Sealed with a Kiss

There comes a time in every woman’s life when she will unconsciously do something or say something or perhaps just think something that will trigger the visceral response, “My god, I have officially become my mother.”
As an adult, there have been many instances where I have caught a glimpse of my mother in me, like the other day when I said, “Oh, for crying in a kerchief!” in a business meeting, without even a hint of irony. I laughed it off, and told myself that I had been watching too many I Love Lucy reruns.
Or like last month when I caught myself singing, Momma’s Little Baby Loves Shortenin’, Shortenin’ to my cats.
But for me, the true defining moment came this weekend as I was paying my bills. I had just written out the check for my cell phone bill, but couldn’t immediately find the envelope amidst the pile of papers that had amassed on my dining room table. I pushed aside an old issue of People Magazine, and tossed out three or four gardening catalogs (Gardening? I don’t even have a window box. Who does their mailing lists?), until I finally found the Sprint envelope. I shoved my check inside, then flipped the envelope over to slap on a stamp, only to be met by this image.
And that’s when it hit me: My god, I have officially become my mother.
Growing up under the tutelage of a quintessential child of the 50’s was not easy for a self-proclaimed tomboy like me. On a normal workday, my mother would wear stilettos, a garter belt, and stockings with the seam down the back, and I swear to you, she was not a hooker. I, on the other hand, have never owned a pair of shoes with a heel over two inches, and wearing pantyhose makes me want to claw my legs off.
She started dying her hair at age thirteen, and has been every color of the Clairol rainbow over the years, aside from jet black. “No one looks good in jet black dyed hair,” she would always tell me. “Not even Elvis.”
Last year, when I finally had to concede that I could no longer pull out my grey hair without leaving huge bald patches, I reluctantly asked my mother to help me dye my hair for the first time. She took a disturbing amount of pleasure in watching me squirm and scrunch my shoulders up around my ears as she dumped what felt like a bucket of pig’s blood onto my scalp.
“Isn’t the fifteen minutes up yet? It’s dripping. It’s dripping down my back! Mom, it burns!”
“That just means it’s working. Sometimes we have to suffer for beauty.”
But our biggest point of contention by far revolved around the topic of makeup. As a teenager, most of my friends would innocently waltz out of their houses on weekends, bright-eyed and clean faced, only to later meet up in the Burger King parking lot with eyeliner and cigarette lighters in hand, leaning into rearview mirrors as they smeared thick black lines around their eyes before the boys from the soccer team showed up.
As I tried to sneak out of the house to meet up with friends, my mother would hear me squeak down the stairs toward the front door, then call for me to come back into the living room so she could inspect me first.
“You don’t really think you’re going out looking like that, do you young lady?”
I would stare at the ground, and pick at invisible pieces of lint on my sweater. “Mom, I gotta go. Lori’s waiting for me.”
“Jenny, get back upstairs and put on some lipstick and a little mascara or you’re not going out at all!”
Sometimes I can still see the image of her coming at me with her latest tube of whatever lipstick came in the Clinique Bonus Days giveaway. I would close my eyes tightly and wrestle my head from side to side as she squeezed my lips into a pucker, trying desperately to tart me up before sending me out to see a movie with friends.
“Mom! It’s too orange. I don’t want any – no! Wipe it off!”
“Oh, for the love of Pete, Jenny. It’s just a little lipstick. And besides, it brings out the green in your eyes. See how pretty you look?”
Growing up, there was never a piece of paper, grocery receipt, envelope, or catalog in our house that didn’t have my mother’s lip prints on it. Anything was fair game when it came time for her to reapply. I cannot begin to count how many times I turned in homework, only to find my mother’s logo branded on the back page. I can mark important moments in my educational history by the varying shades that would appear on my work:

  • Book report on How to Eat Fried Worms: Maybelline Crushed Cranberry on inside back page
  • History paper on Guatemala: Cover Girl Ruby Reflection on corner of front cover
  • Diorama of Iroquois Nation: L’Oreal Spiced Cider on back of shoebox
    “Mom! You did it again! Mr. Wendell keeps asking when you’re going to come to the next open house, and today he asked me if dad still lives with us. The kids are starting to say stuff – cut it out!”
    Sometimes I am amazed that I made it through those early years without more psychological issues, but my latest Sprint bill is evidence enough that there must be some lingering damage. I had hoped that the cycle would end with me, yet here I am, inadvertently sexually harassing some random Sprint Accounts Receivable person. They don’t deserve that, and neither did Mr. Wendell. I guess I should just thank my lucky stars for online bill payment.

  • Pixellated, or Back the F*** Up, Mr. DeMille

    Is it Friday already? Has another week passed? It seems impossible, but here we are, almost in September. I should explain that I have been a bit preoccupied this week dealing with the depression of… a friend. Yes, my friend… Penny… she’s been very depressed this week. Penny also likes to write sometimes, but she hasn’t written lately because she’s been in a funk. In fact, she was just recounting a conversation she had the other day with her dear friend… Bivian.
    Bivian: “Hey Penny! What’s up with your blog? Why haven’t you posted anything new this week? It’s almost Friday!”
    Penny: “Oh, hi Bivian. I’m not in the mood. I don’t want to write anything. Nothing’s funny anymore.”
    Bivian: “What? What are you talking about? Why?”
    Penny: “I don’t know. No reason. I bought a digital camera on Sunday.”
    Bivian: “Cool! What kind?”
    Penny: “A really nice one. It’s really pretty, and silver, and makes bird chirp sounds when I turn it on. But it has five megapixels.”
    Bivian: “Five mexapixels is fine! That should take really nice photos.”
    Penny: “Yeah, but they should have warned me.”
    Bivian: “About what?”
    Penny: “Not to take a self portrait with it.”
    So then Vivi-, I mean Bivian asked Penny… oh forget it. Look, I’m talking about myself here. I’m Penny. Penny is me. I bought the damn five megapixel camera. I took a self portrait. And now I’m dealing with the ramifications, which have yet to be remedied by glass after glass of fruit fly tainted wine.
    Look, I know I should have known better, but there are only so many pictures of my cats that I can take, don’t you see?! And I don’t have an artistic eye, so trying to take moody photos of a door frame just didn’t work for me. So I did what eventually everyone with a digital camera does. I took off my glasses, licked my hand and patted down my hair, looked to the side, held the camera at arm’s length and pressed the button.
    Why? Why didn’t the instruction manual come with some WARNING! stickers? I even flipped through the French version – there was nothing that said ATTENTION! at all.
    If I worked for Canon, you know what I would do? I would have the customer’s best interest in mind at all times. I would make sure that they put clear warning labels in every digital camera manual. It would say something like:
    WARNING: Self portraits taken at arm’s length with a five megapixel (or greater) camera will destroy any delusions of youth and beauty you once had.
    Because here’s the thing: when your pores each take up 100,000 pixels, it’s not a pretty sight.
    And then there’s the zoom function. Oh god, the zoom. Hmm… what’s that? Oh, it’s just a varicose vein in your eyeball. IN MY EYEBALL, PEOPLE!
    It is only by the grace of god that I haven’t figured out how to post photos on this site yet, because oh, when that fateful day comes. Hide your children.


    Sometimes in winning, we still lose.
    I don’t remember who once told me that, but I’m sure it irritated me at the time, because I hate when people say things to try to make me think. I think enough on my own, I don’t need Confucius-esque aphorisms to make me spend more time in my head.
    Anyway, like I said, I’m sure it irritated me then, just like it irritates me now to find out that whoever said it was right.
    But let me back up a bit.
    I was on the phone with Dee-Dee Saturday morning, waiting for my bagel to finish toasting, when I opened up my trash can to toss away the empty bagel bag. The second I lifted the lid, at least five fruit flies swarmed up into my face, and I almost dropped the phone.
    “Oh gross! Oh… oh, gross!” I yelled.
    “What? What is it?”
    I slammed the lid shut and said, “Okay, I just threw something in the garbage, and like a hundred fruit flies flew right in my face!”
    “Oh, yeah. They’re really bad this year. My sister has them upstairs, too. You should just set out a glass of wine.”
    “A glass of wine? Why?”
    “Because the flies will go in it and drown.”
    “So then I’ll have a glass full of dead fruit flies?”
    “Better than a house full of live ones, don’t you think?”
    “You make a good point.”
    After I hung up the phone, I just felt so dirty – I mean, what kind of ramshackle hovel am I living in that gets infested with fruit flies? I don’t even eat fruit! Now, microwave popcorn flies, or frozen pizza flies, or cheese and crackers flies – those I could understand. But aside from that puzzling bag of generic dried apricots my grandmother gave me for my birthday this year, I can’t recall the last time there’s been a piece of fruit in this apartment.
    But I realized that it was too late to worry about the past. What’s done is done, I always say. I needed to stop asking “why me” and focus on “get the hell out of my apartment, sucka fruit flies.”
    I pulled the cork out of the half-empty bottle of Pinot Noir sitting on my counter, and grabbed a juice glass from the sink. Just as I was about to pour the wine, I thought about how my father would always tell me that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right. So I walked over to the cupboard, grabbed a nice red wine glass, and poured it halfway full. Within ten minutes, I saw a bold, wide-eyed fruit fly prancing around the rim of the glass.
    “Come on… go in. That’s it… closer, closer,” I said softly, watching intently as the fruit fly tiptoed down the inside edge of the glass, already mildly intoxicated by the delicate bouquet of this 3-day old wine.
    He kept walking around the edge in circles, getting slightly closer to the sweet liquor, but never close enough to slip in. Remembering that a watched pot never boils, and apparently a watched fly never drowns, I decided to do some housework. About half an hour later, I walked back to the kitchen to see if any progress had been made. Sure enough, there were now three fruit flies waltzing around the glass, inhaling the pungent perfume of sour grapes.
    I peeked in the glass to see how many of their dead comrades they were mourning, but was disappointed to find nothing but wine in the glass. It would appear that my apartment had been infested by a swarm of true connoisseurs. These were not your ordinary wine chugging set. No, clearly they intended to savor the experience, trying to detect the subtle cherry and black pepper undertones in this once fine Pinot.
    Unfortunately, I had things to do. Natasha was coming over in another hour to go shopping, so I didn’t have time to host a fully-guided tour of Napa Valley. I waited until the flies returned to the edge of the glass and grabbed the closest weapon I could find, which turned out to be a take-out menu for the Thai restaurant down the block. Just when one of the flies stepped off the rim and snuck his way down the inside of the glass a bit, I slammed the menu on top of the glass, trapping him inside. Then, I swirled the wine around, knocking him off the edge and into the crimson vortex.
    I watched him swim around for a while as I waited for his companions to return. Another twenty minutes went by, but there was no sign of the other flies, so I realized that if I was going to get rid of all these unwanted guests, I needed to lay more traps. I grabbed two more wine glasses, filled them each halfway up with the stale Pinot, and then set one on the dining room table and one on my coffee table. All the bases were covered.
    I felt pleased with myself when, after another half hour, I saw that my traps were working – three more flies had met their fate. When Natasha came over, as soon as she walked in, she saw the three glasses of red wine sitting out and asked, “You got company?”
    “Mmm… kind of. It’s complicated. I’m having a fruit fly problem, and Dee-Dee told me to set out wine. I think they’re all gone now, though, so we should probably be fine.”
    Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. Erratic, flitting, fruit fly-like movement.
    “Dammit! There’s another one! Hold on, Nat. Stay right there – I’ll be right back.”
    I ran into the kitchen to pour a fresh glass of wine and set it on the mantel, where the fly was last seen headed. Just as I returned to the living room, with glass of Pinot and soggy take-out menu in tow, I saw Natasha raise both her hands, slap them together, and flick the dead fruit fly onto the floor.
    “Can we go now?” she asked, brushing her hands on her jeans.
    I paused for a minute, looking down at the tiny corpse of my enemy on my hardwood floors. The battle was over. The war was won. Yet somehow, I was the one who had been defeated.

    Weekly Opinion Poll: Gluttony

    I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I wanted to, and sometimes desire is reason enough. I knew I should have ordered the salad, but when I ran across the street to McDonald’s for lunch, all I could think about was how badly I wanted French fries. Then I saw their new marketing campaign, and all I could think about was how badly I wanted the new Premium Chicken Sandwich and French fries.
    I placed my order and stepped aside while they lovingly slapped together my #7 Crispy, when suddenly I heard a loud “pop!” Fortunately, my years spent growing up on the mean streets of rural Wisconsin taught me exactly how to handle this type of situation. After unburying myself from the elderly woman and twin toddlers I had used as human shields, I stood up and realized that it hadn’t been gunfire, but in fact, the heating light bulb above the French fry tray had exploded.
    Glass shards shattered all over the bin of freshly salted, piping hot fries.
    Clearly, McDonald’s does extensive crisis management training with its employees, because within seconds, the manager appeared out of nowhere with a giant garbage bin, ordering his trainees to dump out each and every fry.
    “But… those ones on the side look fine,” I thought. I mean, they were already boxed up and ready to go. “I can be real careful and eat around the stabby pieces, honest!”
    The flustered cashier offered me two apple pies instead of my piping hot, glass covered fries, but somehow it just didn’t seem like much of a deal. Since I didn’t want to wait for the manager to pull out the McAbacus to figure out how to refund the fry portion of my value meal, I just took my lone Premium Chicken Sandwich and silently slumped away.
    This experience made me think – what had I done to make the universe feel like I didn’t deserve those fries? I don’t eat fries all that often – I swear! I usually get the grilled chicken salad with lowfat Paul Newman dressing. I haven’t been overindulging lately, have I?
    And then I remembered.
    Last Saturday. 6:27pm. La Grange Park, IL
    My friends Ozzie and Lily had their annual barbeque, to which I brought my annual potato salad like the good guest that my momma raised me to be. In a frustrating turn of events, three other copycat guests apparently didn’t get the memo that I am in charge of potato salad. I brought it last year, I brought it this year, I’ll bring it next year. We ended up with twelve pounds of potato salad for ten people. This is why understanding roles and responsibilities is essential to an effectively functioning society.
    But anyway, aside from the opportunity to spend time with their hip-hop gangsta children, Zoë and The Deke, I was intrigued by Lily’s marketing ploy in this year’s eVite:
    “Krispy Kreme bread pudding will be served.”
    Now, let the record reflect that, as a general rule, I hate bread pudding. Along with rice pudding, or potato pudding, or noodle pudding, or any other pudding made from some starch that was once part of a dinner.
    But Krispy Kremes? Krispy Kremes are never for dinner, unless you live in North Carolina, where doughnuts have their own level in the food pyramid, just below fruits and vegetables.
    I could see this dessert had potential.
    I waited all afternoon in eager anticipation of this curious treat. I forced myself to be polite and eat thirteen carrot sticks, and four cheese puffs, and two bratwursts, and half a hamburger, just to make Ozzie and Lily feel good. I didn’t want them to think I came just for dessert.
    Finally, Lily slid open the patio door with her foot and carried out a tray of what would prove to be the most revolutionary dessert ever to make an appearance at a barbeque in all of Illinois. Nay, all of the Midwest.
    Typically, even if I love a particular dish, I don’t usually ask people how they made it. This is partly because, based on how frequently I turn on my stove, I know this information will come in about as handy for me as the quadratic equation does. But really, the main reason I don’t ask that question is out of fear that the cook, like a certain acquaintance of mine, will launch into a fifteen minute epic step-by-step description of how to prepare the dish:
    “First, I buy the chicken whole – you always have to get them whole – and I cut up the parts into quarters. If you get the ones that are pre-cut, they can sometimes be okay, but usually I just find that the whole ones taste a lot fresher. You probably should wait until they go on sale at the Pick n Save – sometimes my sister saves the coupons for me. Then, I rinse them with cold water, but not too cold, making sure to flush out the cavity really well. You can put salt and pepper in the cavity now or later, depending on how salty you like it. Jenny! Are you listening to me? Next I take about one cup of chopped celery, two teaspoons of nutmeg, a quarter stick of butter-“
    “Dammit, woman! I just asked if I tasted tarragon!”

    Anyway, I’m not sure if I remembered the recipe 100%, but I think this is pretty close to how Lily told me she made the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding:

  • Three dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts

  • Two cups of dark molasses
  • One 64-oz can of fruit cocktail, heavy syrup
  • Two cups of brown sugar
  • Two cups of raisins
  • Three cups corn syrup
  • One teaspoon nutmeg
  • One quarter teaspoon cinnamon
    Mix all ingredients together in a food processor until it forms a thick dough. Mold the dough into the shape of a beehive, wrap in rice paper, and place in the crook of a tree for 7 to 10 days, or long enough for the queen bee to lay her eggs and the worker bees to produce at least two cups of honey.
    Once you have collected enough honey, place the dough hive (bee larvae and all) into a 10” x 13” glass baking pan and bake at 350˚ for 25 minutes.
    Let the pudding cool, then top with cream cheese frosting and one large syringe of insulin.
    Serves 80-100.

  • I’m telling you right now people, I could only eat about two tablespoons of the pudding before I felt myself drift off into a gentle diabetic coma, but those were the two most amazing tablespoons of food ever to dance across my taste buds. You can’t know. None of you can. Except Nat, and Seamus, and about eight other of the luckiest people alive. We all know.
    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that if I have to get glass in my French fries, Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding made it all worthwhile.
    Which leads me to this week’s Weekly Opinion Poll!
    Question: What food item that will most likely kill you is your ultimate guilty pleasure food?
    A. Ice cream
    B. Pizza
    C. Deep fried cheese curds (Shout out to Wisconsin! Go Pack Go!)
    D. Potato chips
    E. French fries
    F. Whipped cream out of the can (Right, like I’m the only one?)
    G. Chocolate
    H. Red red wine
    I. Krispy Kreme bread pudding


    I leaned forward, so close to the window that my forehead was almost touching it. I could feel the cool breeze from the air conditioning vent blowing up toward my face.
    “Jenny, are you watching the boats again?” my coworker asked, half-grinning, as I stood by the window with the stack of papers I had just collected off the printer.
    Caught red-handed, I smiled sheepishly, turned to her and said, “Yeah. There were three of them going by in a row this time, and a big barge. It was really huge, and a man was just sitting on the edge of it, dangling his legs. I think he was eating a sandwich, but I couldn’t quite tell.”
    It’s tourist season in Chicago, and my office building overlooks the Chicago River. From June through September, steady streams of sightseeing boats leisurely coast up and down the river. My desk is near the window, so whenever I get up, I can’t help but glance outside to see if one of them is passing by.
    I’ve never been on one of those tour boats, but I like to watch them navigate the olive green river. I find it calming. Almost hypnotic, in the same way that staring at a fish tank can be.
    She laughed and said, “Yeah, I bet you wish you were one of those people on that boat instead of being stuck here all day,” and then scurried off to her meeting.
    But I really don’t, you know. I just like watching the people on the boats go by. Today we are all exactly where we belong. It’s Monday, so I am at work. They are on vacation, or maybe retired.
    The boats move slowly and effortlessly through the water, pausing to turn around and circle back. Some are double decker boats, others are smaller speedboats, but even the speedboats don’t go fast. The people are always smiling, or so I imagine, hands pressed above their brows to shield their eyes from the sun as they squint, trying to identify the buildings along the riverfront. When the taller boats cross under the bridges, it looks like the passengers could reach up and touch the bottom of the bridge.
    During my lunch break, I often stand outside and lean on the railing with my forearms pressed against the cool metal, fingers intertwined, hoping for one more boat to come by before I go back to work. Sometimes they are so close that I can hear the tour guide’s commentary. I listen hard to catch a random fact or two, but their voices echo off the steel and concrete, making it hard to understand.
    The Sears Tower took… to build.
    How long?
    Over… people work inside the Mercantile Exchange.
    Wait – how many?
    The Civic Opera building almost…
    Did she say it almost burned down?
    There are children in baseball caps waving to the business people taking their cigarette breaks. I always wave back, but I keep my hand low, close to the railing. It’s Monday, and I have a job to do.

    And Justice for All

    In a city the size of Chicago, it’s easy to feel like just another face in the crowd. A stranger on the street. A mere cog in the mighty machine that is urban progress. But every once in a while, a city the size of Chicago singles out someone like me to let me know exactly how critical I am to its continued success.
    This past week, Chicago let me know that it needs me. It told me that I am important, that I am desired, that I am necessary. It told me everything I’ve ever wanted to hear from a city. I don’t think I can put it any better than Chicago did, so let me just share with you a little excerpt from the letter I received Thursday:
    “By order of the circuit court of Cook County, Illinois, you are hereby summoned to appear for jury service on the date and time at the court indicated below.”
    That’s right. In a matter of weeks, someone’s fate could rest in my hands. I could decide guilt or innocence. Lives may be forever changed depending on my loose interpretation of the law. I might even wear my hair in a bun, I can’t be sure.
    God, please let me get picked! But, I just hope that my legal background doesn’t preclude me from serving on the jury. I may need to downplay some of my experience so I don’t get eliminated right off the bat. I mean, I highly doubt they’ll find another juror who has seen:

    1. The entire series run of L.A. Law. They thought Susan Dey would never make a comeback. Fools.
    2. Most of the Law & Order seasons. “In the criminal justice system, there are…” I could probably quote that whole opening sequence verbatim, if you gave me a few minutes. I mostly like SVU – Mariska Hargitay is one bad mamma-jamma.
    3. Several reruns of The Practice. I wish that one woman would take out some earrings. How am I supposed to take her seriously looking like a hippie?
    4. The Firm. I didn’t trust anyone at work for days after seeing that movie.
    5. That one episode of The Brady Bunch where Carol gets sued for giving a guy whiplash, but Mike saves the day by throwing down his briefcase in the courtroom. Oh, what’s that Mr. Neckbrace Plaintiff? Seems like your neck worked just fine when you wanted to hear where that noise was coming from! Case dismissed! And don’t think I won’t be using that technique in court if I get selected!

    As I examined the summons a bit more closely, I noticed that I was scheduled for court in Rolling Meadows, IL.
    Rolling Meadows.
    I don’t believe I’ve ever been there, but it sounds just lovely. And based on the name, I imagine my case will have something to do with a stolen sheep, or perhaps a dispute between a Hobbit who wanted to marry a Halfling.
    This is going to be so awesome! Law & Order: Rolling Meadows. The case of Danny McLeprechaun vs. Paddy O’Dougall, land dispute:
    Rolling Meadows ‘twas a quiet little village, unbesmirched by the crime and corruption of its neighboring Chicago. That is, until the dark day when Paddy O’Dougall’s greed changed all that. Forever.
    If it be pleasing the court, yer honor, might I introduce Exhibit A, which be a picture of a rainbow, the end of which clearly be lying on me property, and not on one Mr. Paddy O’Dougall’s. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as sure as me shillelagh be true, Mr. O’Dougall had no right whatsoever to be digging for that pot o’ gold without me consent. And I ask ya to throw the ever-loving book at him. I rest me case.
    What say you, Foreperson?
    Ms. Amadeo, this is Rolling Meadows, not Salem. We don’t burn people here anymore. Your options are stocks or scarlet letter.
    Oh, well, then… stocks. Lock him up in stocks! Let all the good townsfolk come see what he has done! And pull his pants down! Let him never again look upon these rolling meadows but through the cloud of shame that his criminal deed has wrought!

    I’m so serious – I will be getting jury gigs all over town after this one. I’ll walk into that courtroom and jaws will drop. Defendants will start to plea bargain their asses off once they find out I’m on the jury. Oprah wishes she could have served side by side with me. I’ll be all Clarence Frickin’ Darrow. If he had been a juror.
    I’m out of order? You’re out of order! This whole damn court is out of order! What’s that? Isn’t this room 8B? Oh, sorry. Wrong trial.
    Jenny Amadeo, Juror #5. I like the sound of that.

    Weekly Opinion Poll: Heart Attack

    Well, I’ve got to let you know that after my last opinion poll, I considered calling it quits.
    Because throughout these weekly opinion polls, you know that we’ve had some ups and downs. None of you agreed that Boys of Summer was a heart-wrenchingly sad song. And sure the flip-flop haters were in the majority, but I just didn’t feel like we had any true breakthroughs.
    But with the work jargon entry, it was almost like we had reached nirvana. I have never in my life felt so understood. So connected. So part of something bigger than me. I just wanted to smile until I couldn’t hold back the laughter, and then laugh until I started to cry a little, which would then turn into hysterical sobs that eventually would turn back into laughter, but by then you wouldn’t know what to do with me so you’d just promise to call me in the morning.
    But both of us knew you never would.
    So I guess I kind of felt like, what more is there? How much closer can I really let myself get? I already feel like you’re the Billy Bob to my Angelina and I just want to wear a vial of your blood around my neck. Do you know what I mean?
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to give up just yet. I just need to not let myself compare future opinion polls to that one. Because it wouldn’t be fair to them.
    So I decided to take stock: what is it that I know about you, and what have I yet to learn? You are truly complex individuals. I know what you don’t like to eat, who you don’t like to listen to, what you hate to see people wear, what makes you cry, what makes you crazy. What’s left? Romance, of course.
    So I got to thinking – what makes you all squishy inside? On that note, I launch this week’s Weekly Opinion Poll!
    Question: What romantic movie makes your heart just melt and gives you hope that true love can exist? (and for you, of course I’ll accept write-ins)
    A. Love Story
    B. Officer and a Gentleman
    C. Somewhere in Time
    D. Sixteen Candles
    E. Casablanca
    F. West Side Story
    G. The Princess Bride
    P.S. I know I shouldn’t muddy the issue, but just yesterday I heard two more catch phrases that make me dig my fingernails into my fists: “I had an ‘A-ha’ moment,” and “But can we really deliver that Wow Factor?”

    American Girls

    “Do you girls even know who Tom Petty is?” I teased, winking at Dee-Dee as she held the door for her seventeen year old niece and her niece’s best friend. They tossed their overnight bags on Dee’s living room floor and fell in a heap onto her couch, flip-flops dangling lazily off their toes.

    “Uh, hello? Yeah, we know who he is! We wouldn’t have paid $45 for almost-lawn seats if we didn’t know who he was.”

    Ally and her friend Kelly drove to Milwaukee to spend the day at Summerfest, which draws crowds from all over the area to gorge themselves on barbeque ribs, fried mozzarella sticks, and deep dish pizza. It is also the Midwest’s best opportunity to witness unapologetic displays of tattoos and chest hair, stretch marks and tan lines. To combat the blazing sun and record-breaking humidity, there are two options: $6 lemonades and any Miller Brewing product.

    There’s also some music, I hear.

    Before I drove up, Dee-Dee warned me that her house would be a bit crowded that weekend, but since Vivian was also going to be in town, we decided it would be like a big slumber party.

    Shortly after they arrived, Ally and Kelly bolted out of Dee’s house to meet up with their friends at Summerfest. They wanted to allow themselves ample time to buy hemp purses and get henna tattoos before shoving into the damp crowd of concert-goers.

    Vivian, Dee-Dee and I opted for a tamer evening of overpriced Mexican food and microbrews, and had all retired to our respective beds by midnight. Had it not been for the muffled giggles and hip-hop ringtones, I never would have known the girls had returned from their evening of sweat.

    The next morning, Dee-Dee and I stepped over piles of shoes, overnight bags, and Tom Petty t-shirts to make our way to the kitchen. We told the girls that we were going out for coffee and breakfast, so they needed to get ready in ten minutes.

    A look of panic flashed in Kelly’s mascara smudged eyes. “Oh god! If I don’t put some makeup on, we’ll be the only ones there because everyone will run out screaming!”

    I looked at their smooth faces, their tan toned arms, their flat bellies, and remembered this obligatory insecurity of seventeen. You self deprecate, but you don’t really believe it. But you do really believe it.

    “I totally have cellulite!” Ally declared, as she slid into her glittery sandals.

    Dee-Dee rolled her eyes and said, “Yeah, right. You really have cellulite.”

    “No, I do! If I squeeze my leg, I totally have cellulite.”

    I laughed, “Well, that’s the difference. Call me when you catch a glimpse of the back of your thighs in a dressing room mirror and almost break down in tears. If you have to squeeze it to see it, it’s not really there.”

    We met up with Viv at a local coffee shop by the lake, and waited in line as Ally and Kelly regaled us with tales of their evening of misadventures at the Tom Petty concert.

    “Yeah, there were a bunch of hippies smoking pot right in front of us. They weren’t even trying to hide it!”

    “I know! Oh my god! And… when that old guy…”

    Kelly could barely talk in between bouts of silent laughter, “When he kept… turning around to high five you… oh my god! I almost peed my pants!”

    Even though we could barely understand what they were talking about, it was hard not to laugh along with them.

    We found a table outside in the sun, overlooking the lake. I put my sunglasses on and leaned my head back a bit, enjoying one of the rare perfect days of a Midwest summer. Just when my face would start to feel too hot, a cool breeze would come off Lake Michigan, or the sun would momentarily duck behind a cloud long enough for me to want it to return. A man sitting at the table next to us tried in vain to untangle the leashes of his two small dogs who kept chasing each other under his table. He breathed an audible sigh of relief when his wife and children returned, sipping lemonades and iced coffee, and bearing pastry gifts.

    Ally and Kelly had everything figured out. They would share an apartment in Chicago after high school. Ally would study business, Kelly would go to design school, but she eventually wanted to open a boutique in New York City. I asked Kelly if she had ever been to New York, and Dee-Dee, who loves to brag about her friends, said, “Oh, you should totally go to New York and visit Vivian. She lives in New York, you know.”

    “You do? What do you do there?”

    Before Vivian could answer, Dee-Dee chimed in, “Viv is a famous writer. She just got published and she hangs out with other famous writers all the time!”

    Both the girls’ eyes lit up.

    A big grin spread across Ally’s face as she said, “Wait. We’re having coffee with a famous New York writer? Ohmigod, I totally need to text message everyone I know!”

    Kelly laughed, and pulled her cell phone out of the pink argyle cell phone case that matched the blue argyle cell phone case on Ally’s belt. “Ohmigod, me too! Who should we text first? Wait. Normally I would text message you, but you’re here. So who should we text?”

    “What about Derek? I’m totally gonna text Derek.”

    Just as she was about to start thumbing in her message, Ally paused, put her cell phone away and said, “No, I’d better not. I get in trouble for texting.”

    I looked over at the elaborate drink Ally was sipping and asked what she had ordered.

    “It’s a white chocolate mocha with a shot of dark chocolate in it. It’s so good!”

    “Wait – it’s white chocolate with dark chocolate added to it? So… isn’t that just a regular mocha?”

    Ally got a puzzled look on her face, and then she and Kelly burst out laughing.

    “Oh my god! You totally just blew her mind!” Kelly blurted.

    I was still giggling when Dee-Dee started to change the subject to where they wanted to go shopping after breakfast. Kelly turned to me and said, “You’re just like me. I’m always laughing about stuff way after Ally stops laughing. She’s always like, ‘Why are you still laughing? That’s so not even funny anymore!’ I just always think it’s funny.”

    I smiled back, “Yeah. Things are always way funnier in my head, too. They just don’t get us, do they?”

    These are good girls, I thought. They have summer jobs at the lone A&W in their small Wisconsin town. I asked if they could get me free curly fries, and they promised to try. At seventeen, they already lamented the fact that their town was less idyllic than it used to be.

    “We have a lot of gang problems in school. And all the girls in my sister’s class cut.”

    I knew this wasn’t what Ally meant, but had to clarify, “You mean they cut class?”

    “No. They cut themselves. Mostly their arms. Most of them aren’t even depressed – they just do it because they think it makes them cool. I told my sister I’d kill her if she ever did that.”

    These are good girls, I thought.

    I was a little sorry to see our coffee clutch disperse as we decided to get a start on the day. We tossed our cups and muffin wrappers in the mesh trash bins, and crossed the street to the parking lot. As we headed back to our cars, Ally linked her arm in Kelly’s and asked me, “Were you and Dee-Dee best friends in high school?”

    “Me? No, Dee and I met during our last year of college. I only really have one friend from high school left.”

    As soon as I said that, I wished I could pull it back, because I instantly saw the sad look cross over Ally’s face as she glanced over at Kelly. I tried to recover, “But you just need to try to go to the same college for at least one year. College is where you lock in most of your life-long friends.”

    It didn’t matter, though, because there’s no rationalizing with the black and white extremism of seventeen year old emotions. They come fast and hard: I will never love anyone like this again. No one has ever been this sad. I will never have this much fun again. I will never forgive them. There will never be friends better than these.

    We paused in front of our cars to say our goodbyes, and Ally looked at Vivian and me and said, “Aw, aren’t you guys coming shopping with us? Dee-Dee’s taking us to the cool stores on Brady Street. It’s Brady Street, right Aunt Dee?”

    Vivian and I both shook our heads no. I was heading straight back to Chicago, and Vivian was flying to New York the next morning. We hugged the girls goodbye and told them to make Dee-Dee buy them some hoochie clothes on Brady Street.

    As I watched the three of them pile into Dee-Dee’s car, I thought about my morning of laughing, telling stories, having fun. These girls were exactly half my age. So often we look at teenagers, see ourselves at their age, and feel sad. We think about the things we didn’t appreciate then, and wish we had back now. We look at them and regret our missed opportunities. But these girls looked at us, saw themselves at our age, and felt hopeful. They wanted to know the secret to our bond.

    While pulling out of the parking lot and humming “Free Falling,” I felt a surge of seventeen year old emotions rise up in me. For a moment, the world became black and white as I looked into my rearview mirror and thought, there will never be friends better than these.

    Summer Days

    Evidence that perhaps I should plan more structured activities during my summer days off – a play in one act.
    Me: 34-year old marketing professional, home on a day off of work
    Judy: 5-year old Siamese cat, home because she’s a cat

    Scene: It’s Friday at 2:32pm and Me is hanging around her apartment, hair still damp from the shower she took two hours ago. There is no food in the house, so she wanders aimlessly from room to room, picking up and setting down the same Dorothy Allison novel. Judy is sleeping peacefully on Me’s computer chair.
    Me [picking up Judy and holding her high in the air]: Who’s the littlest monkey in the world? Who’s the tiniest little baby monkey I’ve ever seen? You are! Oh wait, no. I think spider monkeys might be tinier. But you’re smaller than a chimpanzee! Yes you are!
    Judy says nothing, but squirms a bit.
    Me [pushing Judy’s ears down]: Who’s my little lamb? You look just like a baby lamb. Who’s the littlest, tiniest lamb I’ve ever seen? What’s a lamb doing on my computer chair?
    Judy remains silent, but stares intently at a spot on the floor. Her tail starts to twitch, slowly at first, then faster.
    Me [lifting Judy’s ears up]: How did that bat get in my house? Why is there a vampire bat on my computer chair?
    Me notices Judy’s brother, Punch, walking into the room and directs her attention toward him.
    Me [lifting Punch’s front legs off the floor and making him dance]: Hey there, big fat kangaroo! How did the fattest, shortest kangaroo I’ve ever seen get into my apartment? What are you do-
    Punch hisses.

    Weekly Opinion Poll: Tower of Babel

    At what point during my career did I cease to speak English, and adopt mumbo-jumboese as my native tongue? I think it may have been somewhere between my third and fourth years in corporate America, shortly before the universal adoption of casual Fridays, but just after email became the standard mode of communication.
    Anyone who has worked in an office setting for any period of time knows exactly what I’m talking about. You swear that you won’t ever do it. You promise yourself that you’ll only use nouns as nouns and verbs as verbs, but one day, it just slips out. You’re in a meeting and in a fit of frustration you say, “Dammit, Rochelle, will you just bottom-line it for me?”

    bot.tom line (bot’əm līn), n. 1. the final figure, showing profit or loss, in a financial statement. 2. the ultimate result or consideration.
    -v. informal, to cut to the chase; to stop beating around the bush; to get to the point.

    Now, I don’t want to imply that only corporate America speaks in a foreign language. I have many friends in the non-profit sector who also have a lingo all their own. They toss around nonsensical terms like “lit drops” and “donor drives” and “philanthropy” as if the rest of the for-profit world is supposed to understand this gibberish. It’s no wonder they don’t make any money, with all that speaking in tongues and whatnot.
    But today, my gripe is not with the non-profits. It’s with me. I have crossed all lines of decency and decorum when it comes to this fine language we call American and have become that which I once despised. Why, just last week I used no less than seven catch phrases in one meeting; I may have even used a sports metaphor – I can’t be sure.
    For those of you fortunate enough to have avoided the corporate sector, let me open up a window into my world:
    Scene: Northwest Conference Room, Chicago, Summer 2005
    Employee 1: All right, thanks everyone for coming together for this meeting on such short notice. I know everyone’s swamped right now, but I just wanted to touch base with all of you on our Go-To-Market plans for the year, and start picking your brains for next year’s plan.
    Employee 2: Look, we need to go after the low-hanging fruit here. Let’s cherry pick a few of these hot ideas, run with them, and then tackle the longer-term ones later in the year.
    Employee 3: Well, let me throw a wrench into this – you know that our biggest customer is MoneyCo, and they aren’t looking for an off-the-shelf product. They want a custom job.
    Employee 1: What? When did they shift gears on us? I feel like I’m completely out of the loop here. Last I heard, MoneyCo was looking for more of a plug-and-play solution, but now you’re saying they want something totally custom? Well, if that’s the case, we’re really going to have to think outside the box to come up with a new product idea for them.
    Employee 4: I agree! To bottom-line it, we’re going to have to fast-track any concept we come up with for them and really start working smarter, not harder if we’re going to hit our deadlines!
    Employee 3: Hey, before I go back to IT with this idea, we really need to have our ducks in a row. I mean, is MoneyCo even a client we want to jump through hoops for? I heard they were being acquired by DollarTech.
    Employee 1: Steve, can you parking lot that thought so we can take that discussion off-line? I don’t want us to lose focus.
    Employee 3: Fine. I just want to make sure that Sales doesn’t throw me under the bus when MoneyCo starts complaining because we’ve got their product in a holding pattern.
    Confused? Trust me, we all were in the beginning. It’s like those German Immersion schools – you just have to throw yourself into it and hope you’ll learn through osmosis. With that, I launch into this week’s Weekly Opinion Poll!
    Question: Which corporate mumbo-jumbo catchphrase makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up every time you hear it? (write-ins are A-OK with me)
    A. Think outside the box
    B. Low-hanging fruit
    C. Out of the loop/In the loop
    D. Get some skin in the game
    E. Pick your brain

    [Note: special thanks to Natasha for sharing her corporate jibber jabber with me.]