I have never been one to leave my fate in the hands of a higher power, but sometimes destiny chooses us, and we’re just along for the ride. Such was my week.

After a few particularly stressful weeks at work, I decided on Wednesday to call Natasha to see if she could join me for a quick lunch. About fifteen minutes later, we were dining on salads and sandwiches, debating the finer details of American Idol.

I told Nat that I thought it might be time for us to get back into tap dancing, when she stopped me, and said, “Oh – didn’t I tell you about the class I’m thinking of taking?”

“No, what is it?”


This was a highly unexpected response, so I needed clarification: “Fiddle? You mean like the violin? Huh. I guess I always pictured you as more of a woodwind kind of a gal.”

Natasha shrugged her shoulders, and said, “Yeah, well. I’m still deciding. They have a ton of classes this session that sound fun – fiddle, vocal lessons, jug band, theatre, tap dan-“

I held up my hands, and said, “Whoa. Did you just say ‘jug band?’ Elaborate, please.”

She chewed on her straw a bit, and mumbled, “Oh yeah. It’s a jug band – you know, like those country bears at DisneyWorld? Or is it Chuck E. Cheese? Anyway, apparently you make all your own instruments and just get together and make music.”

“So wait… are you saying I could play the spoons?”

“Sure, I guess. Or the washboard, or the jug, maybe.”

“Nat. Do you even understand how badly I have always wanted to play the spoons? I used to try to play them as a kid! And my mom had an antique washboard that we used to play with, too!”

Natasha kind of rolled her eyes, and said, “I thought you grew up in Wisconsin, not Whistler’s Holler. But hey, it’s cool that you’re proud to be a coal miner’s daughter.”

“Joke all you want, but you are not taking fiddle. Or vocal lessons. Because you. And I. Are taking jug band. This is what we’ve always dreamed of! Finish up your salad – we’ve got classes to sign up for!”

When I got back to work, I realized that the class started that evening, and there were only two available slots left. I frantically called Nat, and we registered immediately, happily plunking down the $150 for the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than both of us.

Since we weren’t exactly sure what to expect, and hadn’t had time to research jug bands online, Nat and I were a little nervous about the first class. We got there about a half an hour early, just in case we needed to quickly run to a convenience store to pick up some bottles or tin cans to use for instruments.

As we sat patiently outside the locked classroom door, I started to sweat a bit when I saw someone walk down the stairs carrying a giant steel washtub, a broomstick, and some rope. When we saw the second person carrying a washtub, Nat and I started to freak a little.

Natasha grabbed me by the arm, and whispered, “Crap, Jenny! They all have instruments already! How did they know?! Who just has a washtub bass lying around?”

“I don’t know, but we are so in over our heads. Maybe they’ve taken this class before?”

The instructor finally came down, and we meekly filed our way into the classroom. In the middle of the room was a circle of chairs, and in front of each chair was a music stand. I knew immediately that this was no hack jug band. The instructor explained that everyone, except for Natasha and me, had been taking this class for the past sixteen weeks. It was an eclectic group of people, ranging in ages from about 25 to 70.

As we went around the room and introduced ourselves to the group, everyone listened attentively, and asked us all sorts of questions about what we knew about jug bands, and what made us want to sign up for the class. It was like a dream come true – we had infiltrated a fully established jug band ensemble, yet were instantly accepted. Everyone was so welcoming, that it was almost alien. One woman handed me a rhythm egg. Another man handed me his spoons. Natasha had already received her very own tin kazoo, and was learning to play the nose whistle before the class even officially began.

After the introductions were over, the instructor tried to bring Natasha and me up to speed so that we could quickly join in the group. He played some traditional jug band music for us – the Mississippi Sheiks, I think – and then let us in on the most wonderful secret I had ever heard: this ragtag group of juggers had actually formed a real band, with a name and everything. They have a website, they have bumper stickers, but best of all, they have gigs.

I wasn’t sure if I had heard him right, so I leaned over to Nat, and whispered, “Wait – did he just say they have gigs lined up? As in plural?”

Nat’s eyes widened as she nodded her head. She tried to contain her grin as she whispered back, “Jenny, this is what we’ve been working toward our entire lives! We’re totally in a band, and we didn’t even need to try out!”

Before I knew it, I was flipping through photos of the band’s last performance, which was at a local coffee house a few nights earlier. As it turns out, they’ve been performing several times a week for the past few months.

And we were welcomed in with open arms.

The teacher decided to dive right in and practice one of the songs they had recently learned. The woman next to me, whose forte was the washboard, gave me her copy of the lyrics to sing from. The thimbles on her fingertips clicked together softly as she pointed out the parts where I should jump in. Natasha and I started hesitantly at first, but within minutes we were clanking and clinking and thumping our way through our first performance.

In the middle of our second song, I had to stop playing the spoons – partly because I wanted to talk to Nat, and partly because my fingers were killing me from “drumming” – so I leaned over to Natasha, eyes slightly misty, and said, “I’ve never been so happy in my life!”

She took a break from blowing into her sarsaparilla jug, and agreed, “I know – me too! Jenny, it was meant to be! Fate stepped in and made this happen! This is our time to shine!”
I’m not a churchgoer, but I imagine that this is the feeling that some people hope for when they go to church. Acceptance. Love. Energy. Joy. It was surreal.

The next day, Natasha naively told a few friends about our gleeful experience, and was quickly met with quiet disinterest. I tried to explain to her that most people wouldn’t understand.
“Nat, you can’t take it personally. Not everyone is going to understand what jug band is all about, and what a visionary our teacher is. I mean, most people thought Jesus was crazy at first, too.”

“Wait – you’re not comparing our jug band instructor to Jesus, are you?”

“Of course not. I’m comparing us to Jesus.”

“Oh boy.”

“Look. Some people will want to follow us, some won’t, and we’ll have to leave those people off the Ark and let them turn to salt. So let it be written.”

Natasha squinted a bit, and said, “Mmm… I’m pretty sure you’re mixing up a few stories there.”

“Whatever. You know what I mean. All I’m trying to say is that we can’t let the opinions of others keep us from pursuing our dream.”

So what if we hadn’t really known what a jug band was until that evening. And who cares if playing the jug made me a little light-headed, and playing the spoons made my fingers swell. I am part of something important. Something that will change the direction of my life forever. Why, with tap dance and jug band under my belt, there’s no mountain I can’t climb!

But if you’ll excuse me, there’s a shiny tin jaw harp on eBay that I’m bidding on, and I can’t let that baby slip away!

Brief Survey

Okay, so I just have time for a couple quick questions that I’m hoping to gain some insight into:
1. Have any of you actually seen a chicken with its head cut off, and if so, is that really what I look like right now?
2. How would I know if I had a collapsed lung? Would I definitely know? Can your lungs deflate due to stress?
3. Is there any medical evidence of people going blind from an eye twitch?
Results will be tabulated and published in the quarterly review. Thanks!

Shear Madness

As I stood on the street corner, hugging myself to fend off the unseasonably frigid wind which was blowing my hair in my eyes, I tried unsuccessfully to hail a cab. I was running late to meet a friend for dinner, and didn’t have time to take the El. It seemed like everyone else had the same idea since each cab that drove by was already loaded with people rushing off to start their weekends.
A homeless man who had just been kicked out of the Starbucks behind me started to occupy himself by pulling on the doors of all the newspaper machines on the corner. After grabbing a copy of The Reader, he saw me standing on the curb, and said in a high-pitched, scratchy voice, “With hair like that, you gonna go crazy!”
His eyes opened wide as he spoke, and he pointed at his ears with both hands and twirled his fingers in a circular motion. He then repeated for emphasis, “Craaaaazy!”
I stopped myself from launching forth the verbal jab that had served me so well in middle school – “I know you are, but what am I?” – fearing that it might be another few minutes before a cab came to my rescue, and that my retort might either inflame or intrigue the man, neither of which would serve me well. So I just fixed my gaze on the southbound traffic, desperate to leap into a vacant taxi.
Eventually, my golden chariot arrived, and I quickly hopped in. I glanced back at the man, who was now leaning against the bus stop pole. He looked at me, and twirled his hand around his ear again, in case I hadn’t understood his previous message.
I slumped back into my seat and checked my cell phone for missed calls. As I sat in the cab, looking out the window, I thought about what the man had said. Crazy. My hair will make me crazy. Huh. That’s not even possible… is it? Nah. He’s just an old homeless man, trying to mess with me.
For some reason, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. Does anyone really know what causes a person to go crazy? I must admit that many thoughts enter my mind that I choose not to share, lest people think I’m a bit off-kilter. I always thought it might be because I was a Pisces, but what if it all comes down to hair? Mental illness is often genetic, and curly hair is certainly genetic, so is it really that much of a leap to draw the connection that curly hair might just be the physical manifestation of insanity?
I imagined my head in cross-section – the twisted, gnarly hair follicles poking deep down into my brain. It all started to make sense. And with time, won’t the corkscrews twist deeper and deeper into the soft grey matter, ultimately causing the madness to consume me?
All during dinner, I found myself completely distracted by this image. But what could I do? Is it possible that my curls were both the source of my strength and my weakness? How could I avoid this inevitable demise? Shaving my head would be futile. A flat iron wouldn’t work.
My friend Lana noticed that I was just pushing my veal medallions from one side of the plate to the other, so she asked, “Jenny. What’s wrong? Don’t you like your dinner?”
“No, it’s fine. It’s good. I’m just thinking about something somebody told me today. Hey, do you think they can do laser hair removal on someone’s entire head?”
Lana coughed a little as she sipped her Chianti, and said, “What, are you crazy?!”
I took a gulp of my wine, nodded my head, and said softly, “With hair like this, what do you expect?”

Mr. Telephone Man

Hi, you’ve reached Jenny at 555-5555. Leave a message at the beep and I’ll call you right back!
10:43am: Yeah, Jimmy. Give me a call. It’s Pops.
11:24am: Jimmy – where are you? Call me. It’s Pops.
1:49pm: Yeah, uh. Tell Jimmy to call Pops. It’s Pops.
2:03pm: Can you have Jimmy call Pops? Yeah.
4:27pm: Hey, I need to talk to Jimmy. Have him call Pops.
9:36am: Jimmy! Call me. It’s Pops.
8:24pm: Hi, you’ve reached Jenny at 555-5555. Leave a message at the beep and I’ll call you right back! Unless this is Pops, in which case, listen you stupid #@$%! Jimmy’s never calling you back because he’s with me now! You think you can just leave a few messages, and then pretend like nothing happened? You can’t tell him what to do anymore – he’s a grown man. Jimmy loves me and never wants to talk to you again. If you keep calling us, Jimmy will slap your ass with a restraining order so fast that your bald head will spin. And he said that if you ever want to see your grandkids aga- what’s that, Jimmy? Okay, I will. Jimmy says to tell Moms to call him.

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

This afternoon, while sitting in the train station food court and lunching on my McDonald’s California Cobb Salad with Grilled Chicken and Paul Newman’s Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing, I noticed that the table in front of me was overloaded with two beat up suitcases, several tightly packed shopping bags, and a guitar case. Amidst all this debris, however, the owner was conspicuously absent.
My immediate thought, as we live in the post 9/11 era, was of course, that there must be a bomb in the guitar case. Before I could alert the gendarmes, a travel weary, ragged looking old man came over with a sandwich and a coffee, and sat down at the table. He looked like someone who might have gone by the name Boxcar Pete, if this were the 1920’s. I fully expected him to pull out a long stick with a red plaid handkerchief tied on the end, concealing a few items of clothing, a jug of moonshine, and perhaps a harmonica.
Bomb threat now averted, I had just re-focused my attention on identifying the seven different types of lettuce that McDonald’s claims to include in their salads, when I heard someone calling out to me.
“Hey, Miss? Excuse me – Miss?”
I looked up to see Boxcar Pete smiling at me, revealing years of missed dental appointments. He reached his arm out toward me, and clutched tightly in his rough hand was a small jar of what appeared to be jelly. I stared ahead, confused, and unsure of how to interpret this gesture.
“Excuse me, Miss. Do you like apple butter?”
My brain ran through all the possible responses to this question, and the likely outcomes. If I said yes, would he try to sell me some? If I said no, would he be offended and throw it at me? If I said I didn’t know, would he offer me a taste? Think, Jenny, think! What’s the right answer?!
He could see that I was desperately trying to process this unexpected request, so he gave me further clarification, “See, I’m going to Canada, and Customs says I can’t bring food items into a foreign country. I said it was just some apple butter, and I’m just going to Canada, but they said I had to leave it behind. Seems a shame to waste. Would you like to take it?”
When I glanced over at the garage sale he had accumulated on that table, I was a bit surprised at the fact that the apple butter was the only thing that triggered the watchful eye of Customs. From the looks of it, he could have been smuggling a whole nest of rabid ferrets in that DSW bag alone. Certainly he must be stashing some raw poultry in that guitar case.
I thanked him for the offer, but told him that I would hate to waste it, because I could never eat that much by myself. He nodded his head in agreement and said, “I know. That’s what I hate about this – I just can’t stand to see good food go to waste. My cousin made this – it’s the best you’ve ever tasted. I didn’t know it was illegal to take apple butter to Canada. I just didn’t know. How could I know?”
I agreed that it was really unfortunate, wished him a nice trip, and continued eating my salad. I heard him offer the butter to a few other people, who gave him a variety of responses that ranged from “no” to “no.”
But this got me thinking – do I really not like apple butter, or did I just turn him down because he seemed like he might have a touch of the crazy? Would I have accepted apple butter from a man in a business suit? From a woman in a sundress? I had to know, so I devised a chart mapping out my honest opinions on what type of edible items I would, and would not, accept from various people, including close friends, casual acquaintances, and complete strangers. I think you’ll agree that the results, shown below in Figure 1, are nothing less than astonishing.
Figure 1: Analysis of Jenny’s Free Food Acceptance Philosophy:


of gum in wrapper
of gum popped out of blister pack
of bread
half of sandwich (untouched)
slice of pizza
candy bar
can of soda
box of LemonHeads
jelly beans hand selected from large bag
of milk

What I realized is that, although I do not consider myself a devout germophobe, it appears that I do practice germophobia when it comes to free food. There is very little that I would accept from even a casual acquaintance, and really nothing from a complete stranger. Do I have trust issues? Have I acquired an eating disorder? Was I not exposed to enough diversity as a child? Only further research will determine the answers to those questions, but until then, save your apple butter for yourself, because Jenny? She don’t want it.


Now that the harsh winter is over, I’ve decided to come out of hibernation and throw myself headfirst back into the dating scene. But this time, I’m adopting a new strategy utilizing a three-pronged approach: take a new class, start venturing out into uncharted neighborhoods for coffee and drinks, and test the waters again in the online dating pool.
The last time I tried online dating, it ended with a late night intervention followed by three weeks of intense deprogramming after I fell victim to the eHarmony cult. With the pain of that experience still lingering in the deep recesses of my brain, I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake, so I solicited the help of my most trusted friends. After all, who knows me better than they do? If anyone should be able to help me attract the attention of a prospective suitor, it would be my pals.
Or so I thought.
See, I consider myself to be a fiercely loyal friend. If one of my pals needs help, I’m there in a heartbeat. And I don’t ask much in return, but when I do need my friends’ help, I expect them to be there for me. Yet, to date, they have disappointed me immensely. I gave them all one simple task, but they have consistently failed to deliver. The mission? Help me come up with a catchy headline so that I can post a new personals ad. Is that so much to ask? As I quickly learned, the answer to that is, yes. Apparently it is.
About a week ago, I was talking to Seamus to see if he had any ideas for headlines. He said he needed some time to think about it, and that he would get back to me with some options. We met for lunch later in the week where he pulled out a scribbled list and handed it to me:

  • Hit me with your best shot
  • You give love a bad name
  • Are you strong enough to be my man?
  • Dream a little dream
  • Brown sugar
  • Do you really want to hurt me?
  • Rebel yell
    As I read about halfway through his list, I quickly realized that something was amiss.
    “Seamus! This isn’t a list of headlines you came up with. This is your set list from karaoke the other night! Nice. I can see you put a lot of thought into this.”
    He swallowed his bite of sandwich, and said, “What? What’s wrong with using song titles as your headline? Dream a little dream? Birds singing in the sycamore tree? That’s totally romantic!”
    I just shook my head and finished my salad. Clearly what I needed was a woman’s perspective, so I made a call to my dear friend Vivian in New York. She’s a writer, so I knew she would have some good ideas.
    “Viv, I’m in a bind. I need some ideas for headlines for my personals ad. I need something that conveys what I’m looking for in a date – smart, funny, eclectic. Got any ideas?”
    I could hear some sirens in the background as she paused to collect her thoughts. After a minute or so went by, she asked me if I had a pen ready, and said, “Okay, it’s really important that you have an intelligent headline. Something that will help attract someone who’s well-read and cultured. How about something like, Catherine seeks brooding Heathcliff for moonlit walks in the moors?
    “Brooding? I like artsy, but not so sure about the brooding part. And didn’t Heathcliff go crazy and haunt Catherine? Or wait – was it the other way around? I don’t know – what else do you have?”
    “Ooh, how about this one? Will you be my Boo? Love, Scout. Get it? Boo, like Boo Radley? But also Boo, like in Hey, Boo.”
    “Uh, yeah. I get it. Clever. But Boo was some old crazy guy, right? I’m just not sure you’re hitting on what I’m after.”
    “Fine. You can really be kind of high maintenance sometimes, you know? Okay this one’s perfect: Gertrude looking for her Alice.”
    “You cannot be serious. Alice B. Toklas? Now I’m looking for Alice B. Toklas? Vivian, did I do something to piss you off?”
    “What? Look. Gertrude and Alice shared one of the greatest romances in history. They’re buried on top of each other, you know.”
    “Mmm, yes. That’s quite romantic. So I’m looking for someone who will want to share a grave with me, is that what it’s come to now? Uh, hey – I think I have another call coming in. Gotta go!”
    This clearly was going to be far more difficult than I had anticipated. And although Vivian’s suggestions were a bit too esoteric for my tastes, she did have a good point about attracting someone intelligent. But since dating is really more of a science than an art, I decided to stop talking to my right-brained friends and start reaching out to the left-brained ones. With that in mind, I called one of my smartest amigos, Dr. Greene, PhD. He works for the government researching human cloning, so I figured if anyone could give me sage advice, it would be him.
    “Hey, Dr. Greene. It’s Jenny. Did you get my email about the headlines? Have you come up with any ideas yet?”
    “Yeah, I’ve been giving it quite a bit of thought over the past few days. I brainstormed about twenty different options, evaluated the key attributes of each, and then matrixed them out to determine which would have the greatest likelihood of attracting an appropriate mate. So based on my calculations, I’ve determined that the headline you should go with is, Bun Seeks Wiener. It’s short, to the point, very Chicago-centric, and clever.”
    I paused for several seconds as my brain tried to process what he had just said, because I didn’t think it was possible that I heard him right the first time.
    “Are you mental?! I am not using the word ‘wiener’ in my personals ad! I mean, who even uses that word, except twelve year old boys, and for some inexplicable reason, my grandmother?!”
    “Well, I think it’s funny. I would totally click on someone’s ad that said ‘wiener’ in it!”
    “Yes, but you would also click on someone’s ad that said ‘poopy pants’ in it.”
    “Hmm. Can’t argue with that, I guess.”
    “Okay, so what were the other nineteen options you came up with?”
    Dr. Greene hesitated a bit, and then said meekly, “Well, they were all pretty much just variations on that same headline.”
    I could see this was going nowhere, so I decided that my last hope would be to consult with Natasha. Good old reliable Nat. She wouldn’t disappoint me. She knows how hard it is to find a compatible date. She wouldn’t lead me astray.
    “Okay, I’ve got tons of great ideas, so let me just start rolling with them, alright?”
    “Nat, you’re a lifesaver! Go for it!”
    “Lucy Seeks Ricky”
    “Mmm… no.”
    “Edith Seeks Archie”
    “Betty Seeks Barney”
    “Arnold Seeks the Gooch”
    I stopped her at that point, and asked, “Isn’t the Gooch the kid who would steal Arnold’s lunch money? So now I’m a 4’2” black eight year old boy looking for someone to beat me? Do you want me to end up on the back of a milk carton? Little help, here, Nat.”
    She laughed, “I was just seeing if you were listening. Oh wait – how about this one – Shirley Seeks the Big Ragu!
    “Hmm. That one’s kind of funny. You’re definitely getting closer, but something’s still a little off. I always related more to Laverne, anyway. Do you think we could get off the TV themes, though? I don’t want to seem like all I do is watch old sitcom reruns.”
    “All right. Maybe I need a little more information first, I mean, what exactly are you looking for? What’s your perfect date?”
    “Okay, I guess personality-wise, I like smart, funny, outgoing, and creative.”
    “Great. Now we’re getting somewhere. How about physically?”
    “Well, I don’t know how much I want to get into that in a personals ad.”
    “But you must have a type.”
    “Of course. Everyone has a type. It’s just… well, I have a weird type.”
    “C’mon, Jenny. Give. What is it?”
    “It’s silly.”
    “Just tell me! This is Nat you’re talking to – give it up!”
    “Okay, well it’s just a few little things that I always found attractive. I don’t expect anyone to really have all these traits, but it’s just a list of things I th-“
    “Jenny! Enough with the disclaimers! I have to work tomorrow, you know.”
    “All right, but you asked for it: if I had to describe my ideal physical type, it would be a tall, dark-haired, light-eyed, gap-toothed, Scorpio, twin.”
    Nat just kind of squinted her eyes, and said, “Hmm. I can’t imagine why you’re still single.”
    “Look. I told you it was a weird list, but you kept asking.”
    “Gap-toothed, huh? What’s that all about?”
    “Are you kidding me? I go weak in the knees for a nicely spaced gapper.”
    “Really? I find that odd. Do you like there to be gaps between all the teeth?”
    “God, no! Just the front teeth. David Letterman, Lauren Hutton, Robert Downey Jr., Madonna. People with gap teeth are irresistible. Where have you been?”
    “Okay, okay. So you like gaps, but what’s up with the twin thing? That’s a little creepy.”
    Now I started to get defensive, and said, “I don’t want to date both twins. I just always found them… interesting. But to be honest, I’m kind of over that now. I saw some twin boys sharing Chicken McNuggets in the mall the other day, and they kept dipping the nuggets in the sauce at the same time. It kind of made me realize that twins are actually a little weird. Plus they have that whole twin language, and what if they tried to trick me by switching places… yeah, drop that one off the list.”
    “Okay, I think I’ve got it. Why don’t you go with something like this: Single professional woman looking for someone to date a few times before we both realize there’s no chemistry and we discover that you aren’t as funny as you sounded in your ad and I’m not as physically fit as I sounded in my ad so then we’ll just lie to each other and say we had a good time and we should do it again soon but we both know that will never happen.”
    I paused for a moment, playing the headline over in my mind. I started to nod my head, and said, “Interesting. The truth in advertising route, huh? It’s just so crazy it might work! Let the uncomfortable silences and awkward first kisses begin!”

  • Jive Talkin’ 2

    After Seamus’ hit play was over, a group of us went out for drinks to recap the highlights of his theatrical debut. During the play, there were some young kids in the audience who kept shouting to their mother who was performing on stage. Later on, as we sat in the bar, conversation soon led to the topic of children who aren’t quite as cute as they, or their parents, think they are. I took a sip of my scotch and soda, and decided it was time to share the tale of a boy who would come to be known as the Crabapple Kid.
    It all began on one of those insufferably long days at work, where nothing seemed to be going right. The project I had been working on for two weeks was scrapped, and the one I had let slide was now top priority, and consequently overdue. It was cold and rainy, and if one more oblivious suburban tourist nearly poked my eye out with her umbrella, I felt like I might have to shave my head and turn vigilante, à la Travis Bickle.
    I just wanted to sit on the train, stare out the window, and think about what I might eat for dinner. But that wasn’t meant to be.
    I took the only seat that was available, which was behind a young woman and her son, who was probably about four years old. He was a chatty and overly animated boy, probably the kind who would end up taking theatre classes in school, and later perform in hit plays at the local church.
    Normally, I love kids. I am charmed by them, and enjoy their company. But not that day. That day, I just wanted to sit on the train, stare out the window, and think about what I might eat for dinner. Alas, the boy had other plans for us.
    As soon as the train left the station, he knelt on the seat, and turned around to face me. He then attempted to engage me in the babbling conversation of a four year old, his gibberish broken only by bursts of coughing. I stared blankly into his button eyes, and watched helplessly as he interrupted the steady stream of fluid trailing from his nose by wiping it on the back of his chubby hand.
    Avert your eyes, Jenny. Ignore him and he’ll go away.
    Finally, he began to trace the outline of my ticket with his moist fingers. I looked up and politely smiled, assuming his mother would tell him to sit down and leave the nice lady alone. But she didn’t, because she believed, incorrectly, that her son was the most adorable creature I had ever seen in my life.
    Perhaps fatigued by the sustained loss of vital bodily fluids from his pug nose, he eventually sat down and directed his energy toward kicking the seat in front of him instead of contaminating my monthly pass with the croup. His mother tried to entertain him with storybooks and Highlights Magazines, but he wasn’t interested. When he spoke, it was in a baby talk voice that was at least a year too young for him.
    “I’m hungwy. Can I have my apple, Mommy?”
    His mother reached into her backpack and pulled out the tiniest apple I had ever seen. It was clearly the kind that was not meant for eating, but intended to be baked into a pie or boiled down into applesauce. This was the kind of apple that came in ten-pound bags, was all banged up, and was perpetually on sale for $2.99 a bushel. The kind of apple your Polish great-grandmother might offer you as dessert, but only because the dementia had recently set in, and she was convinced that you were a gypsy.
    The boy held the tiny mottled apple carefully in his hands, turning it round and round, inspecting it. Then, something caught his attention.
    “Look Mommy. There’s a bwown spot there.”
    And unlike 99.9% of the normal population who would have avoided the wormhole and simply eaten around it, our modern day Johnny Appleseed decided to sink his soft baby teeth directly into the rotten part.
    He held the apple out, and said, “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy! Look! I eated the bwown spot! No more spot!”
    His voice lilted with a singsong cadence that made my ears start to itch. I watched as he proudly chomped into the apple with exaggerated head movements, leaving a trail of dime-sized bites. With each dramatic nibble, he would look over at his mother, and then glance back at me, waiting for some sort of approval or applause.
    At one point, I imagined myself snatching the half-eaten apple from his sticky paws and throwing it with all my might against the front of the car, laughing maniacally as its mealy innards exploded, raining down on all the unsuspecting commuters.
    Thankfully, however, my stop was approaching, so I quickly retrieved my bacteria-laden ticket from its clip and hopped out of my seat, trying once again to focus on what I might eat for dinner.
    As I shared this story with my friends, and pantomimed the boy’s dramatic fruit consumption, Natasha was particularly taken with the image of the tiny apple. As we continued discussing it, I realized that we had created yet another new catch phrase: crabapple kid.

      crabapple kid, krab’-apl kid, n. A child who tries to be overly precious, or works too hard at being adorable; one who is deserving only of wormy crabapples.

    For the rest of the weekend, we kept trying out our new expression on each other, looking for different contexts in which to use it.
    “Nat, your kids are gonna be so rotten that your biography will be called, Natasha Crabapple and the Crabapple Dumpling Gang!
    “Shut up! Your grubby children are gonna have to rob banks to pay for all their wormy apples. And then they’ll make a movie based on your life called, Jenny Cassidy and the Crabapple Kid!
    “Ooh, good one. Oh wait, remember when your daughter was in that boxing movie? What the heck was that called? Oh yeah – Million Dollar Crabapple Kid!
    Then Nat started testing out our new catch phrases in combination:
    “Damn, Jenny! Why’d you go and have so many nasty crabapple kids? What, were you walking the squirrel or something?”
    After two straight days of this, the mere thought of an apple would throw us into hysterical fits of laughter. Farnsworth reluctantly joined us for dinner and a movie on Sunday night, fearing he would have to endure another few hours of crabapple themed insults. We made it through the meal like civilized human beings, and therefore felt deserving of dessert. Nat agreed to split the mango cheesecake with me, and Farnsworth asked what the sorbet of the day was.
    The waiter folded his arms behind his back, and said, “Well, tonight we have coconut, raspberry, and green apple.”
    I paused a moment, and exhaled slowly before looking over at Natasha, who already had tears welling in her eyes. She didn’t make a sound, but just stared down at her plate, her shoulders heaving from suppressed laughter.
    I leaned over to Farnsworth and whispered, “Don’t mind her. Your girlfriend’s just walking the squirrel again.”

    Jive Talkin’ 1

    You know how sometimes people start to tell you a story, and you can tell within about fifteen seconds that the story is only going to be funny to the person telling it, and possibly the other person who was involved? Well, the next couple entries may be just like that. So Natasha, I hope you’re reading this.
    This weekend, Natasha and I decided to grab dinner before going to see our friend Seamus perform in his hit play at the St. Ignatius Catholic Church and Elementary School on the north side of town. As we were heading toward the restaurant, we saw a man walking what was perhaps the smallest headed dog I have ever seen in my life. It looked not unlike a mouse wearing a dog suit.
    The man didn’t even have the dog on a leash, which I suspect is because the dog’s neck could not support the weight of a collar. We both started laughing as soon as the pinheaded pup passed us by, and Natasha said, “It looked like he was walking a squirrel!”
    I snickered, “Heh. Walking a squirrel. Totally!”
    Natasha smiled, and said it again, “Yeah. It totally looked like he was walking a squirrel. How dumb is that!?”
    Then she slowed down for a minute, looked back at the microscopic mutt, and said, “Hey! We should start a new catch phrase! That could be our catch phrase! How come 13 year old skateboarders and Snoop Dogg always get to come up with the popular expressions? Why not Midwestern marketing managers in their mid-thirties?”
    Intrigued, but slightly confused, I said, “So… what’s the catch phrase?”
    “Walking the squirrel, of course!”
    “Oh – that’s funny! But… what does it mean?”
    “You know, it means like, you’re stupid. Or you just did something stupid, or crazy.”
    I needed a bit more context, so I asked Nat to use it in a sentence.
    Natasha kind of squinted, and looked up for a minute as she tried to collect her thoughts, and then she said, “Okay. So say that maybe you forgot to bring the tickets to the play tonight, and you didn’t realize it until the show was just about to start. Then I might say to you, Dang Jenny! Where’s your head at? Are you walking the squirrel tonight, or what?
    I quickly patted my back pocket to make sure I hadn’t, in fact, walked the squirrel. Nope, tickets were still there.
    Since I know that active learning is the best way to retain a new concept, I tested out our new catch phrase in a sentence of my own: “Okay, so how about this one – let’s say that I was in a meeting today and our marketing director suggested doing a huge direct mail campaign next Christmas to kick off our new product line, so I lean over to a colleague and say, Man! He sure is walking the squirrel with that idea! You know we’ll never get a good response during a holiday!
    Nat pursed her lips, bobbed her head back and forth, and said, “Mmm… well, I guess you’re using it in the right context, but it just doesn’t quite flow in that situation. Keep trying, though. You’ll get it.”
    I shrugged my shoulders, and started heading toward the restaurant. We met Nat’s boyfriend, Farnsworth, there, and she told him all about our new catch phrase. He seemed to really like it, and started testing it out immediately.
    “Dude. I had so much scotch last night that I was totally walking the squirrel!”
    Natasha’s shoulders slumped, her mouth pulled tight at the corners, and she rolled her eyes as she said, “No! You guys just aren’t getting it. It doesn’t mean drunk. Walking the squirrel means you did something stupid. A bonehead move. Think about it – you’re walking a squirrel. I mean, how stupid could that possibly be? You can’t walk a squirrel! That’s what’s so funny about it!”
    Farnsworth gave it another shot, and said, “Okay, how about this? What if a guy I know locked his keys in his car while the car was still running, so then I said to him, Hey – you really took the squirrel for a walk there!
    Natasha and I quickly conferred, and then agreed that “walking the squirrel” and “taking the squirrel for a walk” have two very different meanings. The first one is funny, while the second one is just plain vulgar. I’m not exactly sure why, but it just is.
    After we finished dinner, we started to head out to the car to make it in time to get a good seat for the performance. Just as I stepped into the street, two teenage girls on a scooter came burning around the corner, and I had to jump back on the curb just to save my toes.
    I threw my hands in the air and screamed, “Hey, you morons! Way to walk the squirrel!!!”
    Natasha looked over, and beamed with pride as she said, “Snoop Dogg ain’t got nothing on us.”

    [Stay tuned for Friday’s exciting entry, when I explain our other new
    catch phrase that will soon sweep the nation: “Crabapple Kid”]

    Wish I Hadn’t Witnessed

    After my last experience in New York City, you would think that I’d had my fill of gag-reflex triggering encounters, but upon my return, I started to find a lot of things in my own fair city that elicited the same response. Did I just not notice them before? Am I now somehow subconsciously seeking them out? Whatever the case, I blame Vivian for heightening my awareness of the nauseating.
    But I suspect, however, that she did it because she found that, in sharing these experiences with me, perhaps they seemed slightly less appalling. Horror shared is a horror divided, which leads me to the purpose of today’s entry. My ultimate goal is for this feature to become a short-lived one, but in the event that I continue to be disturbed on a regular basis by things I see throughout my day, I need to have a venue in which to communicate these offensive occurrences.
    Years of reading the chapter titles of self-help guides have taught me that holding negative feelings inside, much like eating White Castle after midnight, can destroy you from within. The healthiest thing to do, therefore, is to force all this negativity out onto the universe, so that everyone else feels the same way you do.
    While I don’t usually look to biblical verse to guide my daily actions, the passage I keep circling back to is, “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” As I only have two eyes to spare, and mine eye doth be offended on a regular basis, I’m afraid I cannot follow this instruction to the letter of the law. Therefore, my updated take on that is going to be, “If thine eye offend thee, blog it out.”
    So with that, it is with very mixed feelings that I launch my latest feature, “Wish I Hadn’t Witnessed.”

    Wish I Hadn’t Witnessed: Under Where?

    This weekend, while shopping for nothing in particular, I found myself magnetically drawn toward the Victoria’s Secret store. Although I didn’t have a particular need for unmentionables, I was strangely intrigued by their claims of a new patented bra technology. I wasn’t aware that there was any technology involved in bras, other than the security sensors that are so darn hard to pry off in the dressing rooms. But as I was looking around at the preferred underwear of Gisele Bundchen, I glanced over and saw a woman shopping with her daughter, who looked to be around five years old. The mother was digging through the stacks of neatly laid out underwear, leaving a trail of chaos in her path.
    Just as I was about to tap her on the shoulder and point out that every single pair of underwear on that table was the same size, therefore there was really no need for her to snort her way through the table, like some sort of aardvark in search of grubs, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that made me stop in my tracks. This woman’s daughter was standing behind a headless mannequin, and looking around suspiciously. As I stood there, I watched in horror as the little girl pulled down the mannequin’s patented lilac underwear, leaned in, and pressed her lips to the beige plastic buttocks. After giggling maniacally, the girl would replace the underwear, step back, and then start the process all over again.
    As I felt my brow furrowing, and the corners of my mouth turning down in disturbed confusion, I looked down at my hands and saw the identical pair of space age patented lilac underwear. With the same animal instinct I would tap into if I had looked down to see a tarantula in my hands, I threw the lilac underwear about five feet, landing on the shelf right near this girl’s mother.
    I hurriedly pushed past the Victoria’s Secret sales woman who tried to block my path by forcing me to put on some hand lotion. But I had no need for hand cream – the stink of that place was already deep in my pores.

    Foster Files Part VI: Ditch

    I waited for signs that Ruth was kidding. A playful punch on the arm. A deep laugh and a “Gotcha!” But she just sat there, her feral green eyes darting back and forth between Sol and me.

    I couldn’t take the silence, so I leaned in, and said, “What do you mean you’re not paying?”
    “What? You think I’m gonna blow all my hard-earned cash on you two?”

    And that’s when I started to panic.

    “Ruth! You told us you were taking us out to lunch. I don’t have any money with me!”
    Sol had about a dollar in change, which wouldn’t even cover his fries. But he was familiar with Ruth’s antics, so he tried to play it cool as he said, “Stop screwing around, Ruth. I know you have the money. We’ll pay you back if you want.”

    “Sol, I told you. I’m not paying. And unless you want to get busted, you’ll follow me out the door right now.”

    And that’s when my heart began to race.

    “Ruth! We can’t just walk out. They’ll see us! They’ll catch us!”

    “Not if we walk out like we just paid. I’ll go first, and you guys follow.”

    And that’s when I felt like throwing up.

    Sol and I just sat there, silent, except for the mechanical sound of my hyperventilation. But as soon as we realized that Ruth was dead serious, we clicked into survival mode. Fight or flight.
    “I’m going after Ruth,” I whispered.

    “Hell if I’m going last! We’ll leave at the same time.”

    We agreed to all leave together, but our escape had to be perfectly timed, like a Russian ballet, or an aircraft carrier landing. From her vantage point, Ruth was able to follow our waitress as she moved throughout the restaurant. As soon as she cleared away the dishes from the booth behind us, and walked back toward the kitchen, Ruth went into action.

    She nodded at Sol and me, so we knew we had no choice but to follow. There was no turning back. Though my immediate instinct was to run, that would have been a dead giveaway. I couldn’t look at anyone or anything except the door on my way out. It seemed so much closer when we first came in.

    As soon as we stepped outside the door, Ruth and Sol did what the Fosters did best – they ran. They ran really fast. I tried to keep up, but my belly full of cheeseburger and malt had other plans for the afternoon.

    About a block outside the restaurant, a man walking his dog came toward me on the sidewalk, blocking my path. Instead of just waiting for him to pass, in my crime spree panic I decided to jump the fence next to him, landing me directly in someone’s front yard. I cut through the yard and came out on the other side of the block. Fearing The Medallion had released the hounds in our pursuit, I zigzagged my way home in the most inefficient of manners, cutting through alleys and sloshing across creeks.

    When I finally made it back, Sol and Ruth were sitting on their front steps, laughing hysterically.

    Ruth shouted, “Where the hell did you go, Jenny?”

    “Yeah, what took you so long?” Sol added.

    “You’re both so stupid! We could’ve been arrested!”

    Sol, suddenly filled with the false bravado of adrenaline, said, “Aw, you’re such a goody-goody. That was too much fun!”

    I kicked the half-deflated basketball sitting on their lawn at him, and walked down the block back to my house, the sound of their laughter still burning in my ears. For the rest of the summer, I wouldn’t even walk past The Medallion, assuming they had posted police artist renderings of my face by the cash register. Several times, my parents planned on bringing my brother and me there for dinner, but I always complained, or feigned a stomach ache.

    “Ughh, I hate The Medallion. Why can’t we go somewhere else? I want pizza. That’s the only thing that sounds good to me.”

    “Jenny. We just had pizza last week. You always used to like The Medallion.”

    “Mom, I hate The Medallion. Why can’t I stay home? Matt and I just want to play Coleco.”

    After several months of my whining, my parents decided that my brother and I were old enough to stay home alone on Friday nights. My brother will never know that my petty theft is the reason he was never again invited out to dinner on Fridays with our parents.

    Decades passed, hairstyles changed, The Medallion was bought and sold several times, yet still I refused to return to the scene of the crime. That is, of course, until Christmas two years ago. My mother and I were doing some last minute holiday shopping in town when I started to feel a bit peckish. I suggested we take a break from the crowds and grab some lunch.

    My mother gushed, “Oh, we should go to Athena’s! It’s the cutest little Greek family restaurant. They have a million things on the menu, and really good food. They make a tuna melt you’ll just go nuts for!”

    “Mmm! A tuna melt sounds great! Where’s Athena’s?”

    “You know – that’s the old Medallion on 52nd.”

    The Medallion. My old nemesis.

    That was a name I hadn’t thought of in years, yet just hearing the word felt like a kick in the stomach. I couldn’t go back there! What if that waitress still works there? Granted, she’d be about 70, but it was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.

    “Ughh. I don’t know. The more I think about it, I just had a tuna melt yesterday. Let’s go somewhere else. How about pizza? ”

    “Jen, we’re right in the neighborhood. They have everything there – sandwiches, salads, burgers – I’m sure there’s something you’d like. C’mon, everywhere else is so crowded. Let’s just go there.”

    I tried a few more times to get out of going to Athena’s, but I could see I wasn’t going to win that battle. My heart started to beat faster as we turned the corner and pulled into a parking spot across the street. The sign may have changed, but this was clearly still The Medallion. I took a deep breath as we walked through the glass door.

    So much history.

    One whiff of that hamburger grease and it all came flooding back to me. I remembered sitting by the window, a carefree ten year old one minute, a hardened fugitive the next. I had evaded the authorities for over twenty years, and now here I was. Back where it all started. It almost felt like I was flaunting my crime to walk in there so boldly. It’s like I wanted to get caught.
    The waitress asked us where we’d like to sit, and my mother started to answer, “Oh, could we get a boo-“

    TABLE! We’ll take that table over there.”

    As we sat down and started looking over the menus, I kept scanning the crowd for familiar faces. Why was the busboy eyeing me up like that? Did the cook tell him something? Had I been fingered? I tried to stay calm, and decided to order the Greek chicken salad. Suddenly I wished I had worn a hat.

    I don’t remember much of my conversation with my mother during lunch. I think she told me something about my grandmother’s cat, and what my nephews said on the phone the other day, but I kept flashing back to 1981. It was so strange – my chicken salad tasted like burger, my iced tea like a malt. Someone at the table next to us knocked over the ketchup bottle and I almost hit the floor.

    I told my mother that I was anxious to finish up my Christmas shopping, so we paid the bill and started to leave. We were almost to the door, when I stopped dead in my tracks.

    “Jenny – what’s wrong?”

    I stared blankly, and then said, “Uh, nothing. I… I think I left my gloves. You go warm up the car. I’ll be right out.”

    The waitress was just about to grab the check off our table, when I put my hand over it. I slipped a $20 bill under the money my mother had left, handed it to back to her, and sighed, “Forgot the tip.”

    A blast of cold wind hit me as I walked out to the car, and for the first time in almost a quarter century, I felt the rush of freedom.