Playing Doctor

Shortly after moving to Chicago, I realized that I needed to find a new doctor, so I started asking around. Natasha goes to some wholesale doctor in a northern suburb far, far away, so I couldn’t go to hers, but she kindly talked to one of her friends who referred me to her doctor. This woman’s doctor is apparently the greatest physician in all of Chicago, so when I called her office to make an appointment, I was told that it would be about three months before I could get in to see her.
Unfortunately at the time, I was convinced I had pink eye because two of my co-workers had pink eye, and my eyes started to itch really badly. Although I’m mostly Sicilian and German, my great-great grandmother emigrated to the US from her homeland in Hypochondria, which is a small region located near Estonia, known best for its chronically ill people. Because of this genetic shortcoming, I have to be very careful not to let illnesses go too long without medical intervention.
Fearing impending blindness, I made an appointment with the first doctor who was available at Dr. Rachstarr’s office, hoping that someday I’d be able to get in to see her. I was able to get a same day appointment with a newer physician, Dr. Middlin. At the time, everything seemed fine. Dr. Middlin checked out my eyes, confirmed that it wasn’t pink eye, and told me I probably had some sort of allergy. She gave me some sample eye drops, validated my parking, and sent me on my way with a packet of Tagamet post-it notes.
Over the course of the past two years, I’ve had a few colds, ailments, and festering wounds that have required medical attention, but every time I’ve wanted to switch to Dr. Rachstarr, a couple things would happen: 1) I would feel a slight pang of guilt for jumping ship and 2) it didn’t matter anyway because I wasn’t a patient of Dr. Rachstarr’s, so I was thrown back onto the three-month waiting list.
So now I suppose you might say that Dr. Middlin and I have developed a sort of a relationship. But like with most relationships, I want out. She’s nice and all, and has really pretty hair, but here’s the thing: I just never get any sense of confidence whatsoever that she knows what she’s talking about.
Take my last ailment, for example. I went in to her with a dry nagging cough that had been lingering for ten days. From past experience, and extensive research on WebMD, I know that you shouldn’t let a cough go more than two weeks, so I called to make an appointment. Dr. Rachstarr was booked until mid 2005, and – big surprise – Dr. Middlin could see me that afternoon.
I explained my symptoms: dry nagging cough, extreme sore throat, wheezing. Dr. Middlin asked a few questions, had me take some deep breaths, looked in my ears, and diagnosed me with post nasal drip.
Post nasal drip?
I tried to explain to her that I had no dripping whatsoever – pre, post, or during – but she was convinced that this was the root of my problem. I asked how post nasal drip could cause a violently sore throat and non-stop cough, and she simply averted her eyes, clicked her pen, and straightened a box of tongue depressors.
I realize that I’m not a doctor, but I do like to use a little science called logic every now and then. It seems to me that if something were dripping down my throat all night long, my throat would be all nice and lubricated, not dry and sore. Who’s with me on this? I know, that’s a repulsive image – forgive me – but it’s all in the name of medicine.
She gave me some sample nasal spray with a picture of a rhinoceros on the box, and told me to snort that up my nose each night for about a week. I read the fine print, and learned that I was going to be huffing steroids for the next three to five days. When I told Natasha I was taking ‘roids, she signed me up on the spot to be on her bowling team. She also warned me that my nose was going to get really huge. And pissed off.
But back to my dilemma. Here’s where I really began to question Dr. Middlin’s medical abilities: without the slightest crack of a smile or hint of irony, she told me that if, after using this snorting device, I noticed thick fluorescent green mucus pouring out of my nose, I should give the office a call. Because apparently that would be a bad thing. I’m glad she warned me, because normally I would just go about my daily business, riding the train, proofing ads, sitting in meetings, all the while with a trail of radioactive lime Jell-O streaming down my face. I’m just that dedicated.
After this latest episode, I started to think back to all the other times I had gone in to see Dr. Middlin, and what she had diagnosed. In the summer of 2003, I was convinced I had melanoma, but after a quick exam, Dr. Middlin gave me some samples of cortisone cream, a Zyban letter opener, and validated my parking. When I had a violent stomach parasite last fall, she gave me a few samples of Zantac, a Flonase pencil holder, and validated my parking.
Suddenly it all started to add up. When I looked back, I realized that for the past two years, Dr. Middlin had never actually written me a prescription. She would just pop in, talk to me for about two minutes, step out briefly, and come back with free samples in tow. I also recalled that she was unusually well dressed, and quite generous with the promotional trinkets. And then it hit me:
My god – Dr. Middlin isn’t a doctor at all! She’s a pharmaceutical rep!
I put together a list of all the free samples she had given me over the past few years:

  • Flonase for my sinuses
  • Amoxil for my strep
  • Tagamet for my acid reflux
  • Valtrex for my herpe… err, my bladder infection
    A quick Google search later and I discovered that the good “Doctor” was recently named GlaxoSmithKline’s Sales Associate of the Year for the entire Midwestern region. I have never felt so violated in all my life. And I have every intention of turning her in to the AMA, just as soon as I complete my Wellbutrin desk set.

  • Star Gazing

    One of my favorite pastimes is people watching. I’m what they call a people person – I like people a lot. I like to watch people, I like to look at people, I like to eyeball people, I like to stare at people. I like doing all kinds of these things with people. I guess I just really like people.
    And there’s no better place to spend time with people than New York City, home to some eight million inhabitants. The best part about people watching in New York is that there’s a very good chance that some of the people you’re watching are famous. As some of you may know, the Latin term for people watcher is Homos Opticus, and as any good H.O. can tell you, it’s much more rewarding to watch celebrities than to watch the general population. I mean, if I want to stare at some working class schlub with ill-fitting jeans and frizzy hair, I’ve got a full-length mirror and all the time in the world.
    On my recent trip to New York, celebrity sighting topped my list of things to do, and Vivian guaranteed that she could deliver. Vivian has a frightening ability to spot celebrities from a great distance, despite the clever techniques they may use to disguise themselves. She loves to tell me about all the celebrities she sees on a daily basis:
    “Lenny Kravitz lives in that building. Sarah Jessica Parker and Hilary Swank both live down that street. I saw Courtney Love get hounded by paparazzi in that store. Salma Hayek ate lunch right next to me last week.”
    The list went on and on, so clearly, my expectations were high for this trip. I had a notepad with me at all times, and kept a running log of the celebrities we encountered:
    Day One
    Some guy from some soap commercial
    Day Two
    A part-time anchorwoman from CNN
    Day Three
    “Okay, Viv – what the hell is going on, here? You promised me famous people, and I get a guy who played the sleepy husband in a Zest commercial from 1997? And I don’t have cable, so how do I even know that woman is on CNN?”
    “Just trust me, will you? These two are just priming the pump. Patience, my dear. Patience.”
    And then it began. From across a crowded street, we saw our first real celebrity.
    Viv grabbed my arm and leaned in, “Over there, talking to the woman in the hat? That’s that guy who did the Michael Jackson documentary, Deepak Chopra.”
    “You mean Martin Bashir?”
    “Yeah! That’s him.”
    I squinted, as we crossed the street, and said, “Oh, yeah. It is him! Okay, he’s famous. And timely, given the trial and all. Okay, he definitely counts.”
    So I wrote his name down in my journal of celebrities. Any H.O. worth her salt will tell you that you need to keep accurate records of all your celebrity sightings, in order to establish migratory patterns, observe their socialization habits, and identify mating behavior.
    Later that evening, we went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Vivian’s neighborhood, but were a little disappointed at the long wait. But it was cold out, and we were hungry for fajitas, so we decided to stick around. Suddenly, Vivian turned to me and gave me the wide-eyed, “Don’t look now, but there’s a celebrity next to me” look. I played it cool, because I was in New York, and casually peered over Viv’s shoulder to see none other than the hilarious star who got his first big break on Bosom Buddies!!!!
    No, it wasn’t Tom Hanks.
    But it was none other than that other hilarious star who got his first big break on Bosom Buddies, Peter Scolari! Right there! Eating chicken enchiladas and sipping iced tea with a group of friends. He totally seemed like the kind of guy you would want to hang out with while eating chicken enchiladas.
    Day Four:
    Day four brought the mother lode of celebrity sightings. After another long day of museums, gag reflexes, and shoe shopping, we hopped on the subway to go back to Vivian’s apartment. A voice came over the intercom, telling us that, for some unintelligible reason, we all had to get off at the next stop, because the train was skipping the three stops after that.
    Everyone grumbled and groaned, but fortunately, it was only one stop early for us, so we didn’t have to walk too far. As the droves of people climbed up the stairs, I noticed Viv zeroing in on someone. When we got off the train, she grabbed my sleeve and said the words that any card carrying H.O. could wait a lifetime to hear: “Jenny. Be cool. It’s Shandi from America’s Next Top Model!”
    I couldn’t believe it at first, so I had to get a better look. She was walking in the same direction as we were, so I picked up the pace, sidled up next to her, and casually glanced over. It was unmistakably Shandi! And what I’m about to tell you will rock the entire modeling world, and possibly put Tyra Banks out of a job: Shandi is only 5’8” at BEST! I consulted the official ANTM website, which claims that she is 5’10” – ha! LIARS! Now I’m not even sure I believe she worked at a Walgreen’s prior to being discovered. Everything I knew to be true is false.
    All in all, I considered this to be one of my more successful people watching experiences. And for all you aspiring H.O.’s out there, don’t give up just because you run across a few too many D-List celebrities. As Vivian taught me, success in this sport requires patience, dedication, a pocket-sized notebook, and a friend with really keen eyes.

    Overheard in the Terminal II

    Scene: LaGuardia Airport, Winter 2005
    Lady 1: late 60’s. Teal polyester pants and matching jacket. Thick soled beige shoes.
    Lady 2: late 40’s. Lady 1’s daughter-in-law. Purple silk pantsuit.
    Man: late 40’s. Lady 1’s son. White dress shirt. Tan dress pants rolled up because they’re too long.
    All: Thick southern accents

    Lady 1: I sure would like to have that recipe for cheese soup you make.
    Lady 2: It’s my mother’s recipe.
    Lady 1: It sure is good – with potatoes and onions and cheese. It sure is good.
    Lady 2: It’s very easy to make.
    Lady 1: I sure would like to have that recipe.
    Lady 1: (arms crossed, lower lip pushed out a bit) Mmmm mmm mmmm (shaking head in disapproval). Hmphh. You sure do see a little of everything here dontcha? Mmmmm.
    Lady 1: He was hiding for three days.
    Lady 2: From what?
    Lady 1: I don’t know. From the wolves, I guess.
    Lady 2: Goodness.
    Lady 1: I had that cat so darn long I got attached. He never was so glad to see me.
    Man on cell phone:
    How did you like Mexica?
    You didn’t see any fat dogs, did you?
    Yeah, the only dogs you see down there are skinny and fast.
    Did you see people livin’ in boxes?
    Huh. You should see Mexica City.

    Tough Enough

    I was about to start a rant about how I can’t handle the fact that this cold weather won’t go away, but then I remembered two things: 1) even I’m not interested in hearing what I have to say about the weather, and 2) complain as we may, Midwesterners secretly take great pride in our ability to deal with sub zero temperatures. Sometimes we even go out for ice cream when it’s 10˚ below zero, just to thumb our noses at Mother Nature. It makes us feel tough, like survivalists. Like Jeremiah Johnson, even.
    My recent trip to New York confirmed my long-held suspicion that New Yorkers share a similar mindset with my people – not about how cold it is living in New York, but rather how tough it is to live there. I think New Yorkers all derive a certain amount of satisfaction from the fact that they can successfully navigate around the biggest, most diverse city in the US.
    Vivian certainly falls into that category. As she led me around her fine city, I kept saying how much I love New York. I love admiring the architecture, and I love watching New York children get on the subway with such confidence, and I love how everyone seems more intelligent and cultured there. I told Viv that if I weren’t so happy in Chicago, I would consider moving to New York. Perhaps fearing a repeat of my ill-fated romance with Seattle, Vivian tried to rein me in:
    “You think you know New York, but trust me, you don’t know New York. I thought I knew the city before I moved here, but knowing where good restaurants are in the Village and maneuvering your way through the city day after day are two very different things.”
    Viv put me through a mini boot camp while I was visiting so I could get a real feel for New York. We trekked from Harlem to the Upper West Side, from Chelsea to SoHo, from the Village to Chinatown, barely stopping for food or water.
    Everything was six blocks away, no matter where we were.
    “Vivian! My legs are numb!” I whined, as I hobbled toward the Whitney in my not-yet-broken-in shoes.
    “It’s only six blocks away.”
    “You said that twenty minutes ago! Do you even know where we’re going?”
    “Of course I do. But is it on Lexington? Yeah, I’m sure it’s on Lexington.”
    “See – if I had my cane, this would all be going so much more smoothly.”
    “My god – will I ever live down the cane incident?”
    “Depends on how long these next six blocks are.”
    “And besides – it’s no colder here than it is in Chicago. You should be used to this.”
    “Yeah, but in Chicago I’d be wearing my ultra thin silk long underwear. Fashion takes a back seat to comfort in the Midwest – don’t act like you don’t remember that.”
    Vivian told me about how she studied maps of Manhattan when she first moved there, learning the boundaries of every neighborhood, and the quickest routes to each of them. As we sat in a bar later that night drinking tequila mojitos, Viv drew me a map of the city, detailing all the major streets that slice up the island. Then, as we hiked around the city the next day, she kept quizzing me on where we were.
    As we sat on the subway, she asked, “Okay – now we just passed 14th Street. What neighborhood are we in?”
    I tried desperately to picture the map she had drawn on the napkin, and said, “Uh… Hell’s Kitchen?”
    “Wrong. The Village.”
    A few minutes later, she’d ask again.
    “Okay, now we’re south of SoHo, so where does that leave us?”
    “SoSoHo?” I giggled.
    Vivian sat silently, shaking her head.
    “No wait – Chelsea! We’re in Chelsea, right? Battery Park?”
    It was a bit like an Abbott & Costello routine, with Vivian playing the perfect straight man Bud to my bumbling Lou.
    “Jenny, how could we be in Chelsea when we are going south?”
    “Did we circle back maybe?”
    As I spent more time under the fierce tutelage of Mme Vivian, and finally realized that Houston is not pronounced like the city, I began to feel more confident in my ability to find my way around the city. Particularly if I hopped in a cab.
    So once Vivian saw that I had begun to understand the subject of geography, she presented me with another great challenge of living in New York. As we were walking around looking at the galleries in Chelsea, she said to me, “At least once every day, I see something that triggers my gag reflex.”
    I scoffed at her claim, and told Vivian that there are disturbing things in any big city, and now she was just trying to pretend to be “street.” Although I had to admit that I was occasionally disturbed by the overwhelming smell of raw chicken and urine that hung in the air in certain neighborhoods, I still rolled my eyes and mocked, “Oh, yeah! New York is sooo tough! Whatever. Did you ever think that maybe you just have a sensitive gag reflex?”
    Vivian just raised her eyebrow, and started to say something, but I continued my rant: “I mean, Chicago has way more murders than you do. You’re not so tough. I saw a homeless guy throw up one time.”
    “Okay, that’s gross, but really, who hasn’t seen that?”
    “Well, Vivian – how about this – once I saw some cockroaches eating a dead rat in the alley.”
    “You are so full of crap. You never saw that!”
    “Well, maybe I didn’t, but you know it happens all the time. Okay, but this would make you gag – one summer, Natasha, Seamus, and I found a dead body down by the river.”
    “Jenny, that wasn’t you. That was those kids in Stand by Me.”
    “Oh, well… my point is, I think you’re just exaggerating a bit. You were a theater major, you know.”
    “I’m just telling you. Gag reflex. At least once a day, Jenny. Like clockwork. It’s a reality when you live in New York.”
    I dropped the subject as we continued our stroll. Just as we walked out of one of the galleries, I saw a man with two giant Rottweilers standing in the middle of the street. I thought it was odd, but there really wasn’t any traffic down these narrow streets, so I thought that maybe it was just more convenient for him to walk in the street rather than through the crowds of hipster art lovers roaming the sidewalks.
    But then he stopped, and my throat twinged a bit.
    It suddenly became clear that the reason the man stopped was that the larger of his two enormous dogs had either eaten too much fruit, or perhaps just returned from a trip to Mexico, as he relieved himself in the middle of the road. For about half a block. And then the man and his two dogs just walked away.
    I glanced over at Vivian, who said nothing, but gave me a knowing look.
    “Okay, yes. That was gross. But dogs will be dogs. Sometimes dogs get sick. And sometimes people have to witness that. Still – I think that was just a coincidence.”
    About ten minutes later, I saw a woman and a man get out of a cab carrying their tiny Chihuahua. Even though they’re the “it” dogs now, and it’s annoying to see all the celebrity girls carrying them around in their Gucci dog carriers, I still think Chihuahuas are pretty darn cute. So I smiled as I watched the woman kiss and cuddle her dog, and fuss with its fancy little collar.
    But then she set the dog down on the ground, and my throat squeezed tighter.
    How can I say this delicately? It’s just that – I’m not a dog person, so I don’t really know how they work, but when the woman set the tiny dog down, a few things became apparent to me: 1) this was definitely a male dog, and 2) he really, really loved that woman. A lot. The sight of a tiny canine fully aroused is something I hope to never see again.
    I told Vivian that I needed to erase those last two images from my mind, and didn’t want to risk the chance of running into another dog, so I dragged her into one last gallery. We were pleased to find some amazing paintings and sculptures in this one, and I felt content as we walked toward the door, planning where we would go for dinner that evening.
    “Ooh – should we have Mexican? Or maybe Italian? I could really go for some pasta!”
    But then I looked at the wall to my left, and my throat clamped shut.
    Above the reception desk was a fifteen foot tall black and white photograph of an eighty year old woman. She was naked. And she was breastfeeding a baby.
    I grabbed Vivian by the arm and covered my mouth as we ran out of the gallery.
    In between gagging, Vivian and I let out bursts of laughter. If only my throat would have opened, I could have eaten my words. I conceded that yes, in fact, New York was more disgusting than Chicago, and asked Vivian if she was finally happy.
    She said that she was, we went out for Italian, and never spoke of that day again.

    Shhh… I’m Huntin’ Wabbit

    I must admit that I am a creature of habit, and once I fall into a routine, it becomes really easy to tune out my surroundings. Some mornings I find myself in line at Starbucks, yet I have no recollection of walking off the train, through the station, down a few blocks, and through the revolving doors. And, as if by magic, I already have my $3.00 in hand, ready to exchange it for a bit of liquid happiness each morning.
    But occasionally, something so unusual and out of place occurs that I am jolted back into the present, and forced to acknowledge what is around me. Last week, I had that exact type of experience at the train station. Every day, I walk past a chocolate shop in the station, and don’t really pay it much mind, considering the fact that I rarely think about buying dark chocolate truffles while I’m rushing off to work. I’m sure they do decent business around Valentine’s Day, as forgetful spouses rush to grab sweets for their sweeties before jumping on the 6:25 to Buffalo Grove. But for the remainder of the year, I’m guessing it’s a bit of a ghost town at Ye Old Chocolate Shoppe.
    So as Easter approaches, it appears that the store managers have pulled out all the stops, because last week, my eye was drawn over to their display case. There it was – standing tall and proud amidst the toffees and vanilla crèmes: a three foot tall chocolate rabbit holding a chocolate basket filled with chocolate eggs and chocolate flowers. And taped to the outside of his cellophane body suit was a crudely scribbled sign that said: “I am 70 pounds of solid chocolate! Take me home for only $300!”
    Normally, as a jaded marketing professional, I don’t fall for these types of advertising tricks. But there was something about the way they underlined the word “only” that made me feel like I might be missing out on the deal of the century if I kept walking. You mean to tell me that this entire 70 pound rabbit could really be mine? And all for the low, low price of only $300?
    I wanted that rabbit.
    I wanted it so badly, I couldn’t even think straight. I wanted it more than I had ever wanted any religious holiday themed chocolate animal in my life. I wondered what it would feel like to hold 70 pounds of chocolate in my arms, hugging the bunny tight to my chest as I nibbled on its ears.
    As a child, this was the stuff of dreams – a larger than life SOLID chocolate rabbit. Not one of those disappointing waxy hollowed out bunny shells, that really barely amounted to the equivalent of one Hershey’s bar. No, this was solid chocolate. Seventy pounds. Inconceivable.
    There was a time, not long ago, when I would have thrown down my Visa card without hesitation, slung that rabbit over my shoulder, and lumbered off with seventy pounds of joy and severe lower back pain. But fortunately, that was the old Jenny. That was the impulsive Jenny who would just quit her job without another job, move to a new city, and fall in love at the drop of a hat. Now that I’ve turned 34, I’m much more fiscally and emotionally responsible. I realize that I can’t just give in to whatever random urge strikes me at the moment, because success in life requires far more planning than that.
    So I developed a plan.
    I decided to play it cool initially, because – and my bankers will vouch for me here – I don’t have $300 to spend on a chocolate rabbit. I mean, sure I could make some sacrifices, pinch a few pennies here and there, carry a bit more credit card debt, but that’s something 33 year old Jenny would have done. And that woman is dead to me now.
    No, I knew that acquiring my dream bunny would require me to be far more strategic. Since my previous job was in sales, I decided to dust off some of my old training manuals, and brush up on the old selling skills.
    Fortunately, in addition to showing me the most efficient method to break an employee’s spirit through micromanagement, that job also gave me keen insight into the art of negotiation. If I learned anything in that job, it’s that successful selling requires a lot of acronyms. You need to set S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Bound), always remember to K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Simon), and be sure to take a trip to the S.P.A. before any negotiation (Skill, Preparation, Attitude).
    So last Friday, I walked up to the sales woman at the chocolate counter, who was busy picking the salt off her giant pretzel. After a minute or so, her highly developed customer service skills kicked in as she saw me eagerly standing by the bunny, so she shuffled over to see what I wanted.
    “Can I help you?”
    I smiled sincerely as I read her name plate, and said, “I certainly hope that you can… Alice. I see that you are selling this rabbit here for $300. That seems a bit steep for a piece of candy, don’t you think?”
    “A piece of candy? Ma’am, this is 70 pounds of the finest chocolate we make here at-“
    “Okay, Alice. You seem like a smart woman. I know that this rabbit isn’t made from your finest chocolate. I’ve done a little asking around, and I know for a fact that it’s made from a hodge podge of all sorts of miscellaneous chocolate pieces that didn’t turn out quite right. I’ll bet there’s even some white chocolate melted in there somewhere. You do know that white chocolate isn’t real chocolate, don’t you?”
    “What? Why I… who’ve you been talking to?”
    Who isn’t important right now. The only thing that matters is what. And here’s what I’m proposing: See – I’ve got myself a pretty mean sweet tooth. I get cravings. Bad cravings. And when I get them, my palate is not all that discriminating. So here’s my offer: I give you $60 for the rabbit, but you keep it here for me where I can break off a hunk or two when I need it.”
    “That’s absurd! $60 for 70 pounds of high grade chocolate? The price is $300, plus tax.”
    “Okay, I see you’re sticking with the finest chocolate routine. Let me explain something to you – your chocolate store is in a train station. And not a train station in Geneva, Switzerland. You’re in downtown Chicago, honey. These people you see walking by all day long? They’re not customers – they’re commuters. Business people. Do you really think one of these people rushing frantically to catch the 5:45 is going to stop, whip out $300, and somehow manage to carry home a 70 pound chocolate bunny on a crowded train? Now which one of us is being absurd?”
    “Ma’am, every year we sell our giant Easter bunny, in fact, some years we sell several.”
    “Look – save the role playing script for your District Manager. You and I both know that this 70 pound monstrosity is going to sit under your hot lights until it starts to get that white chalky rash on it, at which point you will melt it down and try, unsuccessfully, to turn it into chocolate turtles. Am I close?”
    Alice looked around and saw that her co-worker was busy arranging and re-arranging the same twelve boxes of chocolate covered cherries. She then stepped a bit closer to me and said, “I’m listening.”
    “This is what we call a win-win, here. I give you $60 for the rabbit, you shove it into that supply closet back there, and tell all your co-workers that whenever Jenny stops by, she can take as much of the rabbit as she wants. An ear on Monday, maybe a tail on Tuesday. You get this stupid rabbit off your counter, thereby making room for your high-volume impulse products like the pre-bagged chocolate covered peanuts, and I get to sate my sweet tooth anytime I feel like it. See, everyone is happy.”
    “You know, those peanuts are actually quite profitable…”
    “Look, Alice. I can see that you’ve got a good head for business, so I’m going to give you some time to mull this over. But just be aware, my offer expires on Good Friday, and I’ve already gotten a couple call backs from the Buddy Squirrel on Wacker. I’ll be in touch.”
    By this time next week, I anticipate that my childhood dream of eating half my weight in chocolate will be well underway. I love the new Jenny.

    Overheard in the Elevator

    Woman 1: …
    Woman 2: …
    [Elevator stops abruptly and doors open up approximately four inches, somewhere between the 15th and 16th floors.]
    Woman 1: Uh… okay?
    Woman 2: Oh, that can’t be good.
    [Woman 2 presses the button for the 16th floor several times, to no avail. Woman 1 presses the Close Doors button several times, to no avail.]
    Woman 1: That’s just great.
    Woman 2: Yeah, this is pretty much my fault. I’ve got this black cloud following me around lately. But I have a granola bar in my bag…
    Woman 1: Ha! Well, I guess I should press the alarm button.
    Woman 2: Go for it.
    [Elevator suddenly starts to go up, passes Woman 2’s floor, and stops at Woman 1’s floor.]
    Voice of God over Intercom: Hello? Security. Is there a problem?
    Woman 1: Nope, it’s not stuck anymore. We’re good.
    Woman 2: Well, based on my luck lately, I think I’m taking the stairs back down.
    Woman 1: Probably a good idea. Good luck with that black cloud!

    Woman 2
    : You too… I mean thanks!

    The End of the End: Closing the Gate

    As my taxi drove in late at night from LaGuardia to Vivian’s apartment, I stared out the window, trying to tune out the talk radio that the cab driver kept chuckling at. I was fumbling around in my backpack to find my cell phone, when suddenly I looked up and realized that we were already near Central Park. A flash of color caught my eye as we turned the corner – orange banners, all throughout the park. The Gates! But I thought they were supposed to be gone by the time I got here? Maybe I had the dates wrong!
    I was immediately thrilled because I had read so much about this amazing public art exhibit, and was so disappointed to learn that I would miss them by only a few days. When I got to Vivian’s, I told her that the gates were still up in Central Park, which of course, she already knew. As it turned out, the official closing date was February 28, but it would take two weeks to actually disassemble them all and remove them from the park.
    Shoe stores be damned! My first excursion in New York would now have to be Central Park! Viv and I walked over to the exhibit first thing the next morning. We had no idea how many of the gates would still be up, but I was happy to see even one. As we walked through the park, Vivian was amazed at how many were still standing – she said there seemed to be just as many as when it first opened, but with only a fraction the tourists, which made for a much more enjoyable stroll.
    As we walked along and took the same pseudo-artistic photos that millions of others must have taken over the prior weeks, we saw one of the volunteers for the exhibit standing guard in her grey vest. We chatted with her and learned that, of the original 7,503 gates that went up, there were still about 5,000 standing. She told us how much the platforms weighed (a lot). And she shared the interesting factoid that Germans made up the largest population of foreign visitors to The Gates. I think she may have made that last one up, just to impress the German woman who was also talking to her, but I didn’t mind.
    And then the coolest thing happened: she asked me if I had a swatch. At first I thought she meant the über popular Swiss watch, and I was about to tell her that I used to have one, but it got stolen in the robbery. But before I could explain, she pulled out a little orange square of fabric from her grey vest. Oh – that kind of swatch! She then handed me a piece of the actual material that was used to make The Gates! I own art!
    Viv and I thanked her, and continued along our walk. As I turned the orange swatch over and over in my hands, a bit surprised at the rough texture, I was overcome by an emotion that was a strange mix of joy and melancholy. At first, I wasn’t sure why. I looked above me and became almost entranced by the gentle flapping of the orange sails. There was just something so wonderful about that color, bright against the clear blue sky. And then it hit me: Orangehat. Oh god, how I miss him.
    Ever since our divorce papers were filed, I haven’t seen him on the train. We left things so… unfinished, but at the time it seemed like that was the best thing to do. Now somehow, standing in Central Park, clutching the orange fabric, I couldn’t help but think of what might have been.
    Upon my return from New York, I vowed to give my marriage one last shot. With that singular goal in mind, I forced myself to take the early train on Wednesday to find him. I had to let him know once and for all how much I loved him.
    I was running a little late since my body is not used to catching the early train, so I had to make a mad dash to the platform as I saw the train roll in. I struggled to catch my breath as I scanned the crowd of people waiting for the train doors to open. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t spot an orange hat anywhere. This was always his train, so why didn’t I see an orange hat? Come to think of it, why didn’t I see any hats at all? Oh no.
    On this, one of the first warm days we’ve had in four months, the hibernating commuters had chosen to shed one of their winter layers. But – how would I find him without his hat? I’d never seen him without it!
    When I got on the train, I didn’t take a seat, determined to seek him out in one of the other cars. For the whole trip downtown, I walked from car to car, back and forth, scanning the seats for any sign of Orangehat. What did I remember about his face? Did he have any distinguishing scars? A tattoo on his neck? A beard? I couldn’t remember! But he wears an orange hat. An orange hat! ORANGEHAT!!!
    I couldn’t find him anywhere.
    All day long at work, I thought about him – everything reminded me of my ex. I was in a meeting reviewing our 2005 corporate goals and the man sitting next to me didn’t say a word – he sounded just like my Orangehat. I bought some peanut M&M’s out of the vending machine and a bunch of them were orange and oval – just like the back of my husband’s head. When the elevator stopped at my floor, a group of people got off and walked ahead of me really fast – just like O. used to do. It was killing me! The ghostly memories of my failed marriage haunted me.
    When this painful day finally came to a close, I left the office and quickly headed over to the train station. As I looked ahead of me, I saw an orange hat bobbing in the crowd. ORANGEHAT! I found him!
    I started to run toward the hat, which shone like a beacon of hope in the night. When I finally caught up to him, I grabbed his arm, determined to not let him slip away this time. But my heart sank when I discovered that the man in the orange hat was not my husband, Orangehat, but the homeless man who often stands on the corner by the station.
    “Little help here, people! Little help on a cold Wednesday! C’mon folks – little help!”
    As I let go of his arm, he turned to face me, and looked almost as confused as I did. I didn’t know what to say, I was just dumbstruck.
    “Your, your hat. But I… I thought you-“
    “What? You like my hat? It’s yours for $10.”
    “No, you don’t understand. No. I… I have to catch a train. Sorry.”
    “Little help here, people! It’s a cold Wednesday! Little help!”
    I rode the crowd of commuters like a wave, letting them push me toward my track. I felt empty. I don’t even remember getting on or off the train, but somehow I ended up in my apartment.
    He’s gone.
    I’m too late.
    It’s almost spring.
    I tucked the orange swatch under my pillow as I went to bed last night, hoping for one last dream of a marriage that might have been. But I suppose I can still take comfort in knowing that we had the kind of relationship that most people will never have. And we’ll always have Central Park.

    Car Wars: Return of the Jetta

    This Saturday, I finally got around to making the trek up to Wisconsin to my old bank so I could finish up the paperwork regarding my check forgery issue. Up until now, I haven’t really needed to switch to a Chicago-based bank, but I guess it’s time to cut the cord. In any case, the process went smoothly, and I was once again able to laugh with my bankers as we talked about how completely stupid a certain public storage company was to alter my check, steal $405 out of my account, and then try to blame it on the bank teller.
    Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to swing by my parents’ house to have lunch with them. I haven’t seen them in a while, and apparently they’re in the process of re-working their wills, so it’s in my best interest to stay top-of-mind. Not that I have anything to worry about, mind you. My mother won’t come right out and say it, but she’s given me plenty of clues throughout the years to let me know that I was the only child they actually planned for. But you can never be too careful about these kinds of things, so I stopped by for egg salad sandwiches and Doritos.
    I told my parents all about my job, and how I still love it, and how I just got my insurance payment for my robbery, and how I should be getting reimbursed for the check forgery deal soon. And then I mentioned to my mother that with this black cloud I’ve been under lately, I have this nagging fear that I’m going to come out one morning to find my car stolen. We kind of laughed, but not really.
    I hugged my dad goodbye as he drove off to meet some friends, and then my mom and I cracked open a bottle of wine, because really, what else goes with egg salad and Doritos at 11:30am? About two minutes later, I heard a timid knock at the back door. I opened it up and it was my dad who said, “Jen, I just backed into your car, and smashed the front end up real good.”
    “Ha ha. Good one. I’ll admit, though – you’re getting better at not smirking.”
    Because that’s the kind of thing my dad says to me almost every time I go over to their house. We play these kinds of games. It’s what we do. But the boy really saw a wolf this time.
    “No, I’m serious. I smashed your car.”
    I looked out the garage door and saw that my little Honda Civic looked a little skinnier than normal. And that’s because the passenger side was smashed in about 6 inches. My dad’s Jetta, on the other hand, looked as fat as always. Just had a little green paint on the bumper.
    “Oh crap. You’re not kidding.”
    One giant crowbar and some elbow grease later, my dad was able to pry my front quarter panel out enough so that my tire could actually turn. Fortunately I don’t have many passengers, though, since the passenger door only opens about 5 inches.
    So now I’ll just wait to hear from my mom’s insurance company so I can get my car fixed. And while I’m not really one to believe in insurance fraud, I need a little pick-me-up, so I’m totally telling the insurance company that I originally had purple flames detailed on the car.
    “No, no. I realize that you can’t see them on either side of the car. But I’m telling you, he hit the car so hard that they flew off of both sides. Seriously. Who would lie about something like purple flames on a Honda Civic? So yes, I’ll need those painted back on.”
    “Yes. And for some reason, all my chrome spinning hub caps? They fell off, too.”
    “I don’t know, I think they flew into the woods. Anyway, I’ll need some of those.”
    “Mmm hmm. Yes. Right. And I told you that the horn isn’t working either, right?”
    “Yeah. It used to play, Tequila.”
    “Good. Thanks so much!”
    And best of all, as I just told my brother yesterday when he emailed me to razz me about my car: unconditional love + guilt = permanent favorite child status. Now who’s inheriting the house, sucka?!
    Universe wants to hand me some lemons? Just made me some purple flame lemonade, baby!

    Dear Universe

    Dear Universe –
    Hi there! How the heck are you? I know it’s been a really long time since I last wrote you – I couldn’t find your email address for the longest time, but then I was digging through my archives and stumbled across it. Anyway – hope things are going well with you.
    Things have been a little crazy with me lately, but I guess you already knew that, right? Ha! Yeah, you sure are keeping me on my toes. And usually, I’m totally cool with that. I know I’m a really lucky person in general, so I always look at the little curve balls you throw me as gentle reminders to not become complacent.
    But I guess I really wish that if you had a problem with me, you would’ve just picked up the phone and called me. Really, Uni – you and I go way back, and I thought we kind of understood each other when it came to these sorts of things. The robbery? Helped me become more aware of my surroundings. Losing half my hardrive at work? Practice makes perfect. The forged check? I had a really great experience with my bank’s customer service department. But this Saturday? I kind of feel like that one was just you being a little vindictive. I just don’t see how that was really necessary. I thought you liked to play your games in sets of three, but now this is four. So did the hard drive not count? Or am I now on Round Two?
    I don’t want you to think that I’m an ingrate, because I’m really not, but when I complain to myself about having writer’s block, that’s really just a way for me to get more focused on my writing. It’s not a celestial request for material, honestly. Look, I’m not trying to point any fingers. I just want to make sure you and I are on the same page. I get the message – you think I need more interesting things to write about. Point taken.
    But seriously, I have a lot of topics to work with right now. Heck, I’ve still got at least two more stories from my New York trip alone. And last week I started drafting a special Easter entry – really, things are going pretty well in the blog department.
    Anyway – I just wanted to clear that up. I’d really rather handle this like adults, and get away from all this passive aggressive crap you’ve been throwing my way lately. It’s just never been your style. You have my cell number – give me a call this week and let’s talk.


    Cane Mutiny

    Whenever I visit New York City, one of my favorite activities is trying to pick up on all the latest fashion trends. It seems as though almost everyone in the city has a sense of style, and is not afraid to express it. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I might actually be the one to start a fashion trend. It appears that there is a first time for everything.
    Vivian and I were on our way to see what would be one of the most amazing art exhibits ever at the Whitney (Tim Hawkinson), when I noticed something sticking out of a garbage can. It was an old wooden walking cane that had been carelessly tossed away. The stain was all chipped and rubbed off from years of use. Of course, I was instantly intrigued.
    “Viv! Check out that cane in the trash. I need that!”
    “What? Okay, you’re joking, right? You are not going to dig a nasty old used cane out of the trash and start walking around Manhattan with it.”
    “Why not? It’s totally cool! Look – you know there are people who are paid to scout out new street fashion – I could start the next trend. Versace will be making pimp canes next fall, I guarantee it.”
    I was convinced that this cane could become my signature. No longer would I have to be just that curly-haired girl. Now it could be:
    “Which one is Jenny?”
    “You know – she’s that girl who walks with a bad-ass cane like Dolemite.”
    “Oh yeah! She’s so cool. I wish I could be her friend.”

    That could be me.
    Vivian got a stern look on her face and said, “Seriously, Jenny. I don’t know how they do things in Chicago, but here in New York, normal, sane people do not fish germ-infested broken down canes out of the trash and pretend that they are high fashion.”
    As I was preparing my rebuttal, which started out with a commentary on how Vivian did know how they do things in Chicago since she grew up here, out of the corner of my eye I saw two Latina teenagers walk up near us and start talking. The one with the blonde and red highlights spied my cane in the garbage can, snatched it out, and started doing the exact same pimp walk that I planned on doing once I had Purell-ed the handle of the cane.
    “Yo – check out my pimp cane!”
    “That’s cool. Take it!”
    “No shit.”
    Vivian was still rambling on about what is and is not appropriate New York behavior as it relates to trash cans, when I bugged my eyes out at her and nodded in the direction of the hipster youths.
    “So… tell me again how people do things in New York?”
    “Okay, well… Jenny. Those were kids. You need to hold yourself to a little higher standard.”
    “You just don’t get it, do you? Of course they’re kids, because kids always start the cutting edge fashion trends. They have a sixth sense for this kind of thing. It’s just like Tyra Banks always says – if you want to make it in the fashion business, you need to be fierce! That cane was fierce, Viv. I could’ve been fierce, for once in my life. Fee-erce!”
    For the rest of my trip, everywhere we went we saw people carrying hip canes. I would make a point to call Vivian’s attention to them wherever we were.
    “Cane, ten o’clock.”
    “Man with dog-head cane coming out of Starbucks.”
    “Eight women with canes, Viv. Eight – count ‘em.”
    “Jenny – that’s a nursing home.”
    “Still, you see my point.”
    “Fine! I promise I will NEVER stop you from dumpster diving in New York City again. Are you happy?”
    “That’s all I wanted.”
    So on my next trip to New York, I’ll be ready for the trend scouts. I’ll be scouring all the trash bins and alleyways for the next hot fashion trend. Maybe you’ll see me pushing a broken walker, perhaps sporting a stained neck-brace, or even dangling a used inhaler around my neck.
    But as god is my witness, I will never, ever miss my chance to be fierce again.