever friends who, I’m sure, can figure out the minor details if they put their heads together.
I also toyed with the idea of having all my worldly possessions buried with me, like King Tut, but the more I thought about it, the image of having my Gateway pc and a pile of CD’s shoved into my stomach cavity became less and less appealing. I would, however, like to request that I be buried with my tap shoes on.
Another important detail: I do not want my entire body donated to science. I know that young doctors have to learn their trade somehow, but it’s not going to be on me. I pretty much made my final decision on that topic after I saw an episode of Nip/Tuck where plastic surgeons were practicing face lifts on cadavers. That’s all I need is for some 23-year old pimply-faced intern to be jamming double D implants into my cold, saggy body for extra credit. Is there no dignity left?
The final demand is the most critical one – if you take nothing else away from my lengthy request, I implore you to remember this one point: under absolutely no circumstance do I want to be cryogenically frozen. Look, I’ve seen quite a few science fiction movies in my time, and rarely does someone thaw out from the deep freeze as the same person they were before being frozen. I’m just telling you right now, if I wake up one day in the year 2124 with my head attached to a robotic spider body, there will be hell to pay!
So there you have it. In a nutshell: formaldehyde-free, pine box, no postmortem eye lifts, frozen = bad. Oh, and by the way, my song? Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. Not a dry eye in the house.

Baby Fever

A former co-worker of mine is having a surprise baby shower today, and I’m a little hesitant about going. Not because of Katie – she’s a very dear friend of mine, and we stay in touch regularly. It’s just that I’m somewhat dreading running into all the other people we used to work with, whom I haven’t seen for the past five years.
Based on how my 10-year high school reunion went, I’m pretty sure it will play out something like this:
Stepford co-worker: “Hey Jenny! So good to see you! Doesn’t Katie make a beautiful pregnant woman? My husband used to tell me that I looked like that girl from Willy Wonka when I was pregnant with Connor – you know, that one girl who turned into a blueberry? Ha, ha, ha! So – what’s new with you? Do you have any kids yet?”
Me: “Uhh… no.”
SC: “Are you married?”
Me: “No.”
SC: “Dating anyone?”
Me: “No.”
SC: “Well, must be because you’re so busy at work – you always were a workaholic! Where are you working these days?”
Me: “No. I mean, I am, well… in between opportunities right now.”
SC: “Oh.”
Me: “But I do have this blog that…”
SC: “What’s a blog?”
Me: “It’s like an online journal, where I write thoughts and stuff. It’s really neat.”
SC: “Huh. So… you’re not married, no kids, not seeing anyone, and you’re unemployed, but you have a diary. That’s… cool, I guess. Oh, hey, Julie! Over here! How are you and Bob doing…?”
I will then be forced to repeat this exact scenario at least seven more times before the afternoon is over. However, toward the third or fourth time, I will invent a boyfriend named Kevin (we just started dating, but I think he might be the one), and say that I have had very promising second interviews with at least two companies downtown (one offers more money, but I’d have to change trains to get there. I mean, puhleese!). After that, I’ll get a little queasy from too many virgin strawberry daiquiris, and have to leave early.
I realized recently that it’s really easy to feel normal when you’re surrounded by people who are just like you. Most of my friends are single and don’t have kids – heck, a lot of us aren’t dating anyone at the moment, and we like it that way! Sure, my friends all have jobs, but that’s just a temporary setback for me, and certainly not enough to label me a freak or an outcast in their eyes.
But really, I need to snap out of this – I’m being ridiculous and self-absorbed. This shower is not about me and my petty insecurities. It’s about celebrating the miracle of life, and catching up with old friends. This is a time to put aside my silly doubts, and just enjoy everyone’s company.
You know, I’m going to walk into this baby shower with my head held high. I’m single by choice, dammit! And is anyone aware that there’s a population explosion in the Midwest? Ease up on the reproduction, people! And hey, I can’t tell you what a distinct pleasure it has been for me to take this sabbatical over the summer! That’s right, you heard me roar. I don’t need a husband or kids to define my life as successful!
But just out of curiosity, do you think Kevin should be an architect, or a lawyer?

Wild, Wild Life

Last weekend, I spent some time with my parents and my brother’s family in Wisconsin. We spent the 4th of July barbequing outside, playing Frisbee, and admiring my mother’s yard. My mom has a beautiful garden, but it is constantly being torn up by wildlife: the deer destroy her prize rose bushes, a huge possum broke their new cherry tree in half while going after a few berries, and wild turkeys ate her peonies. So, like most city dwellers who move to the country, my parents have grown to detest all living creatures.
The final straw was when a pair of raccoons chewed through their screened-in porch to get at a jar of pork grease my mom forgot to throw in the trash. This prompted my father to dig out his trusty humane animal trap so that he could catch the culprits and relocate them a few miles away. My nephews squealed with delight as they awoke to find a giant raccoon in the trap, just staring at them with a wide-eyed, guilty look.
This reminded me of my own experience with that trap – a memory that is forever etched into my brain, like a Celine Dion song that just keeps playing over and over again. You see, even a humane trap, in the hands of an amateur, can become an instrument of terror.
It all happened a few years ago, when I lived downstairs from my friend Vivian in Milwaukee. We lived in a two-flat with a nice-sized back yard, and every summer I would try my hand at gardening. I spent hours and hours planting and fertilizing and pruning, only to have a family of rabbits chew through my flowers like a swarm of angry locusts.
I tried all sorts of techniques to keep them away: I planted marigolds (since rabbits apparently hate them), put up nets around my favorite flowers, shoved shiny pinwheels in the ground to scare them away. Nothing really worked – in fact, I think they rather enjoyed the pinwheels.
So I called in the big guns, and borrowed the trap. The humane, catch them live, and move them to a better place trap. I looked at it as a kind of forced bussing program. These rabbits would now be living closer to the lake, in a neighborhood with a lot more trees, and many more woodland creatures for them to frolic with. I was really doing them a favor, or at least that’s how I saw it.
Week after week I would set the trap, baiting it with tempting goodies like carrot tops, fresh lettuce, and petunias. Unfortunately, however, I guess a dead petunia sitting in a wire cage somehow has less appeal than an entire flower bed full of plump, juicy ones. So apparently, rabbits are a lot smarter than they look, because my flowers continued to be eaten, and I never was able to catch even one wabbit. I mean rabbit.
After the summer was over and my garden had been decimated, I gave up on the trapping concept altogether and decided to try again next year. Several months had passed, and I had forgotten all about my relocation efforts. That is, of course, until that fated day.
My neighbor was out engaging in one of her favorite summertime activities, which was hedge trimming, when I heard a knock at my back door. When I opened the door, Viv was standing there with twigs in her hair, gleaming hedge trimmers in her hand, and a look of… what? Horror? Anger? Disgust? I couldn’t quite tell.
I stepped back a little and said, “Oh hey, Viv. Uhhh… nice job on the hedges!”
Vivian squinted her eyes a bit and said, “You need to come out here. Now.”
“Oh, uh, sure. Do you need some help bagging up leaves?”
“No. Just follow me. There’s something I need to show you.”
I kept my eyes fixed firmly on the hedge trimmers in her hand as she slowly led me across the yard and over to a secluded corner behind the garage. Vivian picked up a rake and dragged out the trap, which apparently had been sitting between our garage and the neighbor’s fence for months. At the bottom of the trap was a brownish object that looked like some dried up leaves.
Upon closer inspection, I soon realized that this object was not a pile of leaves, but was actually a dead, flattened squirrel. The odd thing was that it wasn’t decomposed, or bug-infested. The squirrel had been almost perfectly preserved, and looked really rather peaceful. In fact, I remember thinking that it bore a striking resemblance to a bear-skin rug, but Barbie Dream House sized.
I could see that Viv was looking for some sort of response from me, an explanation perhaps.
I tried my best and said, “Huh. That’s weird. I could have sworn I brought that trap in months ago.”
“Well, Jenny, I think your flat little friend here would tend to disagree with you.”
It was clear by the look on Vivian’s face that there was really no need for further discussion, so I put on a garden glove, picked up the trap, and led the deceased away. I’ll spare you the gruesome details of how I got the cardboard-like squirrel out of that cage, but let’s just say that if the animal rights activists control heaven, St. PETA will most definitely not be letting me through those pearly gates anytime soon.
I know this looks bad for me, but you have to understand that this was all an unfortunate accident. I just wanted a nice garden, that’s all. And I learned my lesson – man must never try to alter the balance of nature.
It was shortly after that incident that I had to move away from that apartment. There were just too many memories, too many horrific images that would wake me up in the middle of the night. I decided to move to Chicago, where flower beds would be replaced by concrete, and the image of that carefree family of rabbits would become a distant, fuzzy memory.
But anytime I’m visiting friends in Milwaukee, I drive past my old house, and slow down a bit as I pass the garage. And once every year, under the cover of darkness, I sneak into the back yard, walk back by the garage, and leave a single, brightly colored pinwheel in honor of my fallen friend.


Yesterday morning I saw a man walking across the street with a green parrot sitting on his shoulder, and my first thought was, “Boy, that man is starved for attention.” Well, actually, that was my second thought. My first one was, “Arrrrrr, matey! After me treasure, are ya?”
But immediately after that, I did think that he must really be hoping people would look at him. This brief encounter just helped reinforce a long-held belief I’ve had, which will probably offend a few people: I think there’s something strange about people who have birds for pets. Not in the same way I think it’s strange when little old ladies sit on park benches and let squirrels pluck peanuts from their lips. That’s just plain crazy. No, I just find the average bird lover to be, well… a little odd.
This might stem from a friend I had in junior high – Heather – who was a bird-lover. Heather had five parakeets, and for most of the day, they were allowed to fly all over the house. Sometimes she would invite me over to hang out after school, but I always tried to convince her to come over to my house instead. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Heather – I just wasn’t comfortable with the constant bobbing and weaving required to avoid the aerial attacks from her parakeets.
At school, instead of the more common teen query of, “Do I have food in my braces?” Heather would always ask us if she had parakeet shit on her back. More often than not, the answer was a resounding yes. Yes, Heather, you do have parakeet shit on your back. And it’s making me nauseous, so please change out of that sweater before French class.
When I was a kid, there was a hardware store in my neighborhood that had a pet section toward the back. The owners had a big myna bird named Heckle that could say about fifteen different phrases. Whenever I would go back to admire the new stock of gerbils and chameleons, Heckle would wolf whistle at me and say, “Helloooooo, baaaaby!” just like a squawky Big Bopper. He always knew how to make a girl feel special.
Eventually, the store closed their pet section, but they kept Heckle out for entertainment purposes. Unfortunately, without a steady stream of eight-year olds chatting him up every day, Heckle started to get bored and lonely. I remember going into the store a year or so later and seeing Heckle in the cage, just quietly rocking back and forth and pulling at his feathers. That was when I concluded that birds are just too sensitive to have as pets – they understand loneliness and abandonment in ways that cats and dogs just can’t.
As a bird-owner, I imagine you have to do a lot of ego boosting and validation of feelings to keep your pets from falling into a deep depression. I, myself, am a cat owner, so I cannot relate to such emotionally delicate animals. Cats are really more vindictive than self-destructive, and I think I much prefer that. After being away over this past 4th of July weekend, I didn’t come home to find a crudely written suicide note, along with three empty bags of catnip. I simply discovered a strategically placed pile of cat puke on my pillow, and the shoelaces chewed off of two pairs of shoes. And that, I can deal with.

Jenny from Chicago, Come on Down!

One of the many great perks of being job-challenged is that I get to go grocery shopping whenever I want, as opposed to at 6:30pm, when every Tom, Dick, and Harry Gainfully Employed stops at the store on his way home from work.
Unfortunately, today I learned that the only time worse than 6:30pm to grocery shop is at noon on a Wednesday, which is Senior Citizen Double Coupon Day. This is also commonly known as Argue With The Cashier About The Sale Price Of Seedless Grapes And Make Twenty People Wait In Line As You Pay The Bill In Nickels Day.
So being the tech savvy thirty-something that I am, I hopped on over to the self-checkout lanes, which are typically populated by the hippest of all shoppers who are eager to get in and out of the store, and on to their exciting lives as quickly as possible. Surprisingly, though, even the self-checkout lanes were full today, so I was stuck waiting again.
While I was standing in line, feeling my heavy basket of essentials digging into my forearm, I tried to pass the time constructively. After I unsuccessfully attempted to determine from the headlines of The Enquirer if Mary-Kate Olsen is actually anorexic or merely a cocaine addict, my eyes began to wander over to the shopping baskets of the people in line around me. I found myself analyzing the contents of their baskets, which got my wheels turning. This would make a great idea for a game show! One that would combine Americans’ passion for consumerism with our insatiable curiosity about the private lives of our neighbors!
I have decided to call the game show: Guess the Necessity! (pat. pending)
Here’s the concept: contestants get to examine three grocery baskets plucked from real live shoppers, and they then have to determine which item the shoppers actually came for, and which were just things they picked up along the way. This may not be on par with Jeopardy, but I think it’s an exciting and sexy idea that will catch on quickly among the 11:00am TV viewing crowd.
I’ll use the actual example from this afternoon to illustrate the idea:
Basket #1
• Toothpaste
• Rye bread
• Cheddar cheese
• Condoms
• Dove Promises – Milk Chocolate
Basket #2
• Tampons
• 2% milk
• Beer
• Ice-cream sandwiches
TV Guide
Basket #3
• Cat litter
• Peanut butter
• Toilet paper
• Bananas
• Tylenol Cold & Flu
Bob Barker: “All right, Jenny! You’ve had a moment to examine the contents of the three baskets. Now if she gets all three baskets correct, show her what she’ll win, Rod!”
Rod Roddy: “A solid cherry grandfather clock and a 36-piece set of flatware from Oneida!”
Me: “Ohmigosh! Ohmigosh, Bob! I’m just so excited to be here! Can I say hi to my nephews? Hi sweeties – I love you!”
Bob: “That’s lovely. So – let’s start with the first basket. Which item in Basket #1 is the necessity?”
(I look to my friends in the audience, who are making gestures I can’t quite understand. I mouth the word “condom?” and they shake their heads yes.)
Me: “Oh, this one’s not easy! I’m torn between toothpaste and condoms, but I guess I’m going to trust my friends and say condoms, Bob!”
Bob: “Is it… CONDOMS? YEEEESSSS!! You got the first one right! Nice job. Okay, moving on – how about Basket #2?”
Me: “Oh geez. I mean, I’ve been without tampons and without a TV Guide, and both are equally debilitating. I guess the rest of the items in the basket seem like things a man would want, so I think that this is a man’s basket, and I’m going to go with the TV Guide.”
Bob: “Interesting logic… and in this case you’re RIGHT AGAIN! Well, Jenny, you certainly are on a roll! Okay, let’s make it a clean sweep here, and guess the necessity in Basket #3!”
(The audience is yelling randomly: “Toilet paper! Flu! Cat litter!” I become confused.)
Me: “I’m just going to have to go with my gut on this one. My first instinct was to say cat litter.”
Bob: “Your answer is cat litter, and let’s see if your instincts are correct… ohhh, I’m so sorry, Jenny. Toilet paper was the necessity.”
(Loud groan of disappointment from the audience.)
Bob: “But, for guessing two out of the three necessities correctly, we won’t send you away empty-handed. Rod, tell her what she’s won!”
Rod: “Jenny, grab your fork because you’ve just won a year’s supply of Cheddar & Herb Rice-A-Roni. Yes, it’s Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat! And, be proud to show that smile with your lifetime supply of new Triple-Mint Polident. Remember to always choose Polident for better denture odor control!”
Me: “Thanks so much, Bob! Before I go, can I give you a kiss?”
Bob: “Of course you can. And everyone, please remember to have your pets spayed or neutered. See you next week on Guess the Necessity!
I was smiling and gazing off into space when the woman in line behind me nudged me to let me know the register was now open. She just stared curiously at my basket as I ran my items over the scanner: hairspray, cottage cheese, red licorice, lettuce, dental floss…


My mother has always been one of those overprotective, ultra-prepared, ready for any emergency types of people. Over the past few years, she discovered the Internet, and now forwards me every Internet hoax story about some woman who reportedly was abducted from her back yard, along with tips on how to defend myself against attackers.
• Act like you’ve fainted and he won’t be able to carry your body weight.
• Hold your car keys like brass knuckles and jab them into his throat.
• Pretend you want to kiss him, and then pop his eyes out with your thumbs.
These were my bedtime stories growing up. There was no Goodnight, Moon or Where the Wild Things Are. My mom read me passages from a survival book on edible roots and berries, just in case I was ever lost in the woods. Instead of Rock-a-Bye Baby, I was lulled to sleep by the theme song from Cops. It was a little like having Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2 as my mother, except without all the explosives and tank tops.
I thought this might end when I went away to college, but it only got worse once I was no longer under her watchful eye. When I lived in the dorms, she wanted to buy me a rope ladder for the window so I could escape in the event of a fire. That might have been a good idea if I hadn’t lived on the 19th floor. Yeah, that’s great, mom. Once I climb out on that rope ladder, I’ll only have to plummet seventeen stories to my death instead of all nineteen.
For Christmas a few years ago, she gave both my brother and me some sort of homemade survival kit for our cars. It consisted of a Ziploc bag that contained:
1. Big wad of dryer lint
2. Waterproof matches
3. Candle
4. Two pieces of kindling
5. Empty tin soup can
“Wow, mom. That’s really… wow! I mean, gosh. You… shouldn’t have?”
I still don’t really know what the purpose of this voodoo kit is. Am I supposed to start my car on fire as a flare if it breaks down on the side of the road? Cook up some roadkill raccoon while I wait for the Forest Rangers to arrive? Nevertheless, I indulged my mother by thanking her and putting the bag in my trunk. I don’t have the heart to tell her that the candle melted all over everything, so I had to throw the whole kit away.
For all my reluctant participation in my mother’s madness, you would think I would reject such overprotective behavior in my own life. Quite the opposite, I’m afraid. I recently spent time with my nephews who are six and four years old, and caught myself spouting out random pieces of fearful advice like:
“Don’t run with a sucker in your mouth! You’re going to choke on that!”
“Swimming? No, you just ate. We can’t go in the pool for another two hours or you’ll drown.”
“Hold onto Aunt Jenny’s hand. I don’t want some bad man to kidnap you and make you work as a carnie!”
All my years of dismissive eye-rolling and cries of, “Awwww mom!” did nothing to prevent my hyper-cautious DNA from kicking in. I knew it was time to surrender when, for her birthday last year, I bought my mother the ultimate gift from Hammacher Schlemmer: a combination seatbelt cutter/flashlight/windshield smashing tool to be used in case you accidentally drive your car into a lake. You just can’t fight genetics.

I Witness?

The other night as I was watching a rerun of Law & Order: SVU, the ever-magnetic Mariska Hargitay was probing a witness for a description of a suspect to the latest crime of the week. The witness, although visibly shaken, was able to provide her with a pretty tight description of the individual: height, weight, age, ethnicity, tattoos, limp.
This got me wondering: just how good would I be if called to describe a crime scene? I started thinking about all the places I had been in the past week, and the people I had encountered. Store clerks, laundromat clients, postal workers, teens on subway, neighbors. And what I soon discovered is that, much to my disappointment, I would make a horrible witness. I’ve always thought of myself as an observant person, but this exercise made me realize that I only notice the most obscure of details.
I imagined the eager police officer and sketch artist, prodding me for something to go on, and frustrated that they had yet to even draw a head:
“So this man who stole the victim’s purse, can you describe him?”
“Did I say it was a man? Well… I guess it, uhh… yeah it was definitely a man. Well, I noticed that he had been eating Big League Chew earlier on the train. I didn’t even know they still made that! And he folded his newspaper in a weird way. He made it into a really small square, which I guess was just polite since it didn’t take up so much space. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Or a Cubs tank top maybe. Wait, no, that was the guy who sat there before him.”
“Mmmm hmmm… okay, ma’am, do you remember anything else? Anything more concrete, say?”
“Oh yeah! I almost forgot – his laugh sounded exactly like my friend Ryan’s!”
So now I’ve decided to treat every interaction in life as if I were walking into a crime scene. I check my watch every fifteen minutes, make eye contact with each person as they enter or leave a room, and jot down mental notes of any distinguishing characteristics or suspicious behavior.
July 1st – Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Chicago, IL
4:29pm: Caucasian blonde woman, mid-40’s, 5’3”, 135-145 lbs enters store. Grabs copy of Food & Wine, lets subscription card drop to floor, and doesn’t pick it up. Continues reading almost entire issue of Us Magazine before exiting fifteen minutes later.
4:42pm: Hispanic female clerk, early 20’s, shaved head and “What Would Joan Jett Do?” t-shirt steps behind counter. Proceeds to argue with male co-worker about who was supposed to re-shelve unclaimed pre-orders of Bill Clinton’s My Life. Takes sip from bottle of Sprite ReMix – Berryclear Flavor and complains that having to take an Econ class in the summer “blows.”
5:04pm: Caucasian male, late 60’s, 5’10”, 150 lbs slowly crosses street to enter bookstore. Suspect is wearing sandals with white socks and sweatshirt with wolf head on it. He’s carrying a plastic bag from Quizno’s that appears to contain a sandwich and bag of chips. Picks up copy of Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger, flips to last page, and sets it back down. I follow him out of the store.
This time when Mariska comes knocking on my door, I’ll be ready.