Help me interwebs, you’re my only hope!


I repeat, calling all Girl Scouts, past, present and future! I need your help!

Can any of you tell me what this merit badge means?


My guess is that you earn this for burning something in effigy. Natasha thinks it’s the voodoo merit badge. All I know is that it didn’t exist in 1954 because it’s not in my handbook.

It’s imperative that I find out because I am trying to retroactively earn all the badges on the sash I bought. I need to find out if I should be stockpiling kerosene or stick pins and locks of hair.

A million thanks, sister Scouts!

The Huntress

The Wait
Forty-seven minutes left. Too soon. Too soon! I won’t repeat the same mistake as last time. I made my move too quickly, too boldly. They saw me coming. This time I’ll be the one in control.

The Regret
It was in mint condition. An official Girl Scout mess kit from the 1950’s in the original box. It was just gorgeous – two pans, a plate, collapsible cup – it even had the fork, spoon and knife set. They almost never have the silverware, but this one had it all. It was early in my eBay career, so I didn’t know how things worked. I didn’t know that when you bid on something right away, four days before the auction ends, it’s like pouring blood into the ocean. They can smell you from miles around. God, I was naïve.

I actually got on that train thinking that by the time I got home, I would be the owner of a pristine Girl Scout mess kit. In the original box. When I felt my phone buzz twice in rapid succession, I figured it was just eBay’s way of thanking me for my business, but when I opened up the emails, a different story unfolded.

5:59pm – “Hi Jenny – There’s a new highest bid on this item, but there’s still a chance to make it yours. Increase your bid to have a chance at winning the Official 1950’s Girl Scout Mess Kit (in original box)!

6:00pm – “Hi Jenny – We’re sorry, you didn’t win the Official 1950’s Girl Scout Mess Kit (in original box) this time around. While this one got away, there’s other stuff to find. Don’t give up.”

How did this happen? I had been the only bidder for the past four days. And who can type fast enough to bid in the last minute? This would be my first experience with snipers, lowest of the eBay low. I would not soon forget the pain and anger of this loss.

The Genesis
In the beginning, there was Natasha. Friend? Enabler? Visionary? Who’s to say? But she was the first to plant the seed in my head – a tiny grain in the form of a conversation about Girl Scout merit badges and how she was fond of them.

I began researching images on eBay, which led to my very first purchase: a small clear plastic bag containing five vintage Girl Scout patches. I was hooked. I needed more.


Soon, under the handle Artemis71, I began the hunt. I moved quickly and silently, backing off when my prey was nervous, moving in when they were unawares.

Patches begat pins.


Pins begat sashes.


Sashes begat pocket knives.


Pocket knives begat handbooks.


Handbooks begat cameras.


Cameras begat a vintage 1965 official Girl Scout uniform, complete with dress, beret and bowtie.


And I saw the uniform, and behold, it was very good.

The Fitting
Thirty-two minutes left and no bids yet on the vintage Girl Scout sewing kit. Hold back, Jenny.

Why Girl Scouts? Where did this sudden obsession come from? I never was a part of Scouts. None of my friends were either. Sure, I love Samoas as much as the next office worker, but it was more than that. With Girl Scouts, there is the promise of… something. Youthful curiosity, a sense of adventure, camaraderie, belonging, survival.

“Guess what I’m wearing right now.”

“Why do you always call me with that question, Jenny?”

“You never guess right anyway, so I’ll just tell you. I’m wearing a vintage 1965 official Girl Scout uniform, complete with dress, beret and bowtie.”


“Nat? You there?”

“I’m still here. Is this another one of your eBay purchases?”

“Sure is. And it fits me like a glove.”

A glove that was stretched across the bust, snug around the hips and about three inches too short, but a glove nonetheless.

“Where exactly do you plan on wearing that?”

“Where don’t I plan on wearing it is the question. Soda shops. Sock hops. Drive-in movies. Casual Fridays. Pretty much everywhere. Get used to the idea, Nat.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Hey, I gotta go. I just realized this dress kind of smells like nursing home breath.”

The Life
Eighteen minutes left until I can start working toward my seamstress badge. This sewing kit will complete my collection. But I need to wait – I must be patient. The Girl Scout Laws guide my actions now.

1. A Girl Scout’s honor is to be trusted.
2. A Girl Scout is loyal.
3. A Girl Scout’s duty is to be useful and to help others.
4. A Girl Scout is a friend to all and a sister to every other Girl Scout.
5. A Girl Scout is courteous.
6. A Girl Scout is a friend to the animals.
7. A Girl Scout obeys orders.
8. A Girl Scout is cheerful.
9. A Girl Scout is thrifty.
10. A Girl Scout is clean in thought, word and deed.

I can do this. I can live honorably, helping friends, making things, feeding rabbits, recycling cans, whistling tunes. I can do a good turn daily. It’s the life I was born to lead.

The Kill
Only four minutes left when I make my move. Enter maximum bid, confirm bid and click! eBay tells me I’m the highest bidder, but still I don’t feel comfortable. I wait at the computer, hoping my bid will be enough to fend off any last-minute snipers. I realize I’ve been holding my breath, and as I exhale, it arrives:

Hi Artemis71 – Congratulations on winning this item!

It was a clean shot, a good kill. The sewing kit is mine.


The Cycle
The eBay gods shone down on me today, and now my collection is complete. I can retire from the hunt and finally sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor. My phone vibrates.

Dear Artemis71,

Based on your past purchases, we’ve found some items you won’t want to miss out on!

• Vintage Girl Scout backpack
• 1954 Girl Scout calendar
• Vintage Girl Scout wristwatch

Don’t let them get away!

Your friends at eBay

Wristwatch? No one said anything about a wristwatch! And so the huntress pushes aside her frozen pizza, stands up to stretch her quads and silently walks into the forest, bow in hand.




I step out to the line of waiting taxis, the drivers beeping their horns and waving me over. I know how cabs work, I think. Stop honking at me. It makes me a little crazy.

The cab driver at the front of the line looks up and smiles as I walk toward his car. I get in. He is holding a yellow legal pad and a green pen, and I can see several pages filled with green writing.

“Hi there! Where can I take you today?”

He is in his sixties, I would guess, and is wearing the large plastic framed glasses that most fathers seem to prefer. It’s immediately clear to me that cab driving is not his primary profession. He is too friendly, has too much energy, and doesn’t race in between stoplights in the nausea-inducing fashion that is de rigueur in the professional cabbie community.

“So you heading home, or to work?” he asks.

“Work,” I reply.

“And what line of work are you in?”

Whenever I get that question, I think about how nice it must be to have a job that people outside the industry understand, and usually I just say something like “marketing” or “software,” neither of which is exactly true, but both of which are much easier to explain. But I’m in no hurry, so I give him a more accurate description.

“And what about you? How long have you been driving a cab?”

A little over a year, he tells me. He used to be a CFO, but was let go. He won $600,000 in a wrongful termination lawsuit, so he’s okay for money, but likes to keep busy so he took the job driving a cab, and also does some financial consulting on the side.

“I was working on a client proposal when you stepped in my cab.”

I ask him how he likes it, driving a cab. He tells me there are good things and bad things about it, just like any job. He likes women customers much better than men. Women are just so much more interesting, he says, and I don’t disagree.

“For every ten interesting women I meet, I run across one, maybe two men at the most who are interesting.”

We start to hit traffic, and agree that Lower Wacker will be the best way to get downtown. He mentions his daughter and asks me if I have children. I say no, and pause.

“I have cats.”

He asks if I’m married, and I want desperately for the conversation to not become awkward. I say no, and catch myself holding my breath for his response. He says he is shocked to hear that. I must have to beat them off with sticks, he imagines. A thin laugh escapes from my lips as my gaze alternates between the window and the rear view mirror. It hasn’t come to that yet, I reply.

We have exited Lower Wacker, and are coming up on my street, which is when he comments on my red hair.

“My hair isn’t red,” I say, but then immediately wish I had just nodded. He tells me it looks red, and says he wants to do a study to see if there really are personality differences in people based on natural hair color.

“You know, do blondes really have a different temperament than brunettes or redheads? Of course there are all the stereotypes of the serious brunette and flighty blonde and the wild redhead, but are there legitimate differences, not just based on gross stereotypes?”

Stop, I think. Don’t make this weird. Please don’t be creepy. You had a legal pad and a green pen. We had an understanding.

He tells me that his daughter is a psychologist, and maybe he’ll run the idea for the research project past her.

“Right here is just fine, thanks.”

“All right, then! Been nice talking to you. See what I mean? The women are always more interesting than the men.”




It was Mo. She texted to say it was so good to see me, but asked me not to say anything at work because Tommy might hear. Three exclamation points after each sentence, twelve in all. I thought about whether to respond, and what to say if I did. Did I really care if Tommy heard? Why doesn’t he want Mo to be happy? Control freak, must be.

But was it really good to see me? Why did Mo feel the need to use so many exclamation points? It seemed somehow disingenuous, like she was compensating for something. I don’t think she had all that much fun. Frankly, I think she’s mostly just worried that I’m going to say something. She and Tommy have a lot of issues to work out, clearly. Sneaking around, then lying about it. Eventually it’s going to catch up with both of them.

It’s a shame, though, that Mo didn’t text that message to the correct person, since I have no idea who she and Tommy are. Let’s hope the intended recipient isn’t a blabbermouth.



Americans in Paris

“Nat, it’s Jen. You’re going to love this – I just got off the phone with Dee-Dee. She and Marcy lost their passports.”

“Both of them?”


“Oh, that’s just great.”

“I know. Dee thinks hers was in the pocket of a vest she gave away to the Goodwill a few months ago.”

“You know, I was pretty sure that one of them would lose their passports while we were in Paris, but I really didn’t think that both of them would lose them before we even left the country.”

“They found them!”

“Where were they?”

“Dee-Dee’s was inside a purse on the floor of her closet, covered in clothes that had fallen off the hanger. Marcy’s was in a purse hanging in some rusty lockers at work.”

“Of course.”

Dee and her sister Marcy had already made it through security and purchased neck pillows by the time Natasha and I got to the airport, which instantly calmed my fears and cleared my mind of the image of them stuck in traffic behind an overturned semi and missing our flight. Nat and I decided to break rank and upgrade to Economy Plus, and it was the best decision of my life. Never before has five inches brought me such intense pleasure. (Yes, that’s what she said.)

Dee-Dee and Marcy played cribbage. I read 30 pages of Murder in the Marais before switching to mindless in-flight movies. Natasha studied the history of the Burgundy region. Eight hours later, we landed at Charles de Gaulle airport. After going up and down the same elevator three times to try to find where we could pick up a taxi, we finally made our way to the apartment we had rented on Ile St. Louis.

Even in my jet-lagged state, I couldn’t control the squeals of joy when we opened the door to what would be our home for the next five days. There were antiques everywhere, a tiny troll bed under the staircase to the loft, a four-foot deep bathtub, an entire wall of Paris guidebooks, and most importantly, a bottle of wine and four glasses waiting for us.


That first day is a bit of a blur to me. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a bit anal when it comes to vacation planning, so I had highlighted on a map all the places each of us mentioned wanting to see while we were in Paris. Then I plotted out the best path to get to each location in order to optimize our time. That morning, we must have walked for seven hours straight, less the time it took to drink a delicious café crème near the Tuileries.


By the time we wandered back into the apartment, I was in a bit of a haze.

“You can’t sleep, Jenny. You must not sleep! It will mess up everything!”

“But… I just need a catnap. Can’t I have 30 minutes? We’ve been up for over 24 hours.”

“Okay, but set your alarm.”

An hour later, we had every intention of grabbing a quick dinner and call it an early evening. Little did we know that authentic French cassoulet is like the fountain of youth.


Suddenly, we all had caught our second wind and after polishing off the bottle of wine at the restaurant, we decided to find a neighborhood bar where we could all play rummy. Fortunately, such a location quickly presented itself, and we immediately ordered a round of pastis and kir royales. Then came more kir royales, several gins and tonics, and two very large glasses of Four Roses whisky.

Everything gets a little fuzzy for me after the first whisky, but I remember trying to buy the waiter a drink, and he almost ran away from me. Then I (lovingly) tried to choke Natasha. Then the waiter came back for a photo. Then it was Wednesday.


On Wednesday, we put our comfortable shoes back on and hit the streets once again. We had lunch in the Luxembourg Gardens, where I spent many a long afternoon as a student many, many years ago.



We went shopping, took photos, felt Parisian, but really, everything we did was a prelude to dinner. Marcy is a chef, so we wanted to really splurge one night on a gourmet dinner, and Joël Robuchon was more than happy to oblige. We each ordered the eight-course tasting menu, and three and a half hours later very reluctantly left the restaurant that delivered one of the most memorable dining experiences I’ve ever had.

And best of all, we paid for it in Euros, which isn’t real money at all. Right? It’s not real, right? I mean, it’s all multi-colored and different sizes… TELL ME THAT WAS PLAY MONEY!

Oh god, what have I done?

notre dame

We actually did make it an early night on Wednesday because we had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch our 6:58am train to Dijon. We were spending the day on a wine tour of Burgundy, and wanted to get there as early as possible. As we wandered into the Gare de Lyon, I saw hordes of people standing around the signs, waiting for their train times to be announced. Still groggy from the combination of sleep deprivation, jet lag and foie gras, I didn’t catch all the specifics of the announcement that came over the loudspeaker.

“Guys. They just said something about a fire.”


“Don’t know. I missed that part. But there’s a fire, and they’re sorry, and we need to wait for more information.”

I looked up at the sign and saw several departures were now flashing “30 minute delay” messages. Eventually, the 30 minute delay on a few departures turned into “Unspecified delay” on every departure.

Once we got on our train, the conductor came on to tell us that we’d be delayed by about an hour. I stepped into the vestibule to call our guide to give him a heads up, and by the time I got back, all three of my companions were asleep.

When the train finally took off, I saw that the fire that had delayed us was on a construction site near the tracks. Giant flames were shooting out of a hole in the ground, as bulldozers tried to fill the hole with dirt.

We met the winemaker Philippe at our first tour, and our guide Simon warned us ahead of time that he was a shameless flirt. By the end of the tour, he had proposed marriage to at least two of us, and was caught in some compromising photos with Dee-Dee. But he opened up a bottle of 1970 Pinot Noir in honor of Natasha’s birthday, so how could we refuse him?


The next tour involved several dogs, a cat, and lots more wine.




The third tour involved lots of wine. No dogs or cats that I can recall, but we did get an offer to help out in the vineyards next year at harvest.



On our way back to the train station, Simon brought us into a vineyard that had already been harvested for the season. There were still some grapes on the vines, so he broke his number one rule and stole a tiny bunch for us. While I was busy taking photos, I later learned that [name withheld] was spitting out the precious Pinot Noir seeds into a Trident White blister pack so that she could smuggle them back into the States and start her own vineyard.


Friday was a day filled with nostalgia for me, since I briefly abandoned the girls and wandered over to see the dorm where I lived when I studied here. It is now a home for the elderly, but I could still see the statue of Joan of Arc standing in the courtyard.


Then, I made my way, with fingers crossed, to the Palais de Tokyo in hopes that they still had a photobooth there. Of course, they did, and it was wonderful and full of graffiti and even though I only got one strip to turn out before I saw eager tapping toes of some young French kids waiting their turn, it will remain one of my favorite photobooth experiences ever.


Next, I headed out to meet up with Dee-Dee and Natasha at the Fragonard perfume museum. We took a brief tour of the museum and learned that at some point in history, French people all got rabies and became afraid of water, which is why they chose to bathe with perfume instead. I might have made up the rabies part, but the rest is all true.

At the end of the tour, they kindly drop you off in the Fragonard store, where the guide lets you sample all their perfumes. We had a different perfume on each wrist, two on the forearms, one on the elbow, and a few on the back of each hand. Collectively, Dee, Nat and I were wearing 16 different perfumes.

We couldn’t keep any of the scents straight.

“Is that Ile d’Amour or Eau Fantasque on my elbow?”

“I can’t tell! I think it’s Etoile. Or maybe Belle du Jour.”

On the metro on the way back home, I kept noticing people looking around, trying to figure out why the train suddenly smelled like a whorehouse. They were repulsed yet irresistibly drawn toward us.

Fortunately, we were able to wash off most of the perfume in time for our dinner with Dee and Marcy’s dad, who happened to be in Europe on business that same week. We had another delicious multi-course dinner that involved a lot of cheese and wine. After the 100th photo, Dee’s dad confiscated our cameras because we kept getting dirty looks from the other patrons.


Not content to end our evening there, we said goodnight to Dee’s dad and headed off in search of another bar. We stumbled onto what seemed to be an ex-pat bar in the Marais, and started up another round of rummy. I’m not sure if it was the overwhelming heat in that bar, or the second glass of pastis, or the creepy drunk American mother-daughter duo at the table next to us (“Your great grandma LOVED sex! Let me tell you…”), but I needed to call it a night.

By Saturday, we were up for a pretty mellow day. Natasha and I spent the morning shopping at a local flea market. Dee-Dee and Marcy spent the morning frantically running up and down the aisles at a local flea market looking for Natasha and me, probably passing us at least a dozen times before finally seeing us.

We did some more shopping, walked through the market, ate some more cheese, drank some more wine and sadly started to pack our bags for our early flight the next day.


All in all, an amazing five nights in what is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And now, I am working on building up my back muscles so that I can earn my keep when I abandon my job here and move to Beaune just in time for the next Pinot harvest.



[Palais de Tokyo, Paris]

Home again, home again.

I’m still adjusting to life without delicious fruit tarts and crusty French bread and tiny little coffees, so let me just say for now that the most important word I learned on this trip was “Fotoautomat.”

Much more later!