When a woman approaches you in line at the Jewel photo counter after you just saw her get turned away from the liquor department for sneaking a third free sample mini-shot of Malibu, you can expect – with almost 100% certainty – that your conversation isn’t going to go well.
“Hey. HEY! Lemme ask you something.”
I turn my head slightly.
“So lemme ask you this. Say you live in a building, and that building just put up some new rules that they didn’t tell you about. And then you break one of those rules – that you didn’t even know about because they decided not to tell anybody about them. And then the building manager calls you a fat bitch. What would you do?”
I raise my eyebrows and shrug my shoulders.
“No, for real. I’m asking you. What would you do?”
“That just seems wrong.”
“Yeah, and then he calls you a stupid fat bitch. What would you do?”
“I don’t know… complain to the landlord?”
“And that manager should get his ass fired, right?”
“Mmm, yeah. Maybe.”
I pay for my photos and walk away. As I leave, I see the woman handing out free samples of Malibu and bug out my eyes at her. She raises her eyebrows and shrugs her shoulders.
It all came to a head in Portland the day before TequilaCon. I was sitting in a bar with Brandon, waiting for Jessica and Jill to arrive, when suddenly my phone started vibrating. A missed call? But my phone was right there the whole time, and I hadn’t heard it ring. Odd, I thought.
I opened up the phone and immediately groaned, “Shit.”
“What? Was that Jill?” Brandon asked.
“I think so. Someone sent me a text message. Had to be Jill.”
“So is she on her way?”
“No idea. See… I don’t know how to get text messages on my phone.”
I felt like I had just confessed that I didn’t know how to read. Emotions boiled up inside me until I could feel my face getting warm. It was a combination of shame and fear, fueled by anger at a society and educational system that had failed me. People had tried to send me text messages in the past, and each time I would plead with them never to do it again because it took four people and half an hour to try to retrieve the message from my phone.
I called Jill and got her voice mail.
“Hey, Jill – it’s Jenny. I think you might have just text messaged me – if you did, can you call me back and tell me what it said? I… look, I can’t get text messages on my phone, okay? Call me and I’ll tell you how to get here – see you soon!”
I then left an identical message for Jessica, suspecting that she, too, would try to avoid using a phone for its intended purpose.
When they both finally arrived, we grabbed a booth and started to get an early jump on the pre-TequilaCon drinking. But before I even got a sip of my beer, Jill asked, “So what’s up with your non-text messaging phone?”
I pulled it out and shoved it toward Jessica and Jill.
“Go ahead. I dare you to try and figure out how to find Jill’s message. It can’t be done!”
They poked around for a while, trying to get to the message without having to attach my phone to a 1983 modem like in War Games and access AOL 4.0 dial-up, but ultimately settled for just mocking the sheer volume of my cell phone. Brandon called it a telegraph. Jill said it weighed more than her dog. Jessica marveled, “Oooh, look Jill! Jenny’s phone has a calculator built right in!”
They all let out a collective cackle.
I felt a tightness in my throat that reminded me of when I was taunted mercilessly by my classmates for wearing my Smurf watch to school in 6th grade, which was two grades too late for it to be cool.
Maybe it was an accident, maybe it was my subconscious trying to push me kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but shortly after I returned home from Portland, I realized that I had left my cell phone charger in the hotel room.
It was just the motivation I needed to force me to make a change. So the next week, I went to the Sprint store to pick out a new phone, and hovered around a couple of sleek looking models for a while before getting up the courage to ask for help.
The Sprint saleswoman walked over and started telling me all about mobile-to-mobile minutes and something about streaming ESPN, when I stopped her and asked, “But… does this send text messages?”
She gave me a puzzled look, as if I had just asked her to explain to me again how if I talk into the one end of this machine, someone on the other end would be able to actually hear my voice. Apparently, it’s pretty much impossible to find a phone these days that doesn’t allow you to text message. How was I to know?
My very first text message went to Jessica:
i got a new phone. r u happy now?
Within minutes, I received my first readable text message in return:
Woo hoo! Welcome to 2006.
I assumed the “2006” reference was Jessica’s subtle jab at my late-blooming discovery of texting, until a minute later I got another message:
Oops – 2007.
And there it was – my initiation. It was so much easier than I had imagined. I started out slowly – sending a quick, “running late. be there in 20 min” note to Natasha, or an “r u in for dinner? 8pm” query to Dee-Dee.
Soon enough, though, I was having full conversations with Seamus on the train as he sat on the upper level and I on the lower.
whatcha listenin’ 2?
mariah. any issues with that?
u poor thing. who’s making u listen 2 that?
now its chaka khan. rhythm controls me.
Sure, these were rudimentary conversations, but conversations nonetheless. I had progressed from the text messaging equivalent of grunts and snorts to composing simple sentences. I had discovered language.
But now that I’ve had this textual awakening, a new problem has arisen. I find that I’m starting to become less discriminating with who and when I text. I’m texting at home, texting on the train, texting at work. As soon as I figure out how, I’m going to text two people at once.
I should have known it was too good to be true. No one bothered to tell me about the risks and responsibilities that go along with being textually active. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s what all the kids are doing. Did anyone bother to tell me that it would cost me $0.10 every time I sent or received a text message? Of course they didn’t, because they wanted to get me hooked first.
So now I’m just another text addict like the rest of them, typing out broken messages at all hours and staring at my phone, waiting for that red light to pop on, signaling my next fix. People say this is progress. I’m not so sure.
When I stopped at my parents’ house last Sunday to celebrate mother’s day, in addition to a bag full of leftovers from dinner, I also brought back my beloved rabbit head.
“Now, what exactly are you going to do with that rabbit head?” my mother asked, eyebrow raised.
The question is, what aren’t I going to do with this rabbit head?
[Sometimes Rabbit does weekend chores]
[Sometimes Rabbit catches up on celebrity gossip]
[Sometimes Rabbit spends quality time with her cats]
[Sometimes Rabbit says, Who’s a big boy? Who’s my pretty boy?]
God, I’ve missed the rabbit head. I’ll never let us be separated this long again.
My friend Vivian lives in New York City.
She just completed her MFA in poetry.
Her parents came to town for her graduation.
She was waiting for them in baggage claim at LaGuardia.
She called me.
I was busy watching the finale of America’s Next Top Model.
For a minute I thought about letting the call go to voice mail.
I’m really glad I didn’t.
It went like this:
V: Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod! I’m standing in baggage claim at LaGuardia with my parents and ohmigod guess who was on their flight?
J: No idea.
V: Jaslene from Top Model! Their flight in from Chicago was delayed like 6 hours!
J: WHAT!! I’m watching her right now! It’s down to the final three! But I totally picked her to get booted off next! Did she win?
V: I don’t know! Some girls ran up to her and asked her if she won, and she was like, ‘I can’t really say anything.’ I think you should go change your vote. Put some money on it, too!
J: Holy crap! Wait – how did your parents know who she was?
V: They didn’t. I spotted her.
J: I think she’s going to lose. I think the blond chick Renee is going to win.
V: Hey, I gotta go. Their bags are here. I just wanted to tell you that. Talk to you later!
[ten minutes go by]
J: Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod! You’ll never believe who just got kicked off!
J: Frickin’ RENEE!
V: NO WAY!
J: I’M SERIOUS! Do you think Jaslene won?
V: I don’t know! Maybe she did! Hey – I gotta go. We’re getting into a cab.
J: Okay, bye!
[twenty minutes go by]
J: Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod! JASLENE WON!
V: NO WAY!
[Vivian turns to parents in cab and says, ‘Jaslene won! You were totally on the plane with America’s Next Top Model!’ I think they say something like, ‘Really? Neat.’]
J: But what a bummer that she probably missed her own party.
J: You get to see everything cool in New York City. Why didn’t you get her autograph for me?
V: That’s not how it works here.
J: Remember that time we saw Shandi from America’s Next Top Model on the subway and we got her autograph?
V: We didn’t get her autograph.
J: I know. But remember how we followed her for a couple blocks just to make sure it was her? That was the best. Next time I come to visit, promise we’ll see some America’s Next Top Models?
V: We’ll try. Hey, I gotta go. We’re almost to my place.
My friend Vivian is fierce.
Chapter One: The Anticipating
After hearing the stories and seeing the photos for months, this past weekend I finally made the trip up to small-town Wisconsin to witness the final stages of preparation for the opening of my friend Dee-Dee’s restaurant. She and her three siblings – The Rebel, The Brother, and The Chef – bought a restaurant desperately in need of repair and have spent countless months renovating it for its impending opening later this week.
Her entire family was there this weekend: Nieces One, Two and Three, The Brother-in-Law, The Father, The Mother, and The Dog. Throughout the day, easily another half dozen people showed up to help out, either in the kitchen or around the restaurant. It was a veritable hive of blonde haired blue eyed smiles, like being at IKEA, but without the meatballs.
Chapter Two: The Shop Vacuuming
I discovered that shop vacuuming is almost therapeutic. Sometimes I wish I could shop-vac everything I owned – just suck it all into a giant bag and toss it in the trash bin. The best thing about shop vacuuming is that by the time you realize you’ve sucked up something you weren’t supposed to, it’s really too late. Then you can just tell yourself that if it was on the floor in the first place, you probably didn’t need it. The shop vac makes no apologies, knows no regret.
At least I hope that’s how Dee feels when she realizes I vacuumed up a set of keys, what appeared to be the deed to their building, and possibly her mom’s dog.
Chapter Three: The Breaking and Entering
Dee told me this is a small-town thing – that in small towns, everyone knows everyone and everything is everyone’s business. I think this sounds dreadful, but Dee gravitates to it with a natural ease and charm. I grew up in a small Wisconsin town myself, but I guess there’s a difference between 90,000 people small town and 1,000 people small town.
All day long as we were moving and cleaning and sweeping and arranging, there was a nonstop flow of passersby who were none too shy to peer inside, pound on the windows, and rattle the door knob as they waved wildly to us and pantomimed unlocking the door. Once, The Brother left the front door unlocked for three minutes as he walked back to his car to unload some tools, and instantly two women appeared inside the building, as if through teleportation.
“Is that the original brick?” they asked, pushing past me to the bar.
“Uh… that? No. No, they redid it themselves.”
I tried to body block them as they made their way to the dining room.
“And how about the floors? These look like the original floors.”
”Mmm, I think so.”
I gave Niece One my best wide-eyed “please go get help” look and she ran to find Dee-Dee. Within minutes, Dee had given these ladies the entire rundown of the building, an item-by-item review of the menu, as well as a brief history lesson on illegal gambling in Wisconsin in the late 1800’s.
“Dee is such a people person,” Niece One said.
“I know. What’s that all about?”
Chapter Four: The Photo-Shooting
There should really be a Chapter Three Point Five called the Mad Rush to the Showering, because as soon as I hauled out my camera to start taking photos for their website, Dee’s family all ran upstairs to make themselves beautiful, which isn’t difficult since they all look remarkably like the Sunshine Family.
When I went upstairs to check on everyone, I saw Dee’s older sister, The Rebel, wearing hair curlers the size of juice cans and heating up her eyeliner with a Zippo. She came downstairs looking like supermodel Cheryl Tiegs in her prime.
I was perched precariously on a giant step-ladder, trying desperately to get everyone in the photos. I felt just like Francesco Scavullo, if Francesco Scavullo ever took photos of people making human pyramids. At one point, we did a centerfold-esque shot of The Father, stretched across the community table and surrounded by his family.
“Did you hit 400 yet?” asked The Father.
I had told him that I planned on taking at least 400 photos that day.
“Uh… nope. Not yet. But soon!”
I wasn’t sure if wanted me to take more, or was hoping I had reached my 400 photo quota and would finally stop with the incessant clicking so he could climb down from the table.
I eventually topped off at 700.
Chapter Five: The Toasting
It was hard not to get caught up in the emotion of the day – their months of back-breaking and bank-breaking work had finally come to fruition. Every table set up, the kitchen in order, the bar fully stocked. There was nothing left to do but break out the champagne.
The toasts, the tears, the hugs. That was my favorite part, and perhaps the first time in my life I wished I had blonde hair and blue eyes, mostly so I could squeeze into their celebration unnoticed.
Niece One, whose bartending gig will begin there exactly one day after her last final exam this summer, stepped behind the bar to offer me a drink.
“One Stella, please!”
She looked over at The Rebel and said, “Wait – mom, I haven’t even been trained yet!”
I have asked Niece One to specialize in Old Fashioneds, because something tells me this is an Old Fashioned kind of town. It’s all in the muddling.
Chapter Six: The Tasting
The Chef wanted to plate up some food so I could take more photos, and so that we could all sample the menu, so I stationed myself dangerously close to the deep fryer and started snapping away.
Sadly, Niece Two was made miserably ill by her allergies, and had to retreat to the quiet corners of the bar for most of the night. Niece Three joined us in the kitchen and served as The Chef’s assistant. She is the one I remember as the wild child. She and her sisters grew up on a farm, and I have fond memories of visiting them one day when we climbed giant climbing poles and picked raspberries and opened milkweed pods in the wind and rode horses. It was a perfect day, until I witnessed a baby mole being eaten by their kittens who were named after various members of the Green Bay Packers. I think Reggie White was the one who dealt the fatal blow.
But this weekend, I discovered that this wild child was now 11 and a budding scullery maid. She watched carefully as her aunt, The Chef, flipped pasta in a pan and fried up plate after plate of calamari. As the two lone brunettes in a sea of blondes, these two formed an early and lasting bond. Niece Three took to the dish pit like a kitten to a baby mole, and I couldn’t bring her dirty dishes fast enough.
“It looks like you’re going to follow in your aunt’s footsteps,” I said, handing her the greasy calamari basket.
“I know! I hope so!” she beamed. “I’m going to ask my mom when I can start working here.”
It was at that exact moment that I wished with all my heart that I had an 11-year old protégé. But it’s hard to find 11-year olds who get excited about spreadsheets and SWOT analyses. Someday.
Chapter Seven: The Billiarding
In a small town, you patronize your local establishments. You drink coffee at the corner coffee shop, even if it takes them 18 minutes to make a latté, and even if they think Dee-Dee invented iced coffee. You buy your lumber at the Fleet Farm, where everyone knows you and lets you run a tab. And after a long day of shop vacuuming, you walk down to the local watering hole where you play pool for free and watch young women in prom dresses try to talk each other down from drunken rages, even when it’s not prom.
I played what was without a doubt the best game of pool of my life, but Dee-Dee was the only one who witnessed it. Fortunately for me, Dee has a knack for hyperbolic story-telling.
“Ohmigod! You should have seen how good Jenny was playing! She was doing jump shots and getting three balls in at once and backwards bank shots! It was out of control!”
Her bragging caught the attention of two local men in backwards baseball caps who were hovering near the pool table. The married one came up to me and asked if we wanted to play doubles with them. I glanced over at Dee who was preoccupied with her 20-oz vodka tonic that cost $3. She shrugged her shoulders and continued sipping.
We reluctantly agreed, at which point I played what was without a doubt the worst game of pool of my life. Dee kept taking the blame, saying that she hadn’t gotten any balls in, but was apparently too engrossed in her second 20-oz vodka tonic to notice that I hadn’t hit one in either.
After a stunning loss, we had to slink back to our seats by the prom girls.
Chapter Eight: The Haunting
Dee-Dee and her family are convinced that the apartment above their restaurant is haunted. They own the entire building, and The Chef has been living in the upstairs apartment, which is at least 2,500 square feet of wood paneling and rust-colored shag carpeting. It is apparently haunted by the ghost of a dead baby.
“How do you know it’s a dead baby?” I asked.
“Because we hear her cry at night sometimes,” said The Chef.
“And once, The Brother’s friend was staying here and he said that the door lying in front of the empty room was in a completely different position the next morning.”
“So you’re saying that a dead baby moved a gigantic door? Couldn’t she just crawl right through it?”
Dee ignored me and continued, “And one time, I felt someone pinch my cheeks while I was sleeping right where you are.”
“Dead baby pinched your cheeks?”
“No, I think it was a grandma.”
“Dead baby’s dead grandma?”
We were all sprawled out on the various couches spread across the 800 square foot living room with drop ceilings and birch paneling. It was 3:00am and we were tired and perhaps a bit drunk.
I forgot my pajamas, so Dee-Dee dug around in her bag and handed me a striped cotton skirt. She told me it was the fashion in small-town Wisconsin, and had me parade around in cowboy boots before I went to sleep. In a small town, you have to accommodate such requests:
“Look at me! Look at me! My name is Dee-Dee and I drink 20-oz vodka tonics and take 18 minutes to make a latté! I wear prom dresses to the bar! I’m from the country!”
After dodging some pillows, I kicked off the boots, adjusted my pajama skirt, and wrapped myself up in the down comforter. As I turned and squirmed in the pitch black, trying to find a comfortable spot, my hair caught in the zipper of the couch cushion.
“Dee?” I whispered.
“I think the dead baby just pulled my hair.”
Then I broke out into hysterical laughter for a few minutes, took a few deep breaths, and quieted down.
“DON’T EVEN! Jenny, that’s not funny. Do not even say Candyman in this apartment!”
“AAAHH! You said it again! You said it the second time! I’m gonna say it… I’m gonna say it…”
“Jenny, I’m not kidding. If a bunch of bees start flying into my mouth, I will be so pissed.”
“Okay. I won’t say it.”
And then I started whistling the Sammy Davis Jr. version of Candyman.
I laughed myself to sleep, and when I woke up, the pajama skirt was hiked up around my chest like a makeshift tube top. I blamed the baby. That’s the great thing about living in a haunted apartment – you can blame the dead baby ghost for everything.
Chapter Nine: The Reflecting
The next morning, after eating all the best parts of the blueberry muffin and banana bread we bought at the coffee shop, I said my goodbyes and hopped into my car. Quickly scanning some of my photos before driving away, I started to wonder if Dee might decide to move to small town Wisconsin, making it likely that my riotous good times with her would be fewer and further between.
The Rebel assured me that this wouldn’t be a problem, since she is convincing our friend Natasha’s family to buy a condo up there so that we can all spend the summers together. For a brief moment, I imagined what it might be like, living in the haunted apartment, saying hi to everyone I passed on the street, and never locking my car doors. I said I would seriously consider it, assuming my simple demand for my own shop-vac was met. And I would also need an 11-year old protégé – one who would be willing to make pie charts and get an Ogilvie home perm.
Question: How many ice cream sandwiches can you eat in one weekend before it becomes disgusting?
Answer: Twelve. Mostly because that’s all the box holds. Plus, then you move on to the mango sorbet cups.
Question: When you look at this picture, what do you see?
Is it a) a bunny rabbit?
Or b) Atlas clutching the world?
Answer: I think it’s quite obvious that the answer is b.
So, I’m going on Day 7 of the crappiest cold I’ve had in a century, and due to my incessant barking cough and raw throat, combined with new cough medicine with Codeine, my sleep patterns have been severely altered.
Last night alone, I had at least a dozen dreams, each more bizarre than the last. I know that telling other people about your dreams is about as dull as telling you about my dental floss preferences (unwaxed, fine), but I’m on Codeine and haven’t left my house in three days, people. Cut me some slack.
1. A blogger I’ve met (who shall remain nameless) was lying in the street all smiley and pleasant. I walked past her and found a severed hand. Turns out it was hers. I scooped some snow off the ground and put the hand in it. We grabbed a cab to the emergency room and happily chatted the whole way there. There was no blood.
2. I braided my entire head of hair into tiny braids. It did not look good.
3. I drove to Milwaukee to eat at my favorite pizza restaurant, but the waiter was horrible and slow. I ordered a small pepperoni and mushroom pizza. Suddenly, all the lights were turned off and I almost got locked inside. My pizza never arrived, so I complained on my way out.
4. A creepy big-headed baby kept following me. She was wearing a very pretty dress, so I told her that she was wearing a very pretty dress. What else are you supposed to do when a creepy big-headed baby won’t stop following you?
5. Something on a boat.
On a side note, I am totally d.i.v.o.r.c.e-ing my doctor. She tried to prescribe me penicillin (which I tell her I’m allergic to every single time I see her) and then suggested I eat a few teaspoons of honey for my throat. So… salt water nasal rinses and honey is the best she can do for tuberculosis. Apparently I’m going to Dr. Quinn, medicine woman. Should I maybe chew on some tree bark for my headache? Strap some raw onions to my chest to cure my cough? What part of VICODIN does she not understand?
So that’s that. There will be no reconciliation. We are so over. In fact, maybe she’s the creepy big-headed baby in my dream. Now that I think about it, her dress wasn’t even all that pretty.
I was this close to breaking up with my doctor today.
My friends would probably be like, “Remember the good times, don’t throw it all away, you guys seemed great together,” but here’s the thing – I just don’t feel like we communicate anymore.
It’s just that she keeps telling me the same things – this is like the third time she’s diagnosed me with post-nasal drip when I’ve gone in to her with cold symptoms. Now, some people might say that if I’ve had the symptoms of post-nasal drip three times in the past few years, maybe I really do have it. Nonsense! If I really had it, wouldn’t I have the symptoms all the time?
Is it like with cops, where they have a quota of tickets to give out each month, but she has a quota of post-nasal drip diagnoses to dole out?
Well, quota or not, I took her nasal steroid sample and written directions for what she called a “nasal rinse” and stormed out of the office. While I was waiting for the elevator, I started to glance over the directions:
• Bulb syringe
• Tap water
• Table salt
• Baking soda
“Bulb syringe?” I thought. “Isn’t that like those baby snot turkey baster things?”
I went to the drugstore and searched the aisles for bulb syringes, but they were nowhere to be found. This left me no choice but to wait in line at the pharmacy counter and ask for assistance.
“Uh, hi. Yeah, I’m trying to find where you keep the bulb syringes…”
“I’m sorry, what are you looking for?”
“Bulb syringes. You know… for noses?”
“Is it for you or for the baby?”
I looked around to see if some random baby had sidled up to me, but there was just a woman who looked a lot like Shelley Winters standing behind me. I could see her white hair peeking out at her temples from underneath the brown wavy wig she was wearing.
“No, it’s for me. I… I don’t have a baby. I mean, is that okay? Is that all right with you… J. Mitchell? Is there some law that says single women without children can’t buy bulb syringes? Are you judging me? You’re totally judging me. Christ, you have some nerve. All you holier than thou pharmacists, looking down on people like me, with your white lab coats and your Prilosec pens and your sensible shoes and your glasses on a chain. God! It’s not like I just asked you for 100 boxes of Sudafed and some drain cleaner. I JUST WANT TO RINSE OUT THE MUCUS IN MY NASAL PASSAGES, INCLUDING THE HARD TO REACH POSTERIOR NASOPHARYNGEAL AREA! Little help!?!?”
“Aisle 15, ma’am.”
“You’re damn right it is.”
I found the adult equivalent of a baby snot turkey baster, and picked up some red seedless grapes and cinnamon Altoids on the way out, just so it wouldn’t seem like I just came there for the nose thing. Let them think it was an impulse purchase.
As I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, braces removed to reveal my missing tooth, hair pulled back in a pony tail to avoid the inevitable torrent that was about to shoot out of my nose, saline filled syringe slowly nearing my right nostril, I thought to myself, “Jenny? You have truly reached a new low today.”
I glanced over at the directions sitting on the edge of my sink:
1. Lean over sink.
2. Keep your mouth open without holding your breath.
3. Place syringe inside one nostril and gently squeeze until the solution starts draining FROM THE OTHER FRICKIN’ NOSTRIL!!!!! (emphasis mine)
4. If tolerable, sniff in any residual solution remaining in the nasal passage prior to blowing nose.
5. Some solution will reach the back of the throat, so please spit it out.
6. Repeat steps 3-5 for your other nostril.
A few quick breathing exercises to gear myself up… and then I squeezed.
It was the unforgettable sensation of childhood pool parties where you got a little too rowdy and ended up snorting a quarter cup of chlorinated water. Then you would call a time out while you blew your nose into the nearest towel.
But here’s the thing: I think I kind of liked it. I breathed a little easier when it was all over, and more importantly, psychologically I felt like my nose had been purified. All the toxins and cat hair and coal dust and Ritalin I inhale on a daily basis came rushing out the other side, leaving me with what I imagined to be pink healthy nasal passages.
It remains to be seen if this will actually cure the cough, sore throat, weepy eyes, fatigue and headache that I originally went into her office with, but for now, it looks like she dodged a bullet. I won’t be dumping her just yet, but mark my words: if I come in to see her with a back ache next time and she prescribes a high-colonic, we’re totally over.