LiePod, or How an Apple Sealed Her Fate

Apple equals Temptation equals Sin equals Satan. Why did this simple equation escape me for so long?
I just wanted to spend time with my friends and have fun this weekend. My job has been hectic, my apartment got robbed – I was looking for a mindless distraction. I just never thought I would be witness to Roma’s fall from grace.
This weekend, I went to Milwaukee to visit some old friends, and attend a marathon poetry reading (yes, my life is both wild and glamorous). We decided to kill time by heading out to the mall for some impulse shopping. For me, impulse shopping typically means spending $18 on some Aveda shampoo that smells really nice and makes my hair shiny. For my friend Roma, it meant much, much more.
After a quick run through Pottery Barn, Roma innocently asked me if I wanted to pop into the Apple store while we were at the mall to check out the iPods. Her sister just bought a sleek green iPod mini, so she was thinking about getting one, too.
The store was absolutely packed – every station was full of people typing and clicking and mousing and thumbing all the sexy Apple products. Within minutes, I found myself palming two iPods simultaneously – the mini and the regular. It was hypnotic. Lithe young sales associates in tight black T-shirts with iPod Shuffles seductively draped around their necks snaked their way through the crowd, ensuring that our every desire was being fulfilled. They held the answers to all our questions:

  • But how many songs will it hold?
  • And will it play The Sims?
  • Then how much is the mini-Mac?
  • Well what does the upgrade cost?
  • So does this come in tangerine?

Customers were following the sales people from station to station like timid art lovers hovering around a docent, eager to glean whatever details they could without actually having to ask the questions themselves.
But Roma was no shy patron of the arts. Though she led me to believe we had entered the Garden of Apple on a whim, Roma walked through those heavenly doors with a purpose. She toyed with the iPod for a few minutes, feigning interest in it long enough to get the sales associate’s attention.
When our twenty-something sales person approached, Roma moved in close to him, and casually draped her hand across the keyboard of the shiny white iBook.
“So, I see you were looking at the iPod. Are there any questions I can answer for you?”
“Well, actually, I’m more interested in getting a laptop. What can you tell me about the iBook?”
“Depending on what your needs are, the iBook is an outstanding choice. But I must admit that my personal favorite is the PowerBook. I own one myself.”
“The PowerBook? Tell me more.”
I stepped back as the sales person told Roma the story of the Book of Power, and all its advanced functionality. He leaned in close to her as he showed her how to build presentations using Keynote, and how to edit photos with iPhoto. They rocked and swayed together as he pulled up GarageBand 2 and demonstrated how Roma could create her own music.
“I think this has everything I could ever need in a laptop, and so much more. But tell me, does it come with MS Office already installed?”
“No, the Office Suite of software is not included. That would be an extra fee.”
“I see. And how much does the software cost?”
“Well, Office is a bit expensive. It’s about $300. Unless you’re a teacher, because then we can sell you the teacher’s edition, which is only $150. Are you a teacher?”
I glanced over at Roma, and saw a face I didn’t recognize. A half-grin crept up the left side of her face, and her eyes were as black as night. She turned to me slowly, turned back to the sales person, and I watched the tip of her tongue as it formed the words, “Yes. Yes, I am a teacher.”
My mouth dropped open, as if words were trying to escape, but nothing would come out. I stood there silently, while my friend looked into the eyes of this fresh-faced college boy and hissed out a blatant lie.
I waited silently for a few more minutes as the sales person ran through all of the other options that Roma might want to consider, at which point Roma told him she would need a few minutes to make her decision. Before we left, she asked if she could have his card – she wanted to make sure he got credit for the sale.
“Oh, sure. But just so you know, we don’t work on commission here. Although my manager does like to keep track of who we’re helping. Here’s my card.”
Lucas Young, Sales Associate.
Roma snatched the card from Lucas’ hand, led me out of the store by the arm, and took me to the Cinnabon to get a Coke. Still stunned by her lie, I had yet to speak. After we sat down for a minute, and the caffeine and sugar started to hit my bloodstream, I was able to think clearly once again.
“Roma, what the hell just happened in there? You told me you wanted a $250 iPod. Now you’re buying a $2500 laptop? And you’re not a teacher!”
“Oh Jenny, grow up, will you? Why would I want a silly little iPod when I could have the PowerBook G4? Did you see the screen on that thing? It’s magnificent! Brushed aluminum alloy exterior, legendary SuperDrive, built in AirPort Extreme, and .Mac pre-installed? He made a web page in 20 seconds right before our very eyes, Jenny! Were you even watching?!”
“But… you said you were a teacher! That’s just not true!”
“Look, he wanted me to say that. I only gave him what he wanted. And who really gets hurt? I don’t think Bill Gates is going to miss that $150 for MS Office.”
“Roma, that’s not the point! You have a perfectly good pc at home – why do you need to buy an Apple? Your dad told you never to get an Apple – none of the software is compatible!”
“Jenny, my father doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Have you seen the Apples? They’re glorious! They’re so much better than any pc I’ve ever seen. He probably just didn’t want me to get one because he knows how wonderful they are, and wants them all to himself.”
“That’s crazy talk! He just doesn’t want you to waste your money.”
“Look, I’m getting an Apple. And so are you. You need one, too. We’re all going to get Apples.”
“I don’t need one! I’m still digging myself out of unemployment debt, and I just got robbed. Plus, I just bought a new pc less than a year ago!”
“Yes, but you don’t have a laptop, now, do you?”
“Stop it! I don’t want the Apple! If you want one, go ahead and get an Apple. But leave me out of this!”
Roma and I went back to the Apple store so she could seal the deal. She found Lucas back by the accessory section, straightening out the boxes of iPod cases. Roma told him that she was ready for the Apple, so we got in line.
Lucas came back from the stockroom with a huge grin on his face:
“I have good news! Since you’re a teacher, not only can I give you a discount on the MS Office, but we also offer an educator discount on the laptop and accessories. I’ll just need to see an ID that indicates that you’re a teacher.”
My eyes widened. Roma’s eyes tightened. Lucas just stared blankly.
“Well, I don’t think I have it with me, but let me just check.”
I watched in horror as Roma pulled out her wallet and pretended to actually search for a nonexistent identification card for her fictitious teaching job. She flipped through card after card – credit cards, Blockbuster cards, Starbucks cards, library cards. She even looked twice, for effect.
“Nope, I’m afraid I don’t have my new one yet.”
“Hmm. Well, let me go ask the manager if there’s anything we can do.”
My stomach started to churn, and I had to walk away. I pretended to be fascinated by the Epson Stylus printers/scanners, but really just wanted to escape from this den of lies. From the corner of my eye, I saw Lucas walking back to the cash register.
“Great news! My manager said that we don’t need your ID. I’ll just need to know the school that you teach at and what course you teach.”
Roma licked her lips and, without missing a beat, said, “Alverno College. I teach Spanish.”
She somehow even managed to make up the right zip code for the school. Apparently, Lucas bought it, because Roma walked out of the Apple store with her new PowerBook, and a nice educator discount, to boot.
I was silent during the entire ride home – I just didn’t know what to say. My friend sold her soul for an Apple. And I just stood by and watched it happen. But even worse than my silence is that fact that since I got home, all I can think of is, “God, do I want an Apple!”

The Beginning of the End: A Play in One Act

[Scene: a January evening on a crowded train in Chicago. Curly haired woman boards train and sits behind a man wearing an orange hat. Man is intently reading a book.]
Curly haired woman: Hi, honey – I was hoping I’d see you tonight. You look good. Your hair’s getting long in the back – I like the way it kind of curls up over your orange hat. I hope you haven’t been eating ramen noodles every night – you seem a little thin.
Curly haired woman: Orangehat, I want to talk to you about our relationship, but before you say anything, I need you to just hear me out. There’s just so much that I want to say to you right now, and I know if you jump in, I won’t be able to get it all out.
[Curly haired woman takes deep breath and pauses to collect thoughts.]
Curly haired woman: I miss you, Boo. I mean… I miss us. The way we used to be, you know? God, things were so good before, weren’t they? I used to feel I could tell you anything, but now it’s like we have nothing to say to each other.
Curly haired woman: O., I guess what I’m trying to say is that this separation just isn’t working for me. I thought that some time apart might help us figure things out, but I don’t feel like you’re really trying to make anything better. Your silence is devastating to me. It’s like this separation hasn’t fazed you at all – you act like we were never even married to begin with!
Curly haired woman: You’ve become such a workaholic over these past few weeks – the only time I ever see you is if I take the early train to work, or catch the late one home. Is that the kind of life you envisioned for us? I mean, did you even know that I got robbed last weekend? Do you even care? Oh wait. How could you have known? We never talk! Don’t worry – they didn’t steal any of your precious stuff.
[Woman wearing green scarf boards and sits next to man with orange hat. They exchange a few words.]
Woman with green scarf: Do you mind if I sit here?
Man with orange hat: No – go ahead.
Woman with green scarf: Thanks.
Curly haired woman: Well, well. Isn’t that just a kick in the head? No, no – don’t let me interrupt your flirtatious little banter. So who’s your friend, Orangehat? Aren’t you going to introduce her to your wife?
Curly haired woman: You’re not going to tell me who she is? Look, if you’re trying to make me jealous… It doesn’t matter – it’s all beginning to make sense now. I didn’t exactly see you jump to move your briefcase when I walked past your seat – I suppose you were saving that seat for Greenscarf all along, weren’t you? Well, now I understand why you like working so late – it’s so you can ride home with that tramp, isn’t it?

Curly haired woman: And just so you know, that scarf doesn’t even match her hat.
[Curly haired woman leans in and whispers to man.]
Curly haired woman: Look, Orange. If this is about Seattle, I haven’t seen him or even spoken to him since December. I made a mistake, and I’m sorry for that. I didn’t intend to mess things up with us. I was mad at you for being so distant, and just got caught up in the moment. But I honestly don’t know how many more times I can apologize for the same thing. We’ve both made a lot of mistakes along the way, and probably said a few things we wish we could take back, but we can’t undo what’s already been done. All we can do is try to learn from this so that we can move on together.
Curly haired woman: Aren’t you going to say anything? O., I know you’re upset, but how are we ever going to work through this if you won’t talk to me? God, you won’t even look at me – I might as well be talking to myself here. Fine – read your damn book. Since when are you so into literature, anyway?
[Man and curly haired woman get off train at same stop. Man walks quickly, with woman following behind.]
Curly haired woman: Orangehat, wait up for me. Slow down! We need to talk about this – I’m not ready to give up on us yet. Do you want to grab a coffee so we can talk?
Curly haired woman: Orangehat!
Curly haired woman: Orangehat – if you keep ignoring me, then we may as well end this right here and now. I will not allow myself to be treated like a stranger by my own husband. What we have is so special – I loved you from the first moment I laid eyes on you, and I know you feel the same way. Are you going to tell me that I imagined your love for me?

Curly haired woman
: Dammit! Slow down!
Curly haired woman: If we hadn’t agreed that traditional symbols of marriage were oppressive and that they supported the sexist view of wife as property, I’d take off my wedding ring right now and throw it at your stupid orange hat! God, I hate you!
Curly haired woman: No wait. O! I didn’t mean it. I don’t hate you – I love you! You know I do! Wait up! I can handle it if you tell me you’re angry, or that you feel betrayed, but what I cannot take is this total indifference! It’s killing me!
Curly haired woman: What am I going to tell the kids…
Curly haired woman: … that I thought about having with you?
Curly haired woman: Orangehat!
Curly haired woman: Orangehat, wait!
Curly haired woman: Orangehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!
[Woman drops to knees in the snow, raises fists above head as she screams man’s name. Man continues to walk briskly into the night. Woman collapses into snow bank, curls up tightly, and sobs.]


Silver Lining

Although you wouldn’t immediately think this, there are several key benefits to being robbed, which I will outline in detail below. I encourage everyone to print out this list and keep on hand in case, god forbid, you are ever burglarized.
Writer’s block is temporarily cured
About ten minutes after I walked into my apartment – once I had established that my cats and my computer were still here – I thought, “This is so going in the blog!”
Free wine from neighbors
This usually only applies if your neighbor also got robbed, and has wine. Lucky me.
Sympathy from friends and co-workers
Which often manifests itself in the form of free wine and/or lattés.
Pressing reason to clean house thoroughly
When a police officer puts fingerprint dust on the top of your DVD player, and it’s indistinguishable from the ¼ inch thick layer of regular dust, it’s time to get out the Lemon Pledge.
Plus, burglar hands were all over my underwear! Laundry time!
Built-in excuse for never returning borrowed items
“Hey, Jen – can you give me back my Tori Amos CD?”
“Ohh, didn’t I tell you? The burglars took that.”
“What about my orange hooded sweatshirt?”
“Yeah, I think they used that as a disguise.”
“Uh huh. And my copy of The DaVinci Code?”
“I heard the black market for those is pretty hot right now with the movie coming out and all, so maybe they were planning on pawning that. Look – don’t blame the victim.”
Increased landlord attentiveness
For a short window of time, your landlord will feel a greater obligation to respond to your requests, so long as they can be linked to greater safety. Unfortunately, you will not be able to convince him that a new coat of paint in the living room will deter future break-ins.
Reason to guilt family into giving you more heirloom jewelry
“Gosh, that ruby ring of yours is pretty. I sure wish I had a nice ring like that. But, you know, mine all got stolen. I’ll never be able to afford anything that nice. Sniff…”
Inappropriate outbursts can be blamed on post traumatic stress disorder
“A preferred customer discount card? That’s the stupidest idea I ever heard! Who did you sleep with to get this job? I’m sorry… I didn’t mean that, and yes, I know you own the company, but you see, I was robbed last week.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?! I ordered two Thin Mints and four Caramel Delights, not the other way around, you moron! God – who did your parents have to pay off to get you into 4th grade? Wait… don’t cry. I didn’t mean that. Look – I was robbed last week, so I’m sure you understand.”

Rob Jen Rob

“Okay ma’am, can you just start at the beginning, from the time you got home, and tell me what happened?”
“Sure. Okay, it was around 5:45pm when I walked in my back door, and immediately noticed that something just wasn’t right. The pantry door was open, and I never leave the pantry door open. I walked into the living room and saw my DVD player in the middle of the floor, and my CD’s thrown all over. That’s when I freaked out, realized that my front door had been smashed in, bolted out of the apartment, and called 911.”

And thus began my weekend.
After calling 911, and ensuring that I wasn’t wearing grey sweatpants with loafers, I knocked on my next door neighbor’s door to see if he was home and had heard anything. I noticed that Klaus’ door had some big marks on it as well where it appeared the burglar had tried to get in. As I waited in the stairwell for the police, Klaus and his friend Fernando came in.
“Hi Jenny – how’s it going?”
“Well, been better, I guess. My apartment just got robbed, and it looks like they tried to get into your apartment, too.”
Klaus was very sympathetic, offered to crack open a bottle of wine while I waited for the police, and then attempted to open his door. As soon as he put the key in the lock, we heard a big clunk, and all three of said in unison, “Oh shit.”
Klaus’ apartment had been burglarized as well.
When I spoke to the 911 operator, she told me to be sure to leave everything exactly where I found it so the Evidence Technicians could look for clues. Since I was pretty certain that the empty pizza carton on my coffee table and the underwear on my bathroom floor wouldn’t provide any meaningful leads, I took the liberty of removing said items from the scene.
It really didn’t matter, though, since what I did have to leave untouched was my bedroom – exactly the way I found it. It looked like a bomb had exploded inside my dresser. Whoever broke into my apartment flipped my mattress, rifled through my dresser, and dumped out almost every item of clothing onto the floor, taking special care to ensure that as many pairs of underwear as possible were on display for the Evidence Technician to review.
Somehow, he managed to get a bra hanging across my printer. Oh wait, maybe that was there to begin with. Well, in any case, it was a disaster area, and not a scene I was keen to share with strangers. But of course, since Klaus and I were now co-victims, we felt it was our duty and right to parade through each other’s homes to assess the damage.
So the first time I met Klaus, you may recall what happened. Now, on my chance to redeem myself and restore Chicago’s good name at the same time, not only does the boy get robbed, but he has to see, simultaneously, every pair of underwear and every single bra I own. Even the laundry day grandma underwear, which would more appropriately be called bloomers.
While Klaus was calling the police to report his break-in, I started calling all my friends and family to let them know I had become a statistic. First up was my mom, who immediately started brewing some Sicilian curse. She also mentioned something about cracking thieving skulls with a cast-iron frying pan, at which point I told her I needed to make some more phone calls.
Next, I left a message for Natasha, and then moved on to Vivian. It seems that every one of my friends has been robbed at least once, so I felt like I had suddenly become a member of an elite club. Vivian was concerned with the fact that I sounded too calm, and became convinced that I was in shock. She told me to call our friend Chris, who lives nearby, to have her come over and hang out with me.
“Viv – there’s a blizzard out. I’m not going to call Chris.”
“Call Chris!”

“Vivian – I’m not calling Chris!”
“Call Chris! You’re in shock!”
“I am not in shock and I’m not calling Chris!”
Our conversation continued like this for about five more minutes, until my call waiting clicked in and it was Natasha. Within two minutes of hanging up with Nat, I got a call from Chris:
“Vivian called me! She said you got robbed! She said you’re in shock! I’m coming over!”
“I did get robbed, but I’m fine. You don’t need to come over – there’s a blizzard.”
“You’re not fine, you’re in shock. I’m coming over!”
“I’m really fine, you don’t need to come over. I’m drinking scotch with my neighbor. He got robbed, too.”
“It’s 6:00pm and you’re drinking scotch. You’re in shock! I’m coming over!”
And so this went for another few minutes, until my mom called me back on my cell phone to see if I owned a cast-iron skillet. I told Chris that I had to take the call.
Thirty minutes later, Chris arrived at my door covered in snow and carrying a can of pepper spray.
“Isn’t that illegal?”
“No, mace is illegal. This is just dangerous. If you don’t know how to use it, you may end up spraying yourself.”
“Okay, so you’re bringing me something that most likely will end up blinding me, thereby allowing the criminal to do whatever he wants? Couldn’t you have brought a cast-iron frying pan?”
“Uh, no. I only have a wok.”
Once the police arrived and assessed the scene, I learned that the form of small talk police officers are most comfortable with involves sharing all of their crime stories which fall into the “much worse than this” category. The first officer, who was in his own words, just the report taker, tried to make me feel better about my losses by telling me about an apartment he recently visited that had been stripped of every single item – from the drapes to the floor rugs. And then he told me that he owns a building on the north side that had an available apartment, so if I was interested in moving out… this did not ease my mind. A cop was telling me to move out of my apartment.
While he was taking my statement, I became mildly obsessed with reenacting the crime scene to determine the sequence of events that led up to my ultimate burgling:
”Okay, so we’ve established that the crime took place sometime between 8:00am and 2:00pm on Friday, January 21. Based on the disheveled state of my apartment, and the surgical precision they used in my neighbor’s, I can only assume that they hit his apartment first, moved on to mine, and then heard a noise that spooked them, so they ran out of my place before they could finish the job. Why else would they have left the DVD player on the middle of the floor? But what was the noise? Think, Jenny. Think!”
“Ma’am, I appreciate your feedback, but I just need to get all my facts straight here first, okay?”
I hovered behind the police officer, making sure he missed no details. At one point, I noticed some wet drops on my floor:
“Okay, these footprints are still wet, which means that the perpetrator was here within the last hour. Ohmigod. The footprints. They are leading straight toward me! OH MY GOD!! HE’S IN THE APARTMENT!! HE’S STILL IN THE APARTMENT!!!”
As I lunged for his gun, the officer stepped back and said, “Uhh, ma’am? Those are your footprints. Your boots are wet.”
Once the Evidence Technician arrived – six hours after my initial call – I joined Klaus in his apartment while the officer dusted for fingerprints. Klaus got up to turn his music off, but the officer told him to keep it on since he really liked that Stevie Wonder song.
“It’s so much nicer here than most of the crime scenes I’m at. Because there’s usually a corpse. And they aren’t much for conversation.”
Morbid cop humor – gets me every time.
Then he told us that the dust they use for fingerprinting causes cancer, but “they don’t tell you that when you join the force.” When the officer moved on to my apartment, he was able to find some fingerprints on my dresser, so he had to take my prints as well to make sure the ones he found weren’t mine. And that way I guess he could make sure I hadn’t robbed myself. Trust me, if I were robbing me, I sure as hell wouldn’t have taken the Swimming Pool DVD – that was the worst movie I ever saw – suckers! Sweet, sweet revenge.
As he was taking my prints, he complimented me on being such a cooperative subject by saying, “Geez, you’re easier to do than some of the corpses I find.”
To which I replied, “If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that…”
Necrophiliac humor – gets me every time.
Since both upstairs neighbors work out of their apartments, I thought for sure one of them must have heard something. From the looks of my door, it didn’t appear to have been a quiet job. When the police interviewed them, both neighbors stated that they noticed that my door was open, but assumed I was moving out.
Uh, yeah. They assumed I was moving out because of all the chunks of splintered wood that were littering the floor outside my door? Okay, okay. So I’ll cut them some slack. People like to mind their own business, so they don’t pay attention to the small details. But what about this detail? The woman above me also told the officer that she thought something was weird because the locks on our entryway door didn’t seem to work right. And by “not working right”, she meant “had been pried off with a screwdriver.”
But I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on them. Like I said, we’re conditioned to not get involved in other people’s business. I really don’t know what I would have done differently had I been in her situation. I mean, maybe there’s one thing I might have done differently, but it’s so minor, I probably shouldn’t even mention it.
I mean, really, people. I’m not expecting anyone to get all CSI, but use your damn brain. Even if you don’t give a crap that I was robbed, don’t you think you might be concerned about the thieves moving their way up to your apartment next?
Whew. Now that I got that out, I feel so much better. Now, where’s that cast-iron skillet?
[Sidebar: whenever someone tells you that a relative of theirs has cancer, people feel compelled to share their stories of family and friends who have also been diagnosed with cancer. It’s a bizarre form of one-upmanship meant to lessen the blow of bad news. “You think that’s bad? My aunt had a double mastectomy and then they found out that she didn’t even have breast cancer, but then she died of cervical cancer anyway!”
So, with that in mind, I am opening the floodgates and requesting, in seventy-five words or less, your best robbery stories. Special prize goes to anyone who’s had their entire apartment stripped clean, from drapes to floor rugs.]

On Being a Woman: To Sir with Love

There are few things more offensive to a woman – no matter where on the gender continuum she falls – than being mistaken for a man. I speak from experience since I was constantly mistaken for a boy as a child. By neighbors, by store clerks, even by relatives. I don’t think it’s that these people actually did any sort of in-depth analysis to assess whether I was a boy or a girl. People are just inherently lazy, so they tend to look for the most obvious visual cues:
Tall equals boy, short equals girl. Long hair equals girl, short hair equals boy. Leather equals boy, lace equals girl.
So when they saw a grubby little curly haired kid, climbing trees and catching frogs, these were all the clues they needed to determine that I was a boy. I suppose the fact that I didn’t wear a shirt until I was thirteen might have added to the confusion, but I can’t help that I was a late bloomer.
Occasionally, in what he deemed to be the ultimate insult, my brother would call me, “Yentl.” As far as brotherly insults go, this one leaned a bit to the esoteric, but my brother did skip a grade in school. After I started carrying a candle around the house and singing, “Poppa, Can You Hear Me?” for the next hour, he soon realized that his taunts really hurt him more than they did me. He also told me that I was born a hermaphrodite, and that my parents chose to raise me as a girl because the girl surgery was cheaper. Though my parents will neither confirm nor deny this claim, I just feel grateful that they made such a wise and economical decision.
Remarkably, my gender crisis crossed international boundaries – during the 70’s, my aunt’s church took in some Laotian refugees who had fled their country’s oppressive regime. For several years, this family would join us at our holiday get-togethers, and I would always play with the youngest son, who was about my age.
We would spend hours climbing trees, playing hide and seek, and tossing a Frisbee. Laughter was our common language. But more tragic to this young boy than being forced from his homeland was the day he became proficient enough in English to finally understand that I was a girl. As it turns out, the word “Jenny” carries no gender in Laotian.
He actually cried.
We never climbed trees together again.
To this day, I refuse to eat at Laotian restaurants.
Everyone lost.
So most people are simply unobservant, but let’s face it, some are just plain dumb. Case in point: I had an uncle who called me “Son,” even when I was wearing a dress. Of course, the word “Son” was usually preceded by “Go get me another Jack and Coke,” so that may have had something to do with his lack of awareness.
Or consider the case of the inept waiter: a few years ago I was out for drinks with a group of girlfriends when an unobservant waiter asked my short-haired gal friend, “What can I get you to drink, Sir?”
When, in her high-pitched voice, she responded, “A Guinness,” he didn’t know what to do, so he had a meltdown in front of our very eyes. Instead of simply saying, “Oh, I’m sorry,” like any normal person would have, he muttered and mumbled, then tried to make a joke of it by calling her “Sir” every time he came back:
“Here’s your Guinness, Sir.”
“Will there be anything else, Sir?”
“A refill on those pretzels, Sir?”
Because really, the best way to deal with accidentally embarrassing someone is to keep doing it. Over and over.
It just got worse and worse until one of us – I’d like to think it was me, but I really don’t recall – finally told him that the joke was over. As were his chances of earning a tip from us.
But back to me and my sexual identity challenges – as I got older, stopped catching frogs, grew my hair longer, and started wearing bras, people stopped mistaking me for a boy for the most part. But I still fight a daily battle against traditional feminine fashions. I just can’t help it – I like big shoes, and roomy pants, and cozy turtlenecks. I’m not trying to make some radical statement with my clothes. I don’t want to relinquish my status as a woman. I just want to be comfortable. Pantyhose are not comfortable. High heels are not comfortable. And thongs? Newsflash: not comfortable.
On the contrary, Gap denim overalls and worn-in Doc Martens are really, really comfortable. It is important to note, however, that comfort must never trump common sense, which is a lesson I learned quickly when, as a naïve college student, I wore said Gap denim overalls and worn-in Doc Martens to my grandmother’s house. We hugged hello, she adjusted her glasses, looked me up and down, and then told me I looked like a beet farmer. Not just any farmer, mind you, but a beet farmer.
I imagined myself riding atop a truckload of freshly-picked vegetables, my hands and knees stained violet from beet juice. A piece of straw in my mouth, the warm sun on my face, and the gentle bouncing of the beet truck lulling me into a daze. It was hard labor – physical – but I earned an honest wage and a good night’s sleep each day…

Much as I enjoyed this image, I assure you that I never wore that outfit again – at least not in my grandmother’s presence.
Now, older and wiser, as I hike from the train station to work, the blistering wind hitting my cheeks, I stare lovingly at my fellow Chicagoans, buried under their wool hats, long scarves, big boots, and puffy jackets. I have come to realize that winter is the great equalizer. It strips us of our gender – we become faceless, sexless blobs shuffling from one building to the next in search of warmth.
I have determined that, as dreadful as Chicago winters can be, there is something wonderfully liberating about living in the Midwest because no one expects me to wear low rider jeans and strappy heels in December. For at least three months out of the year, cargo pants and Steve Maddens are perfectly acceptable.
So while everyone around me was thrilled by yesterday’s heat wave (32˚), I have mixed feelings about it. While I, too, look forward to a day when I can wear fewer than three layers of clothing, I also know that the longer days signal the coming of the season of skin. The season when I must consistently shave my legs, and slather my pasty arms with self-tanner, and struggle to find any fashions that do not expose my navel.
But until that fateful day comes once again, my focus must remain on comfort – all those beets aren’t going to pick themselves, you know.

Current Events (as read over that guy’s shoulder)

Boeing Bets Big on Plastic PlanesChicago Tribune
Airbus Unveils 555-Seat Double-Decker PlaneWall Street Journal
Air Icarus Introduces Aircraft Made of Feathers and Candle WaxDaedalus Sun Times

City of Chicago: An Open Apology

We interrupt this series of feminist essays to announce some breaking news. We will return to your regularly scheduled programming shortly and apologize for any inconvenience.

Here’s what I was wearing:

  • Ginormous 1990’s elastic-at-the-cuff grey sweat pants. Why? Because my old favorite plaid lounging pants ripped at the crotch last week and I had to throw them away.
  • Old Navy® camisole/bra. It’s a bra and it’s a camisole. All in one. But there’s no denying that it’s essentially a bra.
  • Brown argyle dress socks from work.
  • Here’s what I was doing:

  • Laying on my couch.
  • Drinking scotch.
  • Watching The Parkers.
  • Reading last week’s People magazine.
    Here’s what I was eating:

  • Pringles Reduced Fat sour cream & onion potato crisps.
  • Leftover Thai noodles.
  • Half a banana.
    Here’s what happened:

  • My cats, Punch and Judy, were screeching by the window.
  • I yelled at them to be quiet.
  • There was a sudden and loud knock at my door.
    Here’s what I did:

  • Freaked out.
  • There was no way to pretend I wasn’t there, since I had just screamed: “For the love of god, Judy, will you shut the hell up? For the last time – you are an inside cat!”
  • Frantically searched for clothes.
  • Grabbed a giant plaid flannel shirt that was in my laundry basket.
  • Put on some huge black penny loafers.
  • Answered the door.
    To say that I looked like a bag lady would be an insult to bag ladies. There are so many questions that can be raised and fingers that can be pointed, but really, hindsight is 20/20. Questions like – if I had time to find a flannel shirt, why didn’t I have time to find normal pants? Or why didn’t I slip on tennis shoes, so it at least looked like maybe I was working out? Or why was I wearing that outfit in the first place?
    But what’s done is done, so to ask me these questions now is really just pointless and hurtful. I try very hard to live my life without regret, or at least to repress the regrettable choices I’ve made so that they only haunt me in my dreams or during hypnotherapy. This day is no exception.
    When I cautiously opened the door, I discovered that it was my new next door neighbor, Klaus. He’s from New York – Brooklyn, to be exact – and simply wanted to know where the laundry room was. As soon as he asked me that, he looked at my outfit and thought to himself, “I’m pretty sure that this woman and washing machines are not well acquainted. I wonder what the penalty would be for breaking my lease.”
    “Ummm… oh. Laundry? Yes. Out back. There’s a big lock. Need quarters. By dumpster. Duh… duh… duh…”
    I became completely incoherent because all I could focus on was my sheer humiliation at answering the door in this outfit. The word “mortified” just kept running through my head, over and over. I didn’t even have the presence of mind to say something like, “Oh, you caught me in the middle of sweeping the chimney.”
    This was my one chance to get in good with one of the neighbors now that the couple with the meowing daughter moved out. He’s from New York, not familiar with Chicago, and this is the impression I gave him. Yes, not only is Chicago a city where the Mayor can bulldoze the airport under the cover of darkness, but this is a place where it’s acceptable to wear loafers with outdated sweat pants and an ill-buttoned flannel shirt.
    I probably had some noodles stuck to my face… I can’t be sure.
    He was so polite, but he couldn’t take his eyes off my shoes. As we spoke, I tried to be very expressive with my face and gesture a lot with my hands to draw his attention away from my outfit. Just as I was channeling a combination of Lucille Ball and Marcel Marceau, Punch somehow escaped in between the elephantine columns that were my legs. I had to run up the stairs after him in my gigantic loafers, clomping up each flight like some sort of storm trooper.
    I’m so sorry, Chicago. I’ve let you down. Not only are we the 5th fattest city in the nation – again – but now I have single-handedly put the entire city on Blackwell’s Worst Dressed List for 2005. Will you ever forgive me? I’m not sure I can forgive myself.
    Now, I’m not trying to shift the blame here, but is that the way people do things in New York? They just knock on some stranger’s door in the middle of the night (7:30pm) like savages? I mean, we may be obese, but in Chicago, we have an unwritten code. We call people. We schedule appointments. We leave post-its. We don’t just knock on doors! And do you know why? Because we are all too aware of the likelihood that the person on the other side of that door may have potato chip crumbs in her hair and be wearing GINORMOUS ELASTIC-AT-THE-CUFF GREY SWEATPANTS!
    I now feel compelled to walk around the apartment in a ball gown, just in case Klaus ever knocks again. But let’s face it – the next knock I hear at my door will be the Homicide squad when Klaus turns me in because he thought he smelled a dead body in my closet. I will tell the police that it was just the unusual combination of sour cream & onion and banana, but they’ll still need to search the place.
    And then they’ll find them: the ginormous elastic-at-the-cuff grey sweatpants. And Klaus will say, “Those are the ones! That’s what she was wearing when I stopped by the other day. She seemed jumpy, like she was hiding something. Get out the black light!”
    The police will take me down to the station for questioning, and release me after a few hours due to lack of evidence. But it will be too late. They will have already seen my sweatpants.
    Oh god. I can’t say it enough. Forgive me, dear city. Forgive me. Forgive me.
  • On Being a Woman: What’s Your Bag?

    Real women carry purses.
    I didn’t make that rule, I don’t particularly like that rule, but that’s just the way it goes. And not only that, but real women own seasonal purses. Purses that match their shoes. Going out purses. Stay at home purses. Bar purses. Work purses. Wedding purses. Funeral purses.
    This isn’t a modern phenomenon – it has been true all throughout history. Even in caveman days, I am certain that Sheanderthals carried around mastodon bladder purses, although I can’t imagine what they put in them. But then again, what exactly do I put in my purse? I often wonder why we as women need enormous bags, yet men can just shove a wallet in their back pocket and seemingly have everything they could ever need. But then when I see my brother and his wife, the answer becomes clear:
    “Hey, hon – do you have any Chapstick?”
    “Can I borrow your pen?”
    “Got any gum in that bag?”
    “Can you stick these tickets in your purse?”
    “Hey – did you bring that Snickers with you?”
    So, instead of a purse, I really just need a wife.
    Maybe part of my problem is that growing up, I just didn’t have the right role models. Aside from my mother, whose ethnic heritage is 50% gypsy, 50% 1940’s Hollywood starlet, I didn’t really have any ultra girly influences.
    This problem was clearly illustrated by a recent visit from my old friend, Vivian. She stayed with me for a few days last year during the holidays before going to see her family. After lots of laughs and catching up, she started to pack up to head out to her parents’ house. What I witnessed next both shocked and appalled me:
    “Vivian, what are you doing?”
    “Did you just put your wallet and keys into that black knit cap?”
    “It’s my hat purse.”
    “No, it’s a hat that you stuck your wallet and keys into.”
    “Right. A hat purse.”
    “You can’t do that! You can’t just take a hat, put stuff in it, and call it a purse! People will think you’re crazy. You’ll look like you just robbed a bank!”
    “Jenny, I do this all the time. I hate purses – you know that.”
    “Look, Viv. I may not be a girly-girl, but I know a thing or two about parents and daughters. I know that every time I go home, my dad will ask me how my car’s been running. I know that no matter how old I get, my mom will tell me I don’t wear enough lipstick. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if you walk into your parents’ house with that hat-purse-excuse-for-a-handbag, they will think that you live in a roach-infested flophouse behind some Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn.”
    Since I refused to let Vivian visit her parents carrying the burglar purse, I told her I would lend her one of my purses. And thus began my brief journey into self-discovery where I learned that, sadly, I am not a real woman. I don’t own a purse. Not an official one, at least. While I don’t go so far as to use hats, I really only have mini backpacks or unisex messenger bags to transport all my belongings.
    The one purse I did find was a spangly little sequined number from a wedding I went to several years ago. I offered it up to Vivian, but she declined, saying that she’d rather have her parents think she was a “dumpster-dwelling bank robber than be caught toting that prissy little Zsa-Zsa purse.”
    “All right, well at least let me find you a hat that looks less like a ski mask.”
    I dug around my closet until I found this hip, multi-colored Guatemalan knit hat that had two long tassels that wrapped under your chin. I turned it upside down, tied the tassels together, and voilà! A fetching patterned knit bag!
    “Just tell your mom that they’re all the rage in New York this year.”
    I just couldn’t let Viv set herself up like that. I mean, come on now – a hat purse? I may not be a real woman, but I am a real friend.

    On Being a Woman: Long as God Can Grow It

    “I’m growing out my hair,” I said, as I nibbled on my cranberry scone, even though I wasn’t hungry.
    “How long are you growing it?” Kim asked.
    “Until it stops.”
    Natasha piped in: “Oooh! Then you can let me flat iron it!”
    Natasha is mildly obsessed with straightening my hair, but I always just laugh it off and tell her that someday I’ll let her do it. And just like when I promise that someday I’ll have lunch with my old co-workers, this, too, is a lie.
    “You keep saying that! One day I’m just going to sneak up behind you with chloroform, and then you’ll wake up with straight hair!”
    We all laughed and drank our overpriced coffees, but… I wasn’t laughing on the inside. Deep down, I felt a little scared.
    My friends say a lot of things they don’t mean, so I wouldn’t normally give the flat iron comment much concern. However, given the fact that a) Nat has mentioned straightening my hair no less than 30 times over the past two years, and b) her father is a doctor, giving her ready access to both chloroform and gauze pads, I no longer consider this threat an idle one.
    I think my fear of heated hair implements might go back to a horror I witnessed as a teen, on my first trip to Paris. I was sixteen, and sharing a room with my best friend, Carrie, and another girl we didn’t know very well. I can’t remember her name, so I’ll call her Rhonda. Rhonda was new to my high school, and had moved to Wisconsin from somewhere down south. She had beautiful platinum blonde hair and, in her slight drawl, would call me “Kitten,” which I found immensely charming.
    One morning, Carrie and I came back up to our room after eating our complimentary continental breakfast, walked through the door, and almost instantaneously vomited up our croissants and Nutella. We had to cover our mouths and noses to protect ourselves from the stench that was coming from the bathroom.
    I cautiously opened the bathroom door to find Rhonda sitting on the floor, sobbing.
    “Rhonda! What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
    She had her head in her hands and her shoulders were heaving as she gestured toward the garbage can. When I got up the courage to look in the direction of the pungent smell, I saw a blackened curling iron, with long chunks of charred platinum blonde hair melted to it.
    “Oh god. What happened?”
    Rhonda wiped her tear-soaked cheeks and took her hands away from her face to look at us. I audibly gasped – she had burned her bangs off all the way to her scalp. As I later learned, Rhonda hadn’t fully read the “Know Before You Go” handouts that our teacher had given us, otherwise she would have known that European appliances operate on a different voltage than American ones, and if you plug an American curling iron into a French outlet without a converter, it reaches the temperature of the Earth’s core in three seconds flat.
    For the rest of the trip, Rhonda worked on perfecting a female comb-over technique to give the illusion that she still had hair on the right side of her head. I bought her a beret. She never called anyone “Kitten” again. Sometimes I can still see that blackened curling iron, Rhonda’s smoking hair desperately clinging to it. It gives me chills.
    Now anytime Natasha mentions taking a flat iron to my hair, I envision huge clumps of brown curly hair snapping off at the root, leaving gaping bald spots that would take years to grow out.
    So yes, I am a little sensitive when it comes to my hair. Maybe it’s because all my life, I have been defined by my hair.
    Which one is Jenny?
    The curly haired one.
    Not the tall one, the short one, the clumsy one, the athletic one, the skinny one, the pudgy one, the funny one, the smart one. But the curly haired one.
    My grandfather used to tell people that I combed my hair with an eggbeater. And my grandmother could not comprehend the fact that I didn’t brush my hair.
    “But grandma – you can only brush curly hair when it’s wet. I couldn’t possibly get a comb through my hair when it’s dry.”
    No matter how many times I tried to explain this to her, she just didn’t understand, so one day, I brushed my hair out for her and took a picture of it. I looked exactly like Roseanne Rosannadanna. She no longer asks me why I don’t brush my hair.
    The worst school photo of my life can be blamed on the lunch lady who helped the principal out on picture day. It was 4th Grade and I had a short afro, such was the style at the time. Okay, it wasn’t so much the style as it was my only option. These were the days before high quality hair gel and curl relaxing conditioners, so my mother’s solution was to keep cutting my hair short.
    When it was my turn for a photo, I sat down, looked at the camera, and just as I was about to say, “Cheese,” the lunch lady swooped in with the free plastic comb we all received, and tried to rake it through my hair. After a few of the teeth snapped off, she just started pushing my hair around with her hands, and then dejectedly walked away. And that is why, in my 4th Grade class picture, it looks like someone slathered a gigantic pile of brown mashed potatoes on top of my head. That is also why my mother only ordered wallet size that year.
    Then came 6th Grade, when everyone had beautiful feathered Farrah Fawcett hair. Damn you Farrah Fawcett! Damn you to hell! I spent hours in front of the mirror each morning, trying to part my hair in the middle and using a curling iron to make the curls go to the right and to the left like they were supposed to do. But anyone with naturally curly hair knows that you don’t tell your curls which way to go. They tell you. And you like it.
    Particularly in that era of stick straight, long Marsha Brady hair, people would often ask me if I wished I had straight hair. I understood that the answer they were looking for was the affirmative, so I would just shrug my shoulders and nod my head yes. Of course I wanted straight hair. Wasn’t everyone supposed to want straight hair? Except for the people with straight hair, because they were all getting perms. But it was clear that they were just taking a short vacation in Curlyville. They could leave anytime they wanted, but I had to live there. Forever.
    For as long as I can remember, people have tried to tell me what to do with my hair. My mom wanted spit curls. My girlfriends said barrettes. My hippie boyfriends wanted it long and wild. And now Nat wants it straight. Of course, the one time I was left to my own devices, I commanded my hairdresser to give me a tail, so perhaps it’s best that I always left my hair decisions to others.
    But now, I have reached a point in life where I have come to understand and appreciate my hair. It has special needs, and as long as I respect its power, it will respect me right back. And thankfully, modern science has made huge strides in the gel and mousse department.

    I finally understand that my curls, just like Samson’s locks, are the true source of all my power. Without them, I imagine I would have no personality whatsoever. I’d just become another face in the crowd, another body occupying a seat on the train. So now when people ask me if I ever wish I had straight hair, I can honestly say no. No, Nat-Delilah, I don’t.
    A home for fleas
    A hive for the buzzing bees
    A nest for birds
    There ain’t no words
    For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my

    On Being a Woman: Prologue

    I am woman. Hear me, Roy.
    I can bring home the bacon. Fry it up in a pan.
    …well, actually, raw bacon kind of grosses me out, so I really can’t fry it up in a pan. But I can pick it off my Bacon Double Cheeseburger Deluxe and put it in a pan, if you’re really that set on bacon.
    But enough with the bacon talk. The question I really want to address is: What does it mean to be a woman? How do I define femininity? Does society define femaleness differently? And are control-top pantyhose really that controlling after all?
    As I get older, these are the questions that plague me day and night. Since my health insurance only covers a limited amount of therapy, and because no one bought me The New Our Bodies, Ourselves for Christmas – even though it was the only item on my Amazon wish list – I have chosen to explore these topics right here on these pages.
    Over the next couple weeks I will delve into the meaty issues that are on everyone’s mind right now, such as: Jenny’s insecurities, Jenny’s successes, Jenny’s failures, and Jenny’s regrettable fashion choices, all as they relate to her gender. For those of you brave enough to stick with me on this journey, I applaud you. Please note, however, that you must be at least this tall to get on the ride. Remember to secure your valuables, and keep arms and legs inside at all times.
    See you next week!