The Gumshoe Gazette

It’s Tuesday morning, the air’s a little chillier than I’m used to, my back’s a little stiffer than I’d like it to be. I wake up early, real early. Couldn’t sleep last night, because the questions just kept running over and over again in my head. Why? Who would do this? What motive could they have? But let me back up a bit and explain: I received a disturbing package in the mail yesterday: a plain white envelope with my name written in neat, block letters. For a return address, there was simply a large red question mark.
My immediate thought was, “Anthrax!” But then I remembered reading in Us Magazine that anthrax is so five minutes ago. Still, I held my breath as I carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the contents. Inside the envelope was a blank piece of plain white card stock carefully folded around a small package of gum. But it wasn’t just any kind of gum – it was a little plastic wrapper containing two red pieces of hot dog shaped bubble gum, aptly labeled “Hot Dog! Bubble Gum.” I immediately noticed that there was an exclamation point after the word “dog,” which seemed to be mocking me.
Ha! Does someone really think I’m stupid enough to eat gum I received in the mail in an unmarked envelope? But what sort of deviant would have sent this to me? Who knows I like hot dogs? I suppose anyone who has read my blog, so that gives me at least three suspects right off the bat. Do I have any enemies? That list is substantially longer. Fortunately, my time away from work has left me with many hours to learn the finer points of criminal investigations by watching Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, CSI, and CSI: Miami, so I knew exactly what to do.
The postmark was from Chicago, so it seems that this was an inside job. That potentially rules out a long list of East Coast suspects, unless they had an operative working here in Chicago, which I suppose is certainly possible. I dusted the envelope for finger prints, but most were too smudged to get a good read. The card stock and the gum wrapper both tested clean for prints, so I suspect that the perp wore gloves. I therefore deduced that the prints on the outside were most likely made by my grubby mailman.
Clearly, this was not the work of an amateur. What kind of a sick, twisted mastermind would do something like this? Sending anonymous bubble gum through the US Postal Service? That very well could constitute a federal offense.
A closer inspection of the gum wrapper revealed my first big clue. Printed right on the plastic, plain as day, was a phone number. It said, “For nutrition information, questions, or comments about this product, call toll-free weekdays 9-4 EST.” This was exactly the lead I was looking for. I immediately called the number and a smoky-voiced woman named Joyce answered.
Joyce: “Thank you for calling Hershey Foods consumer hotline. This is Joyce, how may I help you?”
Me: “Joyce, hi. My name isn’t important right now, but I have a few questions I’d like to ask you. Have I caught you at a bad time?”
Joyce: “Uhh… no. This is… this is my job. What can I help you with today?”
Me: “I’m inquiring about one of your products – it’s called Hot Dog! Bubble Gum. There’s an exclamation point after the word ‘dog,’ if that helps. I’m interested in the nutrition information. Does this gum, to your knowledge, contain any rat poison?”
Joyce: “I’m sorry, did you just say rat poison?”
Me: “I’m asking the questions here, Joyce. Does it contain rat poison, or any poison of any type?”
Joyce: “Of course not! This is bubble gum, ma’am. Intended for human consumption. I can read you the list of ingredients if you’d like.”
Me: “Fine, you want to play it that way, let’s go. Sure – read me the list.”
So Joyce went on to read some long list of ingredients that included corn syrup, gum base, FD&C Red 40, but nothing that sounded particularly deadly. I do have a call in to a lab, though, to find out what exactly BHT is. Once Joyce rambled through this long list, I continued with my line of questioning.
Me: “Okay, here’s my next question. I need to find out exactly where you distribute this gum in the Chicagoland area. Can you fax that list to me today?”
Joyce: “You want a list of every single store where this gum is sold in Chicago? I don’t have access to that type of information. I mean, I don’t even know where you would get that from. Did you maybe want to see a brochure on how the Hot Dog! Bubble Gum is manufactured? It’s actually made in Canada at a state of the art fa-“
Me: “Joyce, Joyce, Joyce. Look, honey. We can make this easy, or we can make it hard. Personally, I like you, Joyce. You seem like a smart dame, and I sense that you really want to help people. Just tell me where the gum is sold, and I’ll be on my way. Simple as that.”

Joyce: “Ma’am, I really don’t have that information, and even if I did, it’s not something I could just hand out to people. Hold on please, I’m going to let you talk to my supervisor, Adam.”
During the two minutes I was on hold, Joyce and Adam obviously did a great job of getting their stories straight because Adam fed me the exact same line of bull that Joyce did, complete with the offer to send me their brochure. The only difference was that Adam tried to sweeten the deal by throwing in a free pass for a tour of their Toronto plant.
Now that Joyce and Adam had lawyered up, I knew I would have no choice but to do this the old fashioned way and start pounding the pavement. So today I’ve been working on a list of all the possible locations that might sell this type of gum. I know that I’ve seen it for sale at a few of the hot dog stands in Chicago, so that’s where I’m going to start. A quick Google search on “hot dog stands” + “Chicago” revealed that there are over 2,257 hot dog stands in the city, and I’ll hit every one of them if I have to. Next I’ll move on to grocery stores, corner pharmacies, and gas stations. I will not rest until this mystery is solved.
In fact, if I don’t post any new entries for the next few weeks, it’s because my focus needs to be on catching this criminal. I don’t know, maybe that’s what they were hoping for. It wouldn’t be the first time someone has broken the law in a vain attempt to stifle my writing.
Is that what you wanted? Was that your master plan all along? To lead me on a wild goose chase so that I would stop speaking the truth? Well, then I guess your plan just might work, but only temporarily. Only until I pick up your scent and track you down like a mongoose after cobra eggs. (Point of clarification: in this analogy, I am the mongoose, and you are the cobra eggs. Or possibly the cobra. Either way, I’m tracking down you and/or your eggs.)
I will consider calling off my hunt if you post a comment here coming clean, and tell me if it’s okay for me to eat the gum. Barring that confession, the mongoose gloves are off!
You messed with the wrong person, anonymous gum sender. The wrong person, indeed!

Jenny + Max 4Ever

I hung out at my boyfriend’s place this weekend. His name is Max. Actually, that’s his last name, but that’s what I like to call him. His full name is OfficeMax. We met quite a few years ago, when I was in college. We’re not dating each other exclusively, but I see him at least once a month. Usually when I need something. Does that sound bad? I don’t know, I guess it works for us.
I’ve actually been seeing more and more of Max lately. This is our favorite time of year right now – the sweltering heat of summer is about to end, leaves will soon begin changing color, there’s a certain crispness to the air that signals the beginning of fall. And most of all, I love it because it’s a very special time of the year for Max and me – he likes to call it the Back-to-School Sale.
When I was a kid, I would get so excited as the new school year began, not at the thought of seeing old friends, or making new ones, and certainly not at the prospect of learning something new. No, what got me more thrilled than anything else was when we would finally receive the school supply list, and my mom would take me to K-Mart to buy my supplies for the year. There were crayons, lunch boxes, rulers, and pens. And as I got older, I needed a compass, a calculator, a back pack, and binders!
Back-to-School was like a religious holiday to me – the most sacred time of the year. This was the one and only time when school supplies would finally get the respect they deserved. Front page placement in the Sunday circulars. Special signage in the entry of every store directing customers to the right aisles. For once, school supplies would leave their tiny trailer park excuse for an aisle, wedged unceremoniously between generic greeting cards and duct tape, and for a few glorious weeks, they would get to live in the penthouse suite of the department store. Three full aisles with end caps devoted solely to meeting my Back-to-School needs!
As I got older, my love for school supplies never waned. It just blossomed, really. But now I call them office supplies to reflect our more mature relationship. In fact, if I could own any kind of store in the whole wide world, it would be an office supply store. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be able to walk down the aisles after hours, and just know that everything there was mine. Although, I guess it technically wouldn’t all be mine, because I’d need to sell it in order to make money to keep the store open.
I wonder if it would bother me to see people buying up all of my office supplies. I’d have to keep ordering more and more, and strangers would just keep taking them all away. And I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate the supplies the way that I do. They’d just hound me with questions about why I didn’t have any highlighters that were cheaper than $0.79 each, and why Liquid Paper only came in packs of three. And then I’d have to sink to the lowest common denominator and stock fruit-scented glitter gel pens for all the tweeners who think it’s cool to write boys notes that smell like strawberry.
Boy, I guess owning a store is really a lot of work, and it seems like you have to compromise your ideals in order to turn a profit. I don’t know, maybe what I meant to say is that if I could rob any kind of store in the whole wide world, it would be an office supply store. That’s probably a more realistic goal. But of course, I’d never do that because prison orange really washes out my skin tone, and I highly doubt I’d have access to top-shelf office supplies in Cell Block H.
I know it’s kind of a weird thing to be so passionate about, but if loving the feel of a Uni-ball Vision Exact Medium Point pen in my hands is a crime, then lock me up and throw away the key. I mean, I’m more likely to notice the kind of pen someone is writing with than their hair color or facial features. I guess it’s just more important to me. Anyone can have a winning smile, but pull out an Ultra Fine Point Sharpie to sign your check at the grocery store and my heart is yours forever. Whip out a Bic disposable blue ink pen with teeth marks on the end, however, and you might as well just keep your phone number. Trust me – I’ll never call.
So some people call me eccentric, some call me a snob, but I really don’t care. I just tell them that I know what I want, and right now, Max has everything I need.

Careless Whisper

I’m never gonna dance again. Guilty feet have got no rhythm. Though it’s easy to pretend, I know you’re not a fool. Should’ve known better than to cheat a friend, and waste the chance that I’ve been given. So I’m never gonna dance again, the way I danced with you.
As soon as Seamus reads this, my hypocrisy and betrayal will be revealed, but my conscience has been eating away at me too much to keep it a secret any longer. After relentlessly trying to guilt-trip him into sticking with tap class, Natasha and I have decided to take a break from tap as well. A short break, I swear! Just five weeks, until the next session begins, and the weather cools off, and we finish the 5K, and I find a job.
We’ve been taking tap lessons from Teacher for almost a year now, and Seamus’ departure made me question everything. Do I really have what it takes? Will I ever learn the full soft shoe essence combination? Why didn’t I know that there are several reality TV shows on Tuesday nights?
I just hope it’s not too awkward when Nat and I sneak back into class in five weeks. If we had planned ahead, we could have told Teacher that we had another class that conflicted with tap for the next month. But we didn’t. We just smiled at her and said, “See you next week!” And then we flapped right out of her life.
What if it’s like that time in 6th grade when my parents pulled me out of school for a two-week family vacation? When I came back to class, everyone had switched best friends. Kristy was my best friend when I left, but she told me that she was now best friends with Renee. And Julia, who used to be best friends with Renee, was now my designated best friend. But I didn’t want to be best friends with Julia. She was left-handed, and she never had gum.
So what if when class starts back up, Nat and I find out that we’ve been assigned new friends for the class? I might get stuck with Midge! My god, what have we done? I feel so sick right now. I just know they’re all talking about us behind our backs.
“Don’t worry, Teacher. We’ll never abandon you like those three did.”
“You mean they didn’t even have the courtesy to tell you they were dropping out? Now that’s just low class. Low class.”
“Oh, I just hope they show their faces here again some day. I’d like to give them a piece of my mind!”
Okay, so maybe I’m getting a little melodramatic. In reality, last week probably played out a little more like, “Did we have a Jenny in class? Oh yeah – was she that one lady with the nude high-heeled taps? No? Okay, then I have no idea who you’re talking about.”
I’m going to have to call on Natasha to help us out of this situation. When I first moved to Chicago, unbeknownst to Seamus and Natasha, I designated key roles to everyone in our group so we could function effectively as a team. I, of course, am the protagonist (it’s my story), Nat is the moral center, and Seamus, who was originally intended to be the foil, has proven himself to be the glue that binds us all together.
Having said that, I am supporting Nat in her desire to follow her conscience and contact Teacher to let her know that we will be re-joining the class next session. Through a believable set of half-truths, Natasha will ensure that Teacher doesn’t feel that we’ve completely abandoned her.
She’s going to tell Teacher that Seamus had a conflict with his (fictitious) ex-wife’s Lamaze classes, that I am currently working on getting my (fictitious) chauffeur’s license, and that she is taking a “How to Earn a Living on eBay” course. No, I didn’t forget a (fictitious) there. Nat’s really doing that. Back off people – let the girl live her dream!
I just hope that Teacher buys it. I can’t stand the thought of seeing her hurt face in five weeks. Now where the heck am I going to find a chauffeur’s hat before our next class?

Don’t Leave Me This Way

Don’t leave me this way. I can’t survive, can’t stay alive, without your love. Don’t leave me this way.
I have killed again. I didn’t mean to. I never do. It wasn’t intentional, certainly not premeditated. If anything, I am guilty of neglect. The victim this time? Mr. Schlumbergera Bridgesii, but he was known on the street as Christmas cactus.
I don’t know what my problem is. My mom is an amazing gardener, my grandmother has two green thumbs. Heck, even my brother has a flourishing vegetable garden in his backyard. Somehow, no matter what I do, I kill every plant I own. It’s only a matter of time and opportunity.
This one really hit me hard, though. I thought for sure I was going to have better luck with a cactus. I mean, how do you kill a cactus? They survive in the desert, without water for months on end. But sure enough, yesterday I looked up at the plants on my window sill in the kitchen, and there it was. A shriveled, limp, lifeless corpse that once was a beautiful flowering Christmas cactus.
I’m not your typical serial killer – I imagine that it would be pretty hard to profile me to determine my modus operandi. I really have no particular genus or species that I target. Everyone is fair game, which is what makes me so dangerous. In addition to this cactus, I’ve killed African violets, English ivy, and Boston ferns. I’ve murdered Strawberry begonias, Watermelon peperomia, and Grape ivy. I’d like to stop, but people keep buying me more plants. Why, people? Why? Don’t you get it? I am sick.
I have recently been thinking about ways that I could use my powers for good instead of evil, and possibly turn my kiss of death into a side business. It seems to me that maybe there’s a market for home hospice care for plants. When all hope is lost, when not even Miracle-Gro can perform a miracle, people can come to me. I certainly can’t save your ailing plants, but I know I can make them more comfortable while they’re dying.
Do you have a ficus infested with aphids? I’ll talk to her every day and tell her she’s lovely, even as she drops all her leaves. Have a jade plant suffering from terminal root rot? I’ll play soft music and read him the latest Dear Abby columns from the paper.
You see, I’m trying to change. I want to be rehabilitated, so I’m begging all of you. Friends, family – I know you mean well, but you have got to stop buying me plants. I cannot be trusted. I cannot be stopped. I will kill again. But if you’re interested in the home hospice deal, let me know. I’ll give you a 15% discount if you mention this blog.

Danke Schön

Danke schön, darling, danke schön. Thank you for all the joy and pain.
Joy and pain, indeed. Natasha has informed me that she plans to start taking German lessons. While I admire her desire to expose herself to a new language and raise her cultural awareness, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about her choice of German.
I suppose my attitude stems from my first, and only, experience with Germany, which came while I was studying in Paris during college. While most of our friends were wisely spending their winter breaks in southern Spain or Greece, my friends Mark, Brian and I decided to spend our vacation lounging on the sunny beaches of… Dresden. I can’t remember exactly why we chose Dresden as one of our stops, but I seem to recall that Brian was a big Kurt Vonnegut fan, and I think Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse Five while he was a POW in Dresden. Clearly an excellent logic to use when selecting your winter holiday hotspot.
In any case, our entire trip could be summed up in one sentence: Germany yelled at us for an entire week.
We started our trip in Frankfurt, which would have been great if we had been attending the dental convention, but it’s not exactly what you might call a tourist town. Particularly in January. While in Frankfurt, I bought my first and only souvenirs: a seven-foot long wool scarf and matching wool socks. It was close to sub-zero weather the entire week we were there, so the three of us spent most of our time trying to keep warm. At one point, we contemplated eating balls of suet from a bird feeder to try and keep our body temperatures up.
I’ll say this – I’m certain I would’ve enjoyed our trip much more if at least one of the three of us had known how to speak even a word of German. Fortunately, pretty much everyone under the age of 30 in Germany speaks flawless English. Our first encounter with the multilingual German youth came on the subway in Frankfurt. A teenage German boy heard us speaking English and said, “Excuse me, but vy vould choo come to Chermany in vinter?”
Because ve are, I mean we are morons, that’s why.
This nice German teen taught us how to say “Excuse me” in German, because we had a lot of trouble getting through the herds of people in the subway station. We never quite mastered the actual expression, but Mark noted that it sounded a lot like “chewing gum.” So, for the rest of the trip we screamed, “Chewing gum! Chewing gum!” whenever we had to cut through a crowd, and amazingly, it worked like a charm.
But then again, we also found that in Germany, if you say anything loudly enough and with enough authority in your voice, people figure out what you need. We learned how to count to three in German, so whenever we’d go to a bakery or a restaurant or a store, we would just scream “DREI!” and then point to whatever we wanted. Yes, this did help perpetuate the ugly American stereotype, but when you’re hungry, diplomacy takes a back seat. And we would at least throw in a shout of “BITTE!” and “DANKE!” for good measure.
Our next stop was Munich, which I must admit is really worth a trip to Germany on its own. That was by far the highlight of our trip, although it still continued our trend of being yelled at throughout an entire country. I’ve just never had the experience of having so many different people yell at me for such a long period of time.

The conductor on the train screamed at me because I forgot to give her my blanket earlier. The curator at the modern art museum yelled at me because I was leaning too close to a painting. The director of the youth hostel hollered at all three of us because we got into the wrong breakfast line. The manager at the Frankfurt Burger King screeched at us because we were drinking Jagermeister in the restaurant at noon after only buying a small Coke to split among the three of us. Okay, so maybe that one we deserved. But you see my point. Maybe it’s just that no matter what you say in German, it sounds like yelling.
Being on a tight student budget, we were hoping to eat as inexpensively as possible. But of course, we had to experience the true Bavarian beer hall, so we pooled our Deutschmarks together to buy what we hoped would be an amazing meal.
From our Let’s Go! Germany guidebook, we knew the German word for sausage, so armed with that knowledge, we felt we were ready for anything. What we didn’t anticipate, though, was that pretty much every food item in the entire country contains some sort of sausage. Veal sausage, pork sausage, blood sausage, beef sausage, duck sausage. There were fried sausage patties, boiled sausage links, sausage pancakes stuffed with sausage, veal sausage pastas with duck sausage cream sauce. For breakfast we were given liver sausage spread for our toast. No jam? How about just plain butter? No? Okay, pass the sausage, bitte. I can’t prove it, but I may have even eaten a sausage filled cookie. Fortunately, I’m told that Jagermeister serves as a natural blood thinner, so none of us suffered a major coronary before our Eurrail passes expired.
When we got to the beer hall, we couldn’t understand anything on the menu, except sausage. So of course, to play it safe, we ordered one sausage. Then we decided to make our other selections based on price. I excitedly pointed out some really inexpensive items to Brian and Mark, but got an angry look from the waiter when I tried to order them.
He just shook his head and screamed at me, “NEIN! NEIN! KINDER! KINDER!” and held his hand about three feet off the ground. As I looked back at the menu and saw a cartoon drawing of a little boy in lederhosen holding a lollipop, I quickly understood that I had ordered from the children’s menu.
I was now able to add Bavarian waiters to the growing list of Germans who had yelled at me.
Quickly recovering from our embarrassment, we decided to throw caution to the wind and just pick two random entrees for dinner. We picked one that sounded kind of familiar, and another that was the longest word on the menu. Mark looked up at the waiter and innocently said, “Is this a lot of food?” The waiter chuckled to himself and walked away. The three of us were working on polishing off the colossal beers that had arrived earlier, when the waiter returned with our order. He set down one plate with a four-inch long blood sausage, a cup of broth with one dumpling in it, and a bowl of green peas.
Then he walked off, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like “stupiden amerikanens.”
Now, although we were still a bit in shock from the ridiculous assortment of food in front of us, we all agreed that we had never tasted peas quite as amazing as these. I had also never eaten peas one at a time, but when you have just spent the last of your cash, your senses become heightened, and you begin to appreciate the little things in life.
Needless to say, after a quick stop at the cash machine, we were ever so happy to stumble across a McDonald’s, where we promptly ordered DREI! Biggen Mackens. I got a little misty eyed and homesick as the special sauce dripped all over my wool scarf. He would never admit it, but I was almost certain that I heard Brian humming “God Bless America” as he ate his fries.
So I guess maybe it’s a good thing that Natasha is taking German. This way, if I ever go back, I’ll be able to bring her along so she can translate the steady stream of insults lobbed at me by frustrated waiters and angry curators. But it’s only a matter of time before Nat starts screaming at me in tap class: “NEIN! NEIN mit da shufflen ballen changen!


Jenny, Jenny. You’re the girl for me. You don’t know me but you make me so happy. Jenny, I’ve got your number. I need to make you mine. Jenny, don’t change your number. 867-5309.
I think I’m being stalked by the Chicago Lyric Opera. It’s totally my fault. I brought this on myself a couple months ago. A while back, I received a postcard in the mail from the Opera promoting a drawing for free season tickets. I thought, “Free season tickets! Who deserves this more than a thirty-something unemployed tap dancing stay-at-home-mom-without-children? No one, that’s who!”
My mom and I used to go to the opera together, and it’s been years since I’ve gone, so I filled out the form and popped it in the mail. Now, I work(ed) in marketing, so of course I know that the reason organizations hold giveaways is to build their database of potential customers. But for some reason, my gut told me to register. My gut told me that I had a shot at winning those season tickets. I have learned to no longer trust my gut on such matters.
About two weeks after I mailed in my postcard, she started calling. I mistakenly answered her call the first time, and that’s when our rocky relationship began. Her name is Patricia. Patricia is an older woman, and from the South, or so I gather from her slight drawl. At first, I found it kind of endearing, but now it just grates on me. She’s very intelligent and worldly, clearly educated at the finest schools. She herself is an opera singer, which is why she’s so passionate about this season’s lineup.
Patricia knew so much about opera – more than anyone I had ever met. She had a way of making even the dourest of Wagner pieces sound absolutely enchanting. In addition to our love of opera, Patricia and I also shared a passion for great filmmakers, particularly Robert Altman. Patricia informed me that Robert Altman’s movie, A Wedding, has been refashioned into an opera, which just so happens to also be featured on this season’s schedule.
Patricia wanted to know if I was interested in purchasing some advance tickets for the 2004/2005 opera season. She assured me that it would be a season I’d never forget. So different from all the others. I told Patricia that I would need to check with my mother to see if she might want to attend the opera this year. At first, Patricia seemed a little hurt that I was letting my family dictate how our relationship progressed, but being from the South, she said she appreciated that I had a close relationship with my “momma.” I didn’t like the way Patricia called my mother “momma.” It would mark the beginning of the end.
Patricia asked when she could call me again. I told her I needed some time. At least a week. I was a little uncomfortable with how aggressive Patricia had become, so I lied and said my mother was out of town. I said I wouldn’t be able to discuss the opera with her until next week. I’m not sure if Patricia believed me or not, but she said that she’d call me the next week.
True to her word, Patricia called me the following Wednesday at 3:00, just like she promised me she would. We chit-chatted for a bit, and then Patricia asked how my “momma” was, and if I’d gotten her input yet. I told Patricia that we were interested in either Aida or Tosca, and asked what the price ranges were for first balcony seats. This is where our relationship started to sour.
I just wanted individual tickets, but Patricia told me that since those two performances are so popular, individual tickets would be hard to come by. I gave her eight alternate dates for each opera, but she still seemed to hesitate. Then I said I’d be open to mid-week performances, or even matinees, but that wasn’t good enough. Suddenly, it seemed like nothing I did was right. I started wondering where this had all gone so wrong.
Patricia told me that my best option was to purchase a small series. That way, although I’d be paying more, I’d get to see five operas at only a fraction of the individual ticket price. I told her I thought she was moving too fast. I didn’t understand why we needed to define our relationship in terms of “small series” at this stage. I was just looking for an individual ticket, and now she was pressuring me into some long-term commitment I wasn’t ready to make.
I told her that I would need to talk to my mother again to get her thoughts. Patricia snapped at me and asked if I needed my mother’s permission for everything. I said no, not everything, but this was a big decision, after all. I’ve never been in a small series arrangement before.
Patricia called me back the following week, and has called several times a week since then. She never leaves me a message, but I see her pop up on my caller ID. I know it’s cowardly on my part, but I’m just not ready to deal with her yet. I know when I tell her I don’t want a small series, and that I just want to stick with an individual performance, it’s going to start a whole argument again. I can hear her nagging already: “Do you realize how much money you could save by getting the small series? I just don’t understand you. I don’t even know who you are anymore! What, did your momma tell you to do that? When are you going to cut the apron strings and finally make a decision on your own?”
So this week I’m prepping myself for the inevitable. When she calls, this time I’ll pick up. I just need to be honest with her and tell her that it’s not her, it’s me. We’re just in two different places right now, and I’m not ready for a small series. I just hope we can still be friends.

Manic Monday

Six o’clock already. I was just in the middle of a dream. I was kissing Valentino by a crystal blue Italian stream. Well, it was Valentino, but it didn’t look like Valentino, y’know? I’m pretty sure it was actually the guy I interviewed with last week at Company Y, but in my dream I still knew it was Valentino. Anyway, we kissed. Weird, huh?

Ahhh… Monday. The dawn of a new day. Last week’s slate wiped perfectly clean. A fresh start. All is forgiven, most is forgotten. As I sat at my desk yesterday, trying to think of what to write this week, I was suddenly struck by a most brilliant idea, if I do say so myself. What this blog needs more than anything is a theme week! Something to give both direction and continuity to the next five entries. Given my current state of joblessness, it’s hard for me to come up with a theme that doesn’t at least somehow tie to my endless job search. And being the spiritual person that I am, I decided that my theme will revolve around the one thing I believe will truly help me to secure my dream job – karaoke.

Now, recognizing that not even a writer as skilled and clever as Erma Bombeck could craft five interesting entries about karaoke, I instead decided that this week’s entries will be inspired by karaoke. Each post will be related to a karaoke song that has particularly moved my audience. Sometimes to laughter. Sometimes to tears. Always to applause.

I’m certain that the collective power of five straight days of karaoke-inspired scriptures will move the job gods and goddesses to bestow upon me the perfect job offer. And perhaps a golden fleece. Which I will promptly pawn to pay for my September rent.

But now to this blog. Manic Monday. Why manic? I’ll tell you why. Last week was particularly trying in the employment arena. Try to stay with me: the job in Department A at Company Y fell through, although a new company, Company Z, has now entered the picture. Department B at Company Y might have a new position, but I would still need to interview ASAP with the VP of HR and the SVP’s of both Departments A and B at Company Y. I am anticipating a job offer from Company X, but I really want the job at either Company Y or Company Z far more than at Company X. So, if Company X makes me the offer this week, I have to stall them long enough to finish my second interviews with Company Y and Company Z, all the while being careful not to turn off Company X in case that ends up being my only option.

U C Y I’m stressed?

In the event that Company X makes me the job offer before I’ve heard back from Company Y and Company Z, I’ve devised an elaborate three-pronged approach to stalling them. I call it: Operation Tangled Web of Lies and Deceit. Or alternately: Operation This Could Potentially Backfire and Leave Jenny with No Job Offers At All.

The plan is far too complicated and top-secret for me to reveal in this forum, but if it works, I will most certainly patent it and sell it to for a hefty fee. Then I will buy back my golden fleece and parade it around town to all the companies who snubbed me. In your face, Recruiter Man! Oh no you di’int! Oh no you di’int say my experience was not relevant enough! Who’s wearing the fleece now, sucka?!

Well, now that I’ve brought you all up to speed, I really must go. I have a multitude of things to accomplish today in preparation for this exciting and unprecedented theme week. And in a matter of hours, I will be launching Stage One of Operation TWOLAD. I can feel it, friends. This is the week. Something really good is going to happen to me this week. Or maybe something really bad. But for sure, something is going to happen to me this week. And it will be really something. Mark my words.

In closing, I’d like to just say that these are the days when you wish your bed was already made. Yup, it’s just another manic Monday.

A Run of Bad Luck

As I tried to get out of bed this morning, I found that I couldn’t move my legs. My torso moved just fine, but my legs just lay there, limp and motionless. Immediately, I thought, “Ohmigod! It’s the polio. I must have caught the polio when I was down by the lake yesterday! Dammit. How the heck am I going to fit an iron lung in this apartment?!”
But then I remembered that two days ago, I was struck by the unfamiliar urge to go for a jog, partly to relieve stress, and partly in preparation for the 5K Run/Walk I somehow let Natasha rope me into. The race isn’t until mid September, so people keep telling me I have plenty of time to train. Unfortunately, these same people also keep telling me that training for a 5K involves more than buying a new pair of Adidas running shoes, donning a hot pink velour Juicy Couture track suit, and visualizing myself crossing the finish line in slow motion amidst hordes of onlookers chanting my name.
So with this race looming over me, and after falling into a particularly deep unemployment induced funk this week, I decided that I needed to go for a quick run to blow off some steam. I’ve always heard that exercise is really good for stress, because it releases something called endodontists, which I think relieve pain. Especially during a root canal.
So I started to throw on my jog attire and bolt out the door when I thought, “Wait. Aren’t people supposed to stretch their muscles before running?” Fortunately, I quickly remembered hearing on the news a few days earlier that researchers have debunked the myth that stretching prior to exercise prevents injury, which made me really happy since I was certain that this exercise mood would only last about six minutes. I knew that if I had to actually stretch first, by the time I got done trying to touch my toes, I would have changed my mind and settled for watching the latest installment of Big Brother 5 instead.
As I stepped outside, the dark skies looked a little ominous, but I knew that I wasn’t planning on staying out very long. I was going for quality, not quantity. I started out strong – shoulders back, long strides, chest out, measured breathing. This lasted approximately two blocks, at which point my left arm dropped to hold my ribs, my shoulders slumped, and I started to hyperventilate. I actually started to feel a little dizzy, and looked around to see if there were people behind me to help out just in case I collapsed on the sidewalk. There weren’t, so I knew I was on my own.
It was at that point that I decided to focus on the “walk” part of the 5K Run/Walk. Somebody has to do it, right? So I alternated walking for five minutes, then walking slightly faster for five minutes, then back to walking for five minutes. Just as I really started to find my stride, I saw a few flashes of lightning in the distance. It seemed really far away, so I wasn’t overly concerned.
I felt a slight mist of rain falling down on me. As the first few drops fell, I thought, “Hey, this is nice! It’s cooling me off, and when I go back to my apartment, my neighbors will think I’m all sweaty from some marathon run.” I mean, if I can’t actually be athletic, I might as well try to at least look the part.
But then I heard it – a crack of thunder so loud that I actually felt it in my feet. And without any other warning, it came. The skies opened up and brought down the heaviest, most pounding, torrential rain I’d ever witnessed. There was nowhere for me to go at that point. I was about six blocks from home, so I just started taking shortcuts through alleys to get home as quickly as possible.
In my haste to quickly act on my sudden urge to exercise, I decided against putting in my contact lenses. This would prove to be a fatal error in judgment. As I schlepped through the alleys, my glasses were completely fogged up and useless, and my eyes were burning from what I can only assume was a steady stream of dissolved hair products dripping into them. I wasn’t even sure if I was on my own block. I just kept pressing the alarm button on my car’s remote in order to try and find my house by sound.
There was a river of garbage rushing through the alley, and at one point, a soggy newspaper and a banana peel had wrapped around my ankles, almost tripping me up. Although my vision was blurred, I’m pretty certain I saw a rat kayaking down the alley on an old milk carton. And he was beating me.
I didn’t need this. All I wanted was to beat the blues and join the fight in America’s battle against obesity, and I ended up drenched to the bone and dragging a trail of Doritos bags and twine behind me. Unless I could somehow convince my neighbors that I had just completed the swimming leg of a triathlon through the Chicago River, my hopes of tricking them into thinking I was athletic were pretty much shot.
So here I am. Unable to walk, and barely able to wheel myself over to the computer in order to type this. But I guess I’m one step closer to being heart healthy, and that’s really what matters. I just wish those endodontists I’ve heard so much about would finally kick in.

Dog Days of Summer

It has almost been two years since I moved to Chicago, so I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on some of the high points of my time here. When I first moved to the city, I put together a list of all the things I wanted to do, key attractions I wanted to visit, important experiences I wanted to… experience. And all in all, while I’ve still barely scratched the surface of what Chicago has to offer, I’m pretty pleased with my progress in accomplishing my list.

Let’s see just a sampling:

  • Take a bartending class – check!
  • Learn to tap dance – check!
  • Spend an hour in sensory deprivation tank – check! (I’ll tell you about that someday)
  • Discover Chicago’s best hot dog – work in progress!
  • See what a Chicago Police Department looks like at 2:45 am – check!
  • Attend dog show – check!

Ahhh, yes. The dog show. Of the vast array of activities on my list, I think this was the most highly anticipated of them all. I remember it like it was yesterday: I was eating lunch at Boston Market, reading the Chicago Tribune, when I saw it – a quarter page ad for the upcoming dog show at McCormick Place Convention Center!
I immediately whipped out my cell phone and called Natasha.
“Nat. It’s Jenny. What are you doing on March 6th? It’s a Saturday.”
“March 6th? Uhhh… I’m not sure. Hang on – let me ch-“
“Don’t bother. If you’ve got plans, cancel them. We’re doing it. We’re going to a dog show! Just listen to this: ‘Thousands of dogs, hundreds of different breeds, agility competitions, chance to speak with breeders…’ Did you hear that? Agility competitions! I’ve never been so excited!”
“You sold me. Count me in! I’ll tell Seamus the good news!”
So there we were – McCormick Place Convention Center. The International Kennel Club Annual Dog Show. It was everything I had ever dreamed of… or was it?

Do you know how sometimes you build something up for so long that the reality cannot possibly live up to the fantasy you’ve created? No, I’m not talking about my job search, although you make an astute analogy. I don’t know, I guess maybe I just had too many images of the Westminster Dog Show and scenes from Best in Show running through my head before going to a real dog show.
Maybe we were there on the not-so-fancy dog day, but it just seemed like every single dog was a golden retriever. Nothing against retrievers – heck, they’re really cute, friendly dogs, good with kids. But I see them all the time. Where were the afghan hounds? The dachshunds? The Russian wolfhounds? The Lhasa Apsos? Stage after stage was filled with golden retrievers. I mean, how can you even tell golden retrievers apart? They look absolutely identical. It wasn’t like one trainer was bringing out the three-legged golden that he rescued from the Humane Society. That actually might have been interesting. For a while, I thought that maybe I had the competition all wrong – maybe it wasn’t the dogs that were being judged, but the trainers. Maybe the dogs were just there to lead them around. At least there was some diversity in the trainers.
When it comes right down to it, I guess I really wanted a scene. I wanted to see trainers sabotaging one another. I wanted to witness an owner burst into tears as her pomeranian lost out to a pekinese. Where was it? Where was the drama?
I asked that question just a bit too soon. Our first taste of dog show drama came after Natasha, Seamus and I determined that we had seen enough identical retrievers trotting around in circles. We took a seat in the bleachers to watch a little of the agility competition – I had seen similar competitions on TV and was amazed at how talented these dogs were. Running through tunnels, balancing on balls, climbing up ladders, mastering rudimentary sign language – it was mind boggling!
Well, the agility course at McCormick Place left a little something to be desired. It looked kind of like a haphazard jungle gym that you might have played in as a kid at your dad’s company picnic. But, I was keeping an open mind. The first round began with the A-list dogs – the border collies. These dogs were born to run obstacle courses. One at a time, on the judge’s command, the dogs leapt out of the starting gate, flew over hurdle after hurdle, raced through the treacherous “weave poles,” and then sprinted to the finish.
After a few rounds of the really talented, speedy dogs, the judges would do a round of the slower, smaller dogs. It was actually pretty charming to see these short-legged pugs trying to work their way over the hurdles, which had been lowered substantially to accommodate their tiny little bodies. These dogs would just half-heartedly trot back and forth through the weave poles while their eager trainers would cheer them on with squeaky toys and encouraging shouts of “Get the squirrely! C’mon Roosevelt! Go get the squirrely!”
But the crowning glory, and the drama, arrived when one trainer brought out an enormous sheepdog. They had to pull back the dog’s hair with a big barrette so he could actually see the obstacle course. As this colossal beast lumbered his way over the first jump, he slowed down a bit, and then just stepped over the second jump. Then he stopped. Right in the middle of the course. A hush swept over the crowd, which was quickly replaced by our collective gasp as the dog – how can I put this delicately? – took a huge dump in the middle of the floor. Oh the humiliation! The trainer just looked away in horror as some staff members handed her a plastic bag, some disinfectant, a bucket, and her self respect.
At Westminster, something tells me they hire people to clean up dog poo.
This put a bit of a damper on our enjoyment of the agility competition, so the three of us started to wander over to the grooming area, where we could get up close and personal with the dogs as their trainers were shampooing, blow-drying, crimping, and powdering these championship dogs.
Seamus seemed unusually excited at this opportunity, and it wasn’t until it was too late that I discovered why. It seems that Seamus had been trying to earn extra income by moonlighting as a talent scout for commercials, and talented dogs are in high demand these days. While Nat and I were simply there for the sheer appreciation of canine beauty, Seamus had an agenda – to meet his next superstar. Apparently one of his clients was on the short list for call-backs as Reese Witherspoon’s miniature Chihuahua in Legally Blonde 2, so he was pretty bitter when he lost out to that hack that played Bruiser.
In any case, it’s kind of an unwritten rule that you don’t bypass the owners by speaking directly to the dogs, but Seamus was never one for following rules. While Nat and I were oohing and ahhing over some adorable 12-week old pug puppies, I turned around to see a security guard asking Seamus for some ID. Apparently, Seamus had been caught handing out his business cards to some of the more prominent pooches. My only souvenir from the event is the image below that was captured by the security cameras just as he was soliciting a prize toy poodle.

Seamus meets a new client Posted by Hello
Needless to say, Seamus’ indiscretion got us thrown out of the dog show, and blacklisted by the kennel club community. I learned a lot from this experience, though. I learned that you have to be careful about building things up too much in your head, because you often set yourself up for disappointment. I learned that if a dog doesn’t want to jump over a stick, maybe there’s a good reason. And I learned that when I go to the Cat Show in December, I most definitely will not be inviting Seamus.

Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves

I know I said I wouldn’t post any more entries about my job search until I actually landed a job, but as you’ve probably learned by now, I cannot be trusted. And forgiveness is the foundation of all solid relationships, so I feel we’re off to a good start.

I am vying for two positions right now – one at Company A and one at Company B, but for the purpose of this blog, let’s call them Company X and Company Y. Company X informed me that I’m now one of only two candidates being considered for the position. Calculus never was my strong suit in school, but I’m pretty sure that means I have a 33.3% chance of getting this job.

At Company X, I have already been called back for six different interviews, and they are proposing a seventh and final round to help them determine the best candidate. I say no. No more. There’s nothing that either of us can say that hasn’t already been said. I’ve got my interview rap down to such a science that I’m answering their questions before they even ask them. I even started bringing my own laughtrack to accompany my impromptu jokes. This has got to stop.

But I do understand and appreciate their need for a tie-breaker, so last week I emailed them my idea. What I am envisioning is something a little more definitive – something that will truly prove our commitment to their company. My recommendation is this: I propose we hold a winner-take-all Beyond Thunderdome type cage match. I don’t think that a fight to the death would be legally sanctioned in Illinois, nor do I particularly want this job that desperately, but at the very least, we should fight until someone cries “Uncle.” Or just cries.

Now, I’ve seen my competition, and he did look like one of those lanky, wiry guys who might be surprisingly strong, but I still think I may be able to outwit him. For one thing, it’s highly unlikely that he will be anticipating a cage match, so I immediately have the element of surprise. In addition, I’m older and more cunning. I have been hunting for a job for a long, long time now, and I have a little something I like to call the Eye of the Tiger working for me.

I can see it now: fake left, rush right! A strategically placed oil slick on the ground and BAM! - I’m one half-nelson away from that job!

I’m sure some of you are saying, “But Jenny! Violence isn’t the solution!”

Well, it may not be the solution, but it is the answer. I’m tired, people. Tired of talking. Tired of selling myself. Tired of explaining to prospective employers how the daily demands of keeping up a blog are even more taxing than most jobs. I’m done with words. Now is the time for action.

The HR team at Company X hasn’t been returning my calls ever since I sent them the suggestion for the cage match, so I assume it’s just taking them a little time to find the right venue. There aren’t a lot of post-apocalyptic fighting cages left in Chicago since Mayor Daley converted most of the original ones into “green spaces.” Not to get overly political here, but he’s the most anti-cage match politician I’ve ever run across.

In any case, I’m just focusing all my energy this week into training for my upcoming interview/battle. As soon as Company X calls, I’ll be ready!