The Spitting Image

Picture this: October 7th, 72˚ and sunny, slight breeze, one of the last nice days before the brutal Midwestern winter takes hold. Before I head back into the office after lunch, I decide to collect my thoughts while leaning on the railing and looking out at the crystal brown waters of the Chicago River.
Over to my right, I notice three nice looking young professional men – probably in their late twenties or early thirties – who seem to be enjoying this setting as much as I am right now. As I’m watching one of the last sightseeing boats of the season cruise by, my peaceful afternoon is disrupted by a horrific sound. It’s the unmistakable sound of someone “hawking” and then spitting into the water.
I don’t turn to see where the sound came from, because I already know. Okay, maybe he has a cold. This behavior is still unacceptable, but I’ll excuse it just this once.
Then I hear laughter, more hawking from multiple sources, and more spitting.
All three of these grown men wearing important ID badges and dress pants and ties are spending the last ten minutes of their lunch hour watching each other spit over the railing. I try to ignore them and am fairly successful until I hear one of them say, “Dude! See if you can hit that duck!”
I look down and, to my horror, see an innocent tiny brown duck desperately paddling her way toward our side of the river. Turn back now, little duck! Turn back!
This is not possible. I cannot be standing next to three men who probably have MBA’s from fancy colleges and who earn $100k a year at their financial services company and who have important jobs where people call them boss and who are currently having a contest to see who can spit on a duck.
But alas, ‘tis true. I leave before they succeed in hitting their target, but not before shooting them all the dirtiest “What in god’s name is wrong with you pathetic losers?” look, as well as slipping them a minor Sicilian curse as I walk by. Their tongues should be swelling up. Right. About. Now.
This is an alarming trend – look around you – people are spitting at an unprecedented rate. And it’s now an equal opportunity filthy habit: I see men, women, children, grandparents – all spitting their way through the day.
What is wrong with these people? Either learn how to swallow, or get that post nasal drip problem looked at by an expert, pronto! You’re making me sick, people!
I’m only days away from calling in some favors and forming an anti-spitting vigilante street gang. You do not want to mess around with my homies. They catch you spitting and not only will they politely ask that you wipe it up with an anti-bacterial handiwipe which they will provide free of charge, but they will also give you a plastic bib that says, “I’m a big drooling baby. Spank me.” Wearing the bib is a totally voluntary thing, but you should see the look on people’s faces when we hand it to them. You can totally see that they feel ashamed right before they throw the bib on the ground and spit on it.
Okay, so I didn’t say that these were tough vigilantes, but cut me some slack. I’m a tap dancing cat owner from a small town in Wisconsin. Exactly what kind of favors did you think I could call in?

Ask the Professor V

Just when I was ready to retire Ask the Professor, I received a package that, like all good mail, both intrigued and disturbed me. It was an unmarked brown padded envelope that contained a small voodoo doll, complete with pins and an instruction booklet.

Also enclosed was a typewritten letter with the following request for Professor Plum (Note: I had to edit the letter because it rambled on for two pages, named names, and was clearly the product of a slightly unstable individual):

Dear Professor Plum:

I left a very unpleasant work environment earlier this year, and although I have come to terms with my anger through meditation and aromatherapy, several of my co-workers who also left have not been able to overcome their feelings of hatred toward our former employer. I want to help them out, but I’m not sure of the best way to do that.

I came across this voodoo kit and am wondering if you think it would be a healthy way for them to deal with the anger they feel. I would hate to inadvertently contribute to the rage they already harbor. I have enclosed a sample kit so that you can get a real feel for what they would be using. I look forward to your response.

- Wanting to Help, Cambridge, MA

Dear Wanting to Help

Although mildly disturbed by the fact that you somehow discovered my home address, I am glad that you decided to write in. But before I get to the question of your former coworkers, I want to back up a bit. Although you say that you have come to terms with your anger, the fact that you’re sending voodoo dolls to strangers tells me that you might have a little self-exploration to do.

As you know, I have a PhD in jobology, not to mention over 48 years of management experience. So with that sort of résumé, you didn’t really think I would fall for the, “my friend has a problem” routine, did you? Let’s just call a spade a spade: by “friend,” you mean you; by “meditation,” you mean vodka-induced blackouts; and by “aromatherapy,” you mean recreational drugs. Am I right?

Look, I’m here to help, but don’t yank my chain. Professor Plum has been around the block a few times in her day.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, you definitely came to the right person with this problem. So you want to relieve some of your pent up rage by stabbing sharp pins into an effigy of your old boss. But you’re also afraid that if you allow yourself to actually focus some of these violent emotions outward into the universe, they may consume your life, and you might end up on the ten o’clock news wearing fatigues and camped out in a clock tower somewhere near Lubbock, TX. Sound pretty close?

Well let me calm those fears once and for all. There is no better way to deal with rage – particularly corporate rage – than to release it out onto others. Keeping anger deep inside you is highly counterproductive and can be very damaging to the stomach lining. Once you let it out, a sense of peace and resolve will immediately pass over you. Trust me on this one.

So in short, releasing your anger is good, but I’m not sure you’ve got the right tools for the task at hand. In the immortal words of former president Ben Franklin, “A job worth doing is worth doing right.” Anyone smart enough to discover electrolysis is smart enough to dish out job advice, I always say. So if you are going to open up your hate valves, which, incidentally, are located slightly below your pituitary glands, you need to have the right tools. And trust me, no mass-produced voodoo kit made by Hasbro is going to do the job.

I’m not saying that I have any first-hand experience in this area, but I guess if I wanted to make my former boss feel some of the pain he/she inflicted upon me for so many years, I might first book a ticket to New Orleans under an assumed name. Then I might go to a taxidermist at 167 Bourbon Street. Once I found the shop, I might want to wander over to the back entrance, knock on the door four times quickly, and say “I’m here to have my gator stuffed” to the woman who answered the door. Her name might be Madame LeChevre. If you happen to have a lock of your former boss’ hair, I’d suggest bringing it along. For a small fee, my guess is that Madame LeChevre might be inclined to stitch you up a real special voodoo doll that could actually do some damage.

That’s just something I might try if I were you. Hope all works out well for “your friends” – I’ll be waiting on pins and needles to hear the outcome. Pins and needles! Get it? And to think I almost retired!

A Very Special Run Jen Run

I’m really getting worried about my roommate, Judy. She’s just not herself lately. She’s moody, constantly yelling at me, never wants to hang out anymore. I was talking to her brother the other day and he said that she’s been really weird with him as well. Apparently they used to get along really well, but now he said it seems like he can’t do anything right around her.
She’s been sleeping all day, pacing around the apartment at night. I just don’t know what’s going on. The scariest thing is that I’ve caught her throwing up in the bathroom a couple of times. And once she just threw up right in the living room in front of me.
I think Judy might be bulimic.
Oh yeah, did I mention? Judy’s a cat. She’s Siamese, a breed known for its slender physique, but I think maybe she has been taking the pursuit of a perfect 10 body a little too far.
I know that I’m at least partly to blame. Ever since I started working again, I haven’t had much time for her. I’m sure she’s tried to talk to me about her problems, but I was too busy watching Survivor or reading blogs to listen. And it probably doesn’t help that there have been so many extreme makeover type shows on TV. After a while, even a trim feline like Judy is bound to develop self-esteem issues.
In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have bought that 2004 Cat Fancy Desk Calendar. I like to look at pictures of cats wearing sunglasses – I mean, who doesn’t? – but I never thought about the impact it might have on my own cats. What kind of message am I sending them when I make such a big fuss over a bunch of airbrushed pictures of cats I don’t even know, all gussied up and hamming for the camera? God, what have I done?!
I probably wouldn’t have even found out about her disease if I hadn’t walked in on Judy in mid-binge. On Sunday night, I heard a strange rustling coming from the kitchen, and when I went to see what all the ruckus was about, I saw Judy’s slender tail sticking out of the cupboard. As I went over to get a closer look, I found her in the middle of eating almost an entire box of pumpkin shaped Halloween marshmallow Peeps. An entire box! I didn’t even get to try them yet! I’ve never even tasted the pumpkin shaped ones before! I had just cut open the plastic wrap a few hours earlier to let them dry out a little (that’s the way I like them).
She turned around as soon as she heard me screaming, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! Not my Peeeeeeeeeeps!!”
Judy tried to act nonchalant, but her face said it all – orange marshmallow sticking to her whiskers, blue-eyed guilt at being caught in the act. The one thing I’ve always read about bulimics is that the binge and purge cycle causes a great deal of shame, which throws them into a deeper depression, further fueling the disease.
I cannot let Judy spiral downward any further than she already has. So as soon as this year is over, I’m going to throw out my 2004 Cat Fancy calendar. But maybe I’ll just keep the June picture as a motivational tool for all three of us. I think we all have a little healing to do, and this may just give us the inspiration we need.
Oh, June. I don’t know if I could have made it through all my months of unemployment if it hadn’t been for him. Every time I felt like I couldn’t go on, I’d just flip open that calendar to June, and somehow I just knew that everything was going to be all right. I mean, if that little guy can make it, then there’s hope for us all. Don’t you give up, little buddy! Hang in there!

You Down With T.A.P.? Yeah, You Know Me!

New job.
New attitude.
New hair color.
New tap dance class.
My friend, Doubting Seamus, was eagerly anticipating the start of the next tap class so that he could ridicule Natasha and me when we didn’t sign up. After he dropped out, and Nat and I decided to take a brief hiatus from tapping, Seamus was positive that we would never return. He just didn’t believe in himself and his manliness enough to stick it out for another session, and he wanted to bring us down with him.
I’m not angry, though. I pity him. It saddens me to see such raw talent as his go untapped, so to speak. But as countless episodes of Dr. Phil have taught me, you have to want to be helped before you can accept assistance from anyone. Once he has seen the error of his ways, Nat and I will be there to help him with his Maxie Ford combinations.
But getting back to the first tap class – Nat and I were a little hesitant going in because we never told Teacher we were taking a break. We weren’t sure what kind of reception we would receive.
Would she snub us?
Would she welcome us?
Would she remember us?
As we cautiously entered the studio, dusty shoes in hand, we were pleased to see several familiar faces. And when Teacher came in, her usual fifteen minutes late, she greeted us both with a huge smile and a, “Hey! They’re back!”
Everything was going to be just fine.
In addition to the four or five “regulars,” there were also about five new students in the class. Gosh. It seems like just yesterday that I was one of those awkward, needy Tap I graduates, trying to keep time with all the Tap II pros.
We started out with the usual tap bar exercises to warm up our ankles. Then, Teacher surprised us by diving right into some much more advanced moves.
Single double time step.
Double triple time step.
Soft shoe essence with break.
Grapevine combination.
Nat and I actually surprised ourselves by effortlessly falling back into these routines we hadn’t practiced for two months. Hey! It really is just as easy as riding a log. Or falling off a bike.
Teacher could see that some of the newbies were struggling, so she asked Nat and me to switch places with them so they were closer to her. Then, Teacher asked me to step in front of the class and demonstrate a few different steps while she went to her car to get some more CD’s.
“See how Jenny does the military cramp rolls? She’s not dragging her feet – watch her ankles. Good! Good!”
This positive reinforcement and unexpected position of authority triggered something inside me. Suddenly, I was drunk with power. As soon as she walked out the door, I grabbed Teacher’s cane and started pounding out the rhythm on the floor.
“Come on people! With the beat! You sound like a herd of elephant right now!”
The newbies alternately stared at the floor, and at my feet, which were just a blaze of shuffles and flaps. They were intimidated and intrigued all at once.
“New girl! Yes, you in the back! Look. If you can’t tell the difference between a shim-sham and a flim-flam, I hear there’s still room in Tap I! This is embarrassing! The holiday pageant is coming up in less than eight weeks and not one of you knows the ‘Happy Feet’ routine yet! I hope you like disappointing orphans and senior citizens!”
Just as I was about to have them all drop and give me twenty, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror:
My knuckles, white from clenching Teacher’s cane.
Little spit bubbles forming in the corners of my mouth.
My eyes tightened and wrinkled with frustration.
The thick veins bulging from my forehead.
Oh god. I’m her. I’ve become that girl. I am Midge. The most hated of all tap students. What have I done?
So right there, in the middle of a flawless Cincinnati, I dropped the cane, grabbed my bag, and ran out of the studio. I’m not sure how Nat made it home that night since I drove, but I had to get out of there to collect my thoughts and lower my blood pressure.
I’m still planning on going back this week, but this time, I’m going to lay low. Teacher’s going to have to burden someone else with the job of demonstrating for the class. I clearly cannot be trusted with such a huge responsibility. At least not until I make it to Tap III.

By Doze Id All Ztuffed Ub

My head is pounding.

I’ve gone through two boxes of Kleenex in two days.

I’m popping chewable Vitamin C pills like they’re peanut M&M’s.

My throat is so scratchy that I sound like Brenda Vaccaro’s chain-smoking brother.

It’s only my second week on the new job, and I’m pretty sure I have SARS.

It would appear that after four months of near isolation, spent socializing with no one except my two cats, my two friends, and my mailman, my body’s tolerance for foreign germs has dangerously plummeted.

Now, as I squeeze into overcrowded train cars each day, breathing stale air, clutching damp poles, and sitting on seats that are the equivalent of vinyl Petri dishes, my immune system is being overwhelmed. I thought I was being careful. I wash my hands about fifteen times a day. I sterilized my new phone and keyboard at work before using them. I make people use Purell before I allow them to shake my hand. Yet still, here I sit, hopped up on Theraflu and Echinacea.

When I had to cancel my dinner plans with Natasha last night due to the onset of double vision, she got all Susan Powter on my ass: “Of course you’re sick! You’re weak because you don’t exercise! You need to get out more! You don’t see Seamus and me getting sick! We run 5K’s! We drink Vitamin Water! You’re like the boy in the bubble! Stop the insanity!”

At first, I was offended by her mockery of my malaise. But then I started to think about what she was trying to tell me. Sure it was tough love, but she was trying to help me out. She really did make a good point. Maybe I did need to take charge of my life and stop the insanity.

So I’m currently researching this whole “bubble” suggestion that Nat gave me. Why not a bubble? I recall seeing nothing in the dress code policy prohibiting giant plastic germ suits. I think as long as I don’t wear cutoff shorts or open toed sandals underneath it, I should be just fine.

In fact, through the magic of Google, I just found out that Land’s End now makes a business casual giant plastic germ suit (currently available in Melon, Nude, and Pewter), which I plan on ordering as soon as I can find my credit card underneath this colossal pile of Kleenex. I just hope it gets here before flu season.