It’s true. I’ve denied it for years, not because I was ashamed of being a hypochondriac, but because I didn’t think the word applied to me. Why? Miss Snarky Pants, with all of her books, her degrees, her 4-year reign as FCS’s Spelling Bee Champion – don’t be a hater! – never bothered to look up the friggin’ word in a dictionary. Nope, I determined its meaning from overhearing its usage in every day speech. My parents, for example, used the word a lot, and, come to think of it, slewed their eyes towards me whenever they uttered it. For all these years, I’d been operating under the delusion that a hypochondriac was a person who believed they had many illnesses, when, in fact, they did not.
Color me red when I discovered the error of my ways. The cornerstone upon which the entire foundation of who I am and what I believe was crushed when I Googled hypochondriac, only to discover that Dictionary.com defines it as “an excessive preoccupation with one’s health, usually focusing on some particular symptom, [sic] as cardiac or gastric problems.” For a moment, I thought, That’s not me. I usually think I have cancer. I’m not worried about my heart…except for when I can feel its beat pulsing in my temples, and then I’m certain I’m suffering an aneurysm. Hey, it could happen. And my gastric problems are real. You can’t fake diarrhea.
I scrolled down to the second definition: a person who worries or talks excessively about his or her health. Crap! I couldn’t deny it. My health sneaks its way into every conversation I have these days. I get asked, “How are you feeling?” more often than Taylor Swift gets asked, “Who are you going to write a nasty song about next week dating?” For example, today while I was warning my outdoorsy neighbor about the recent mosquito-borne pathogen outbreak in Florida, she blurted out, “What the hell is dengue fever?” However, her next question was “How’s your stomach feeling?” This woman has never even used my bathroom, but she’s knows that my bowel has been distressed lately.
And yes, I’m terrified that I’m going to contract dengue fever. Why?
(1) Eight cases have been reported in Florida in the last few weeks, in two counties: Martin and Miami-Dade. Granted, I don’t live in either of those counties, but mosquitoes can fly. Fly! They aren’t constrained by the nightmarish gridlock on I-4 as families squeeze in a pre-Labor Day Disney visit. No, mosquitoes view that arterial roadway as, well, an actual artery. Moreover, the Aedes aegypti, the species of mosquito that typically carries the virus, prefers human blood to that of other mammalians. Did I mention that only the breeding females transmit the disease? Mothersuckers!
(2) Iknow someone who contracted dengue fever while in Central America. Obviously, the disease isn’t all that rare. His case was so severe, he prayed to God for death. And he’s an atheist.
(3) When it comes to mosquitoes, my blood is a bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Jeroboam. No, make that a FREE bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Jeroboam. Yeah, I had to Google that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Their lust for my blood culminates almost daily in a feeding frenzy that’s convinced me that no vampire could ever resist me. Take that, Bella Swan.
(4) I’m an unlucky person. Sort of. In my mind, most of the good things that have happened to me in life resulted from hard work and perky breasts, not good fortune.
The problem is that I’m a recovering attorney, and my mind operates in a very specific way. When I assess that there is a threat within a 500 mile or so radius, I scour the Internet for evidence to support or dismiss that threat. After reading dozens of articles, blogs, Wikipedia entries, and a couple of double-blind, random, placebo-controlled studies, and determining that the threat is valid, I then begin comparing the disease’s list of symptoms with my current ailments. Dengue fever sufferers, for example, may expect fevers as high as 106 F, severe headaches, body rash, joint and muscle pain so draconian it can cause contortions, nausea, vomiting, eye pain, and minor bleeding from the gums and nose.
My gums bled this morning when I brushed my teeth. My lower back is killing me and I’ve had recurrent abdominal distress for over two weeks. Someone’s tap dancing on a nerve directly behind my left eye, as I write. I could be dying. But the only doctor I’ve seen in months is my chiropractor.
Why? Because I don’t really believe I have, or am going to catch, dengue fever, but the chance exists. In law, you might call it reasonable doubt or preponderance of the evidence. If there is any reasonable doubt that I could be bitten by an infected mosquito, then I have to take the necessary precautions to make sure that neither I, nor Hubby, my family, all my FB friends, all my Twitter friends, all the friends whom I’ve actually met, the lady in front of me in the checkout line who looks like she has a weak immune system, and each and every one of my adoring blog readers, contract dengue fever. Does that make me a hypochondriac or just a concerned citizen who believes that Benjamin Franklin was correct when he wrote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? C’mon, he nailed the whole electricity thing. The dude had mad smart skills.
Call me a hypochondriac, but it won’t stop me from hiding indoors after dusk for the next couple of months. After all, I live in one of the warmest, wettest places in the country, and that doesn’t take into account Tampa’s strip clubs, which are a hot mess all on their own. My yard breeds mosquitoes the way those Duggars spawn children. Our 1920’s bungalow rests on bricks stacked a foot high – and, based on the bites that pepper my calves and ankles – the dark, sweltering space below it is probably the largest Aedes aegypti neonatal unit in Florida.
Today, I’ll be calling our local mosquito control center and requesting that they do a drive by drenching. Likewise, thrice-daily DEET baths, and mesh body armor after dark are probably in order. I’ve considered sending Hubby outside 5 to 10 minutes ahead of me as a decoy of sorts, but that would involve stepping over a serious moral line. One I’d readily cross (hey, his immune system has my lymph nodes mounted on wooden plaque hanging on its wall), but those pesky, little bloodsuckers won’t touch him. It’s like his mother bottle-fed him a diet of Off! mixed with Skin So Soft. I thought spouses were supposed to have each other’s backs, but mine won’t even donate a pint of blood.
Prevention is the key to beating hypochondria. If I’m not bitten by a mosquito, I won’t worry that my headache is indicative of blistering fevers and aching muscles to come. Or, if I don’t leave the house until Thanksgiving. Or if I temporarily move to Antarctica.
Plus, I have bigger concerns. Did you know that spices can carry salmonella? The FDA will be releasing a study that shows that 15% of coriander, 12% of both basil and oregano, and 4% of regular ol’ peppercorns imported to the United States are contaminated with the potentially-deadly virus. Americans are particularly at risk because we tend to add pepper to our food after it is cooked – and the heating process is what destroys the salmonella virus.
Now ask yourself, Have I sprinkled a little fresh, ground pepper to my food recently? When did the chef add that coriander to my curry? What about the basil I use in my homemade Italian vinaigrette?
Now who’s the hypochondriac?
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Every once in awhile, Karma smiles down upon you and grants you the opportunity of a lifetime. In my case, her gift was two tickets for a taping of The Daily Show in Tampa, Florida during the Republican National Convention. Now, some of you may be snickering or rolling your eyes because you’re complete and utter morons I think watching Jon Stewart doing his gig in person can only be surpassed by an event that involves me sipping Moët from the Holy Grail while David Sedaris reads aloud to me and Johnny Depp massages my feet. Sure, I realize his show shoots five days a week for most of the year up in Hell’s Kitchen, so you’re probably thinking that filming The Daily Show isn’t exactly rare like, say, a sober Amanda Bynes or a pale Donatella Versace.
But you would be wrong.
Shooting Comedy Central’s top–rated show in Tampa is extraordinarily unusual. And after Stewart and his team openly lambasted the city in which I reside with embarrassingly accurate observations about the heat and humidity (describing Tampa as the ideal environment for “a struggling strand of streptococcus”), the casual attire of the indigenous population (“the city where flip flops are considered evening wear”), and our fondness of clothing-optional gentlemen’s clubs (“Jon, I’m here in Tampa’s famous strip club district or as they call it here – Tampa.”), it’s unlikely that the program will ever be filmed in the Peninsula of Death again – unless a palmetto bug decides to run for President in 2016.
That’s my new tagline – and one that will take up residence on my newly-designed website in a month or so after all of my Paltry Meanderings’ readers have caught on. You may have noticed that I’ve got a new name and look. It was time for a change or, as David Bowie would put it, it was time to turn and face the strange.
However, my blog makeover is only one of several metamorphoses I’ve undergone recently. In fact, during my brief August sabbatical:
1) I’ve Become A Vegan:I know…I may as well have just confided to you that I’ve moved to Oregon, stopped shaving my legs, taken to rubbing a chunk of crystal under my arms instead of deodorant, started wearing Birkenstocks, and sold my televisions in order to donate the money to my local farm co-operative. Of course, that’s ridiculous. I don’t even use deodorant. For the record, although I love all critters, I decided to eschew meat and all animal-based products because I had some addiction issues to conquer – namely my lifelong enslavement to one particular substance – not because I wanted to have an excuse for wearing the fugliest shoes ever created. Breaking this dependence was critical to my relationship with my husband, my parents, my friends and my waistline.
They say, Admitting you have a problem is the first step.So here I am to announce to all of you today that I, Miss Snarky Pants, am an addict. I can’t remember not drinking. I suppose whole milk was my gateway drug, but then my mother further mired me in the Swamp of Dependency by introducing me to Nestlé Quik. Within days, I was a chocolate milk junkie. Mom enabled my new addiction by permitting me to slug down a glass every Saturday morning – as long as I woke her first and asked permission. Of course, I scored half pints of the stuff in the school cafeteria; you’d be amazed what you can get in trade for an apple, half a Twinkie and a bathroom stall blow job.
I am a tithing member of the Church of the Holy Crock Pot. Though I dutifully praise the Crock Pot’s glories on a regular basis, take it to all the best potlucks, and actively witness to others about how the power of the Crock Pot has changed my life, it occasionally lets me down. This was the case a few months ago when I was cooking a pot roast in the depths of my early 1990s era Crock Pot. The kind with three settings: Off, Low and Scorchingly Fucking Hot. It was a housewarming gift from my mother when I moved into my very first apartment – the one with mauve carpeting.
For readers under the age of 25, let me explain that mauve is a horrid color that infiltrated the décor of the late 1980s and early 1990s, much in the same way that a CIA mole recently infiltrated al Qaeda’s plot to detonate an underwear bomb during a US-bound flight. Except mauve didn’t have good intentions. Often accompanied by its evil cohorts, peach and sea foam green, it permanently damaged the retinal cones of senior citizens and Floridian condominium owners, forever impairing their vision and, thereby, reducing their decorating choices to creamy pastels, shell motifs and stucco.
Despite my devout Crock Pot cookbook study sessions every Wednesday night, one cannot expect the Holy Crock Pot to simply reveal the secrets of the universe to just anyone. Particularly when that universe involves pot roast. That evening, I’d clearly misinterpreted the scriptures in The Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook concerning the preparation of the sacred, potted calf, letting it simmer on Low, when it should have been bubbling away on Scorchingly Fucking Hot. With dinner not in our immediate future, Matt and I headed to a local restaurant with a great bar for a few cocktails.
As we slid into a booth in the bar, we noticed that seated to our left was a well-dressed gentleman accompanied by a woman who’d likely been a blonde bombshell twenty years earlier, but was now just clinging to her svelte figure by a thread on her leopard print blouse. As we sipped our drinks and pondered the appetizer menu, Matt and I couldn’t help but overhear our neighbors discussing their new waterfront condo and raving about how much culture they’d discovered in our seaside town. Yes, it’s true. In our little city, you can’t throw a stone without hitting an art gallery specializing in oversized paintings of a beachy sunsets that will perfectly match your sea foam-colored sofa and table lamps with sea shell-filled glass bases.
And then I saw her. Megan.
Memories of gatherings filled with hippie types came crashing back like a teenager returning home in his father’s purloined car after a keg party. I’d eaten my first piece of sushi whilst swinging in Megan’s Sky Air chair. I’d cheered her on as she’d scaled the interior stone walls of the infamous Generic College hangout, Coblin House, in order to reach the second floor, where she’d proceeded to dance barefoot on a slim plank of wood that framed the opening to the loft – even though the fall could have killed her. My date to Megan’s wedding was our mutual best friend, Todd, who had handed me tissues throughout the reception held on a boat cruising up and down the bay. And as soon as all of Megan and Jarrod’s elderly relatives had returned to their hotel rooms, we had converged upon their rickety wooden house that squatted on the edge of an orange grove for the real reception – a blowout that extended until dawn and didn’t officially end until the last drunken guest had awakened from his supine position on the dining room floor, and mumbled “Congratu-fucking-lations!” before stumbling out the door – and into my car. As vodka and I hadn’t yet been introduced formally, I’d driven a lot of people home that day.
And here she was. I hadn’t seen Megan in close to a decade. She was sitting with a short-haired man dressed in linen who resembled Val Kilmer. Where was skinny, long-haired, goateed Jarrod? Had they divorced? Quickly, I glanced at her ring finger to find her sparkler still in place. Was she having an affair with this man? For a few moments, I studied her body language. Always a flirt, Megan was leaning forward, smiling, laughing that husky laugh. For chrissakes, her pupils were dilated. She was into this guy. For a minute, I was filled with a loyal rage. How could she do this to poor Jarrod? He’d always been the Ethel to her grape-stomping, Vitametavegamin-swilling, Harpo Marx-imitating Lucy. Not a Ricky. Ricky would have demanded some “splainin’,” but Jarrod had always gone along with Megan’s antics because she was a light that couldn’t be dimmed. A flame that couldn’t be ‘splained. Was it any surprise that her favorite color was yellow and her preferred blooms were sunflowers? Megan glowed…and we all basked in her radiance and felt the better for it.
The moment we locked eyes, her lips spread into a brilliant smile. Within seconds, I was up and we were embracing one another, jibber-jabbering about how long it had been. Clueless as to why I’d bounded over to hug a woman he’d never met, Matt stayed planted in his seat, until I loudly announced that I was married and urged him to rise and meet Megan. Still slim and casually elegant, she wrapped her arms around my husband, her long golden waves shimmering in the warm hue of the bar lights. My slender figure was petulantly hiding back in 2005, mocking my chubba wubba voluptuous curves from the space time continuum. To make matters worse, I was growing out a pixie cut that was in desperate need of a trim and, instead of it drawing comparisons to Audrey Hepburn from the restaurant patrons, my hair was likely spurring sudden, subliminal desires to order the smoked mullet.
Once Megan released my husband, she gestured to Val Kilmer and chimed, “Matt, meet my husband, Jarrod.”
What? I gave the imposter-posing-as-Jarrod the once over, resisting the urge to blurt out, “ Look, Iceman…I loved you in Real Genius, but I can’t allow you to turn my Megan into a Jezebel.”
But as I studied his strong square jaw line and soft brown eyes, the Jarrod I remembered began to emerge – a hippie trapped in the body of a washed-up actor. Fortunately, it wasn’t the bloated Val Kilmer of late, but neither was it the shirtless, volleyball-playing fighter pilot whose photo had adorned many a dorm room wall. The worst part was that Jarrod didn’t recognize me either. Fuuuuuuuuuck!
“Jarrod, it’s me, Cristy.”
Without a flicker of recognition in his eyes, Jarrod nodded. “Umm. Yeah. Of course. You changed your hair, didn’t you?”
Yeah, but at least no one mistakes me for Molly Ringwald. “I was blonde the last time you saw me.”
“Oh yeah. That’s it,” he said, with a smile. That and the fat suit you’re wearing.
By then, the condo purchasers had become enraptured with our conversation…listening to every word while carefully staring off in the distance, but not so far away as to eclipse our presence in their peripheral vision. Once Megan returned her attention to me, she immediately asked about my writing. When I admitted that I had recently completed my first novel and was penning a humor blog, she broadcasted to the entire bar that I was a great writer, an introduction that could result in only one thing. Utter humiliation. The minute I revealed – to bar patrons who were complete strangers – that my novel wasn’t actually published and that I was looking for an agent, their interest level in me dropped faster than a toddler down a well. A dry well. I’m pretty sure I heard a thud as their enthusiasm hit the dirt like a skull.
As Megan and I swapped stories about the last decade, Matt began chit-chatting with our bar neighbors. Within moments, they were sharing inside jokes and laughing together as though they were frat buddies who’d hijacked the mascot of their school’s biggest competitor back in the day. Meanwhile, I began to get the impression that Megan’s life had not turned out the way she’d expected. A teacher for many years, she told me she’d quit her beloved profession and was answering phones part-time at a friend’s business. When I asked what precipitated her decision, Megan squirmed noticeably and offered a euphemism to the effect of, “Oh, I just needed a change.” She expressed an interest in writing. I encouraged her to keep at it and offered to read anything she was working on if she felt like sharing.
But then Megan began doing the things that Megan always eventually did. Compete. Complain. And charm the socks off everyone in the room…except for the people who know her.
“What happened to my glass of wine? It was right here. I wasn’t done,” Megan announced to the room in general. Waving the waitress over, she whined, “I had a full glass of wine sitting right here. Did you take it?” When our server denied responsibility, Megan refused to drop the issue – like a dog with a mouthful of stuffed, squeaking, faux dead duck. I swear she even shook her head from side to side vigorously – as if to break the waitress’ neck with the ferocity of her convictions. “Yes, you did. The glass was full. I’d only had a sip, ” she insisted, the alcohol on her breath strong enough to sanitize the road rash on the butt of a man whose scooter had collided with a fertilizer truck. “You need to bring me another one immediately.”
I was reminded that one of the reasons we basked in Megan’s glow so willingly was that the rest of the time in her presence could be like Juneau in the dead of winter. I wrapped my cardigan around me a little more tightly. Despite the fact that it was Megan and Jarrod’s wedding anniversary, our golden girl couldn’t resist an audience. So as she entertained our bar neighbors with a slew of stories I’d never heard about motherhood, dancing and cotillion, any hopes I may have had of sharing a meaningful conversation with her were dashed. Megan was driving this car, pedal to the metal, and we were passengers clinging to door handles just hoping she’d slow down before she ordered us to jump. Within minutes of meeting these people, Megan was throwing out invitations to Dexter-themed parties to come. And discussing country clubs. And yacht cleaners.
Country clubs? Yachts? What happened to the barefoot Megan who always had a daisy tucked into her hair?
And then Megan steered the conversation back to just the two of us. And Todd. Oh. Dear. God. We have a decade to catch up on and this is what she wants to talk about. “Whatever happened to Todd, Cristy? I haven’t heard from him in years.”
I know, I thought. If she had, she would know that Todd had gotten engaged. And married. She’d know that Todd had moved out to the West Coast and was working on his graduate degree. “You know, Todd,” I responded lightheartedly, not wanting to be the bearer of tidings that would likely piss her off. “He’s so bad about staying in touch.”
“Haven’t you heard from him?” she asked. I nodded weakly, admitting I had. “Oh. Well, I’ve left messages. I even called his mother and…nothing.” My smile was toothless and pained as if it had been painted on by an artist with Asperger Syndrome. Even I knew a call to Todd’s mother usually accomplished…well, nothing. In fact, for years, she called me for updates about her son. “Well? Where is he?” Megan demanded.
“Oregon. He’s in Oregon.”
“Why?” she persisted. “What’s he doing out there?”
Freezing his ass off. Carrying an umbrella. Gradually turning translucent. Getting all the really “in-jokes” on Portlandia. “He’s in school. He’s working on his graduate degree. He’s doing really well.” C’mon, just say you’re happy for him and drop the fucking duck.
But Megan’s competitive streak had reared it’s angel-faced head because I had the audacity to know something about Todd – a person she still considered her best friend despite the fact that they hadn’t spoken in a decade – that she didn’t know. “Why did he have to go to school out there?”
Because his wife is a huge Pink Martini fan and wanted to live closer to the band. Because that’s what people do…they move away. Because he’s not your minion, Megan. “That’s where he and his girlfriend moved.” It was only a little lie. Not really one at all. After all, Todd and Raina were only engaged when they moved out there. I mean, technically, Raina was just a girlfriend with an uber nice ring on her left hand.
“He’s got a girlfriend?” Megan hissed. And that’s when I realized it. Her claim upon Todd was as real in her mind as a forty-niner’s staked claim to a vein of gold in California. This was jealousy, plain and simple. And suddenly, it occurred to me that this conversation was never meant to be about catching up on our lives. It was an intelligence gathering mission about Todd.
“Ummm. Nooooo. Not anymore.” Though the terms girlfriend and fiance could easily be considered interchangeable, this was not the case with the word wife.
Megan’s face suddenly brightened. “Oh. So he’s single, then?” I prayed that Val Kilmer wasn’t overhearing this bit of the conversation.
Erm. Fuck it. My thighs were aching from dancing around the truth for the past few minutes. She needed to know the facts. And I needed to order another martini. Hopefully, she’d then move on to less stressful topics like tsunamis and waterboarding. “No, Megan. He’s married. He got married a couple of years ago.”
Though the conversations around us continued unhindered, the silence in the eight inches or so between our heads was deafening. Finally, Megan asked, “Why didn’t he call me?”
“I don’t know.” I didn’t know. The disintegration of Megan and Todd’s friendship had never been discussed. And I hadn’t asked. It was none of my business. “Maybe he didn’t have your number?” I suggested weakly. Maybe he found out that you are a possessive psycho friend prone to interrogating the innocent.
Megan insisted that her number hadn’t changed. “We haven’t even moved. He knew how to find me,” she spit, as though I had assumed the role of Todd’s personal correspondence assistant and should share in the responsibility of this faux pas. “Well, did you go?” Megan’s halo of blonde hair suddenly began to singe my corneas like an interrogation spotlight.
Awkward. If I tell the truth, she’ll be hurt and I’ll feel like a bitch. If I lie, Megan will eventually find out, and then I’ll be a lying bitch. I can’t win. “Yes, Megan. I was one of his best men.” Her face fell. Then her nostrils flared as the realization hit her that I had been a member of the wedding party. Which meant I must have been in on the conspiracy to keep her off the guest list. And I probably knew who shot Kennedy and if astronauts really landed on the moon. “Look, I don’t know what happened between you two–”
“I know what happened,” she interrupted. Then, leaning in even closer, she whispered, “You know, Todd was always in love with me.”
Of course, he was, I wanted to say. Because it’s all about you, Megan. At that moment, I realized I couldn’t remember ever spending any time alone with Megan. Just the two of us. No lunch dates. No girls’ night out. In fact, every time we were together, we were usually surrounded by her friends – friends who were typically straight, single men. Men who basked in her glory. I hadn’t just told Megan that Todd’s life had changed drastically without her permission input; I’d confirmed that he was no longer one of her back-up dancers. Someone else had captured his attention. Permanently. And he was happy. Really happy.
And who knows, maybe Todd had been in love with Megan eons ago. I was once a size 4 and strutted my stuff in a fashion show that aired on MTV. That and $14.50 will get you a mochaccino at Starbucks. “And now he’s in love with Raina,” I said firmly. “She’s his best friend now. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” And I meant that. I’d included those words in my best man’s speech that romantic evening in New York.
Megan abruptly ended our conversation and returned her attention to our condo-buying acquaintances. It turned out that the couple were from Atlanta and had firm views on the MARTA, Atlanta’s public transportation system. “You know what MARTA stands for, don’t you?” the aging bombshell asked us with a wink.
Oh. Dear. God. How did Matt and I meander into a bar that could provide not one, but two really uncomfortable moments in less than a half hour? Give her the benefit of the doubt, Cristy. Maybe they’ve come up with something that isn’t incredibly trite and racist. “No. What?” I asked, my eyebrow cocked in warning. Don’t fuck with the eyebrow.
Tittering, the cougar whispered loudly enough for people in Georgia to hear, “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
Oh, no she didn’t! Then I heard Megan giggling. Since when do hippies laugh at unimaginative racist acronyms? “Really?” I said through gritted teeth. “Funny, but the last time I rode the MARTA, I didn’t notice many black people on it. And the people I did notice looked like commuters and students. But then, Atlanta’s African Americans are some of the most educated and wealthiest people in the country. I’d imagine that most of them don’t need to take public transportation.”
The woman pursed her lips. “Well, the MARTA’s gotten really bad lately.”
“In the last five years?” I asked. Maybe they’d switched to really uncomfortable seats. Or worse, maybe they’d begun playing Muzak over the loud speakers.
“Oh, yes. It’s bad. Our friend won’t let his college student son ride on it.” I resisted the urge to ask her if their friend also believed in the Mayan calendar and had a basement stocked with automatic weapons, canned goods and bottled water in preparation for the end of the world. “In fact, we avoid the downtown area altogether.”
Stifling my laughter, I replied, “Heck, the last time I was in Atlanta, I used to power walk from my hotel downtown all the way to Olympic Park. It seemed perfectly safe to me.” My husband just sat there, stone-faced. He has little tolerance for racists, and even less for pussies.
Megan suddenly chimed in. “You’re brave. I can tell; you’re fearless.” Without a hint of irony.
Huh? Me? Walking around a city in broad daylight hardly constitutes brave. This was not the Megan I knew. For years, I’d admired her free spirit. Her willingness to dance on a strip of plywood ten feet above the ground without a care. Hell, a few minutes earlier, she was inviting absolute strangers to visit her home for a serial-killer themed party. But they were white. “Are you telling me you wouldn’t take the MARTA, Megan?”
“It’s not like New York, Cristy.”
Damn straight, it’s not. It’s a hell of a lot safer than New York. What was she trying to say? The population is, erm, darker in Atlanta than it is in New York City? “Okay, how about D.C.? You’d ride the Metro in D.C., right?” She couldn’t say no to that. Matt and I had just visited D.C. a year earlier. While my husband attended a conference, I’d ridden the Metro all over town and walked the streets alone…with only my lip gloss for protection.
All four of them – even Jarrod – just stared at me uncomfortably. Matt’s silence, however, was brought about by pure shock. He hadn’t been surrounded by so many pussies since he visited a strip club in college.
“You forget,” Megan said, viewing my furrowed brow and slack jaw, “that I was agoraphobic for two years. Jarrod and me – we got mugged in Tampa.”
“Really? I’m sorry to hear that, but I don’t think I knew you then.” Agoraphobic? Next thing, she’ll be telling me that she hoards newspapers, magazines and those little plastic round things that you pull off milk cartons.
“I think you did,” Megan insisted.
No, I’d remember knowing that someone is agoraphobic. I mean, how would I even meet that person? I’d have had to just go knocking on random doors and asking people, “Do you leave the house? No? Great, wanna hang out? I’ll bring Chinese take-out.”
The Atlanta couple was terrified of Tampa, hence their decision to buy a condo with 24-hour security in our safe little corner of Florida (which actually has a higher crime rate than Tampa…but let’s not allow silly things like facts and statistics to mar the absurdness of this story). They related a tale about driving to visit a particular business in Tampa. Supposedly, as they drove into the neighborhood where the business was located, white men wearing neon orange vests waved them on – away from their destination. Raising their eyebrows, the couple gave us all a meaningful stare. One that puzzled the fuck out of me.
“So who were they? Construction workers redirecting you towards a detour?” I asked hesitantly. The woman shook her head.
“No! They were telling us to move along because we didn’t belong there in the ghetto,” the woman declared. Her boyfriend nodded his head solemnly in agreement. Clearly, fear and stupidity are bedfellows. “And when we finally got to the right place, all the brothers were eyeing our hubcaps.”
Did she really just refer to African American men as brothers? “What do you drive?”
“A Honda. It’s a hybrid.”
As a hybrid owner myself, I notice that a lot of people eye my car. Some of them happen to be black. And, yet, my hubcaps have never been stolen. “Did it occur to you that the brothers, as you call them, might have just been wondering what kind of mileage your hybrid gets and whether or not it’s worth it?” Or maybe they were thinking, “Check out the cougar! If you whistle in the vicinity of her cleavage, I bet you’ll hear an echo.”
The couple exchanged glances that said, “These poor people are so naive.” The look on Megan’s face made it clear that she thought that Matt and I were probably paying the brothers for protection – and that’s why we’d never been mugged.
I couldn’t take another minute of this conversation. Downing my martini, I racked my brain thinking of an excuse to leave…immediately. The Holy Crock Pot turned out to be my savior. “Oh, honey! We’ve gotta go,” I exclaimed, slapping my forehead with the heel of my palm. “I nearly forgot about the pot roast.”
That night, the Holy Crock Pot had shared its divine wisdom with me. It had removed me from the confines of my home and my comfortable friendships with people who share my values – and placed me in the presence of people who no longer did. As much as I sometimes long for those carefree days of staying up all night reading poetry, playing drums, and discussing philosophers I really didn’t understand with Megan and other friends, I realize that I can never go back to those days. Or to high-waisted jeans. Make that any jeans that don’t include the word stretch somewhere on the tag.
Why? Because I’ve changed. I understand those philosophers now. Okay, I might have thrown away the books by the ones who bored me – which would have been most of them. Regardless, I stopped searching for who I was to become and simply became that person. A person who will sit next to a Muslim on a plane just as comfortably as I would sit next to a white woman – unless that white woman has a screaming infant in her lap. I’ll take being sandwiched between an overweight Muslim dude using a seat belt extender and a loquacious Born Again from Branson, Missouri on a non-stop international flight – riding in coach – to avoid that particular form of torture.
I became a person who doesn’t make the following announcement to every Indian customer service rep I encounter on the phone: If this call is being recorded, I want it known that these jobs need to go to Americans. You don’t deserve these jobs. You hear me! (Yes, I once had a boss who instructed me to do this. I refused. She, in turn, refused to believe that most of the customer service reps in India actually have graduate degrees – which they do.) I’m a person who doesn’t tighten her grip on her purse strap because someone darker than a latte is walking behind her on the sidewalk. A person who doesn’t believe in gay and lesbian rights, but in human rights – for all people. Because gays and lesbians are humans, first. And Kathy Griffin fans, second. A person who rejects fearmongering disguised as patriotism. Yes, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA – I’m talking to you. Obama’s not going to take away your precious Second Amendment – or your storeroom filled with freeze-dried astronaut food and gold bullion.
I know. I know. How mighty white of me to establish what an open-minded, perfect human specimen I am. But this is how I roll, and it’s how I rolled 20 years ago. But being mugged – and the fear that came with that act of violence – apparently caused Megan to just roll over, pull the bedspread over her head and hide. She didn’t evolve into the person I’d expected. If anything, she’d devolved into a person with irrational fears, still clinging to her youth as it’s wretched from her grasp – man by man. And fear is the basis of racism. Fear fuels the hatred that inspires acts of bigotry. How do I know this? Because one of the most respected entities in the universe said so: Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. – Yoda, Grand Jedi Master and yoga aficionado. You don’t argue with the owner of a lightsaber. No, the one you bought at Comic-Con doesn’t count.
So as you go about your day, allowing your fears or your past to guide your decisions, consider the rhetorical question posed so succinctly by my sage Blogging Bestie, Stacie Chadwick in a recent post: “When did taking the road less traveled morph into plotting the easiest path?”
And then answer this question in your comments below: When did taking the road less traveled morph into hailing a cab because you’re too afraid to take the subway?
As always, names have been changed to protect the innocent and the assholes.
I am a sucker for a bargain. Every week, I hit the BOGOs (Buy One Get One Free deals – though they really should be called BOGOFs, considering the free portion of the deal is the most important) at my local grocery store, stocking up on olive oil, tea bags, lactose-free vanilla ice cream and A1 Steak Sauce. Okay, in the latter case, it’s more like Buy Seven Get Seven Free, but let’s not squabble over details. Regardless of my penchant for a deal, I pride myself on not purchasing crap we don’t use – which is why our pantry is not stocked with forty-four cans of green beans (Good lord, they can’t give those things away. They’re on sale every single week.) and why Mrs. Paul Fish Sticks remain in the freezer section at the store.
However, there’s something about Amazon.com’s $5 magazine sale that is simply mesmerizing. I love magazines – and for a time, my addiction to periodicals was becoming something of a financial burden, but less harmful to my esophagus than my issues with A1 Steak Sauce. I’d stock up as I waited in the grocery line, carefully stacking not one, not two, not three, but four trash magazines about celebrities and their silly little lives on top of my BOGO cans of diced tomatoes. At anywhere from $2.95 to $3.99 a pop, I easily spent ten to fifteen bucks a week just so I could keep up with who Justin Bieber was dating; whether or not Kim Kardashian’s right ass cheek had suddenly deflated – as I fully expect it will one day; and what species of monkey Snooki is and how I can expedite its extinction.
In this pop culture obsessed era, I can’t possibly keep up with the times any other way since I refuse to watch most tawdry reality programming on television and I don’t own a teenager. If I’d had the sense to purchase a child at the appropriate time, I’d have a serf at my beck and call who would not only be completely prepared to report to me a summary of this week’s Gossip Girl episode and the name of Katy Perry’s latest hit song on demand, but could also explain to me the allure of Chris Brown and why Rihanna continues to associate with him. Is she coming out with a new makeup line that includes eye shadow shades called “Bruise” and “Welt”? What? Too soon?
Were I a complete simpleton, life would be much less expensive because I would stop after snapping up my regular copies of Us Weekly and Life and Style. But I’ve got to have my Vanity Fair, Wired, The Atlantic, Time, Discover and a wide variety of other periodicals that my husband and I inhale the way a college philosophy major sucks up the smoke from the mouth of a bong. Then Amazon.com came into my life – and with it, emails advertising its innocuous $5 magazine sale. For the price of five copies of People, I could enjoy an entire year of Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic, Popular Science and Woman’s Day. Twelve whole months! But I didn’t stop at four magazines, I clicked the subscribe button again and again, each time mentally figuring my savings. I could read The New Yorker for less than eleven cents per issue; I’d finally have the opportunity to bury myself in the short stories I’d always aspired to write, and read reviews about plays and concerts and gallery showings I’d never be able to attend since I live over a thousand miles away in Florida. How sophisticated I would become – something a free gallon of Breyers had never done for me. And this is where we arrive at the nexus of my problem, otherwise known as Cosmopolitan.
As a twenty-something, upwardly-mobile young woman, Cosmo had been my bible, teaching me everything from how to build abs strong enough to weather a nuclear blast to how to select the perfect jeans for my arachnid-longish legs to how to perform fellatio with warm honey in my mouth without gagging. Okay, I only actually mastered the second item on that list, much to my husband’s chagrin. As I hit my mid-thirties, I discovered that there’s really only about a hundred sex tips out there and that the magazine recycles them, in the same way I pull out that dress I wore to the office Christmas party three years ago and wear it again – to this year’s party – hoping my husband’s co-workers were too drunk to remember that particular chartreuse number. I no longer care to know “What Men Really Think,” only what my husband really thinks when I ask him if I look fat in said chartreuse cocktail dress. Fully capable of achieving an orgasm, selecting a nail polish color without consulting an expert, and extremely competent at flat-ironing my own hair, Cosmo has lost its strange spiritual and maternal hold on me. Yes, I’m all grown up.
Yet, there I was, tempted by the opportunity to again peruse its glossy pages for a mere forty-two cents a month. I couldn’t buy a single can of diced tomatoes for that price. Perhaps there were new ways to remove bikini hair painlessly or a revolutionary naughty move I could try out with my hubby that didn’t involve sticky food products, electronics or furry handcuffs. I could be missing out. So unlike the fish sticks, I stuck a year’s worth of Cosmopolitan – the veritable whore of all women’s magazines – into my virtual grocery cart, paid for it with my debit card and awaited its arrival.
And so it came. Sealed in clear plastic lest the mailman drool over (or worse…ugh) the inevitable display of cleavage on the front cover – a marketing strategy that never quite made sense to me unless the publisher was secretly targeting lesbians and men – I opened it with the hope that something had changed in the decade since I’d read this particular rag religiously. But nothing had. With the sheer exception of Selena Gomez’s ample bosom gracing the cover instead of Cindy Crawford’s, not much was different – the layout, the general content, the sex tips, the platform sandals, the emaciated models – all the same. Except for one thing. The advertisements – which had gotten even worse.
I know. Before you say it – how could advertisements get worse? Especially in the pages of Cosmo. Well, they can. Or, more accurately put, manufacturers seem to have given up when it comes to lower-rent magazine ads – and the products they represent. In fact, they can’t be bothered to even give the product a decent name.
Case in point: Dolce & Gabbana’s fragrance, light blue. Dominating the back cover of Cosmo in a full page, color ad – generally one of the most expensive placements a sponsor can purchase – the promotion insulted me with both the female model’s wide-angled, white bikini-clad crotch shot, and Dolce & Gabbana’s failure to even try when it came to selecting a moniker for its over-priced eau de toilette. I mean, really. Light blue? That’s the best they could come up with? Were azure, aquamarine, beryl, turquoise, teal, sea, sapphire, ice, cerulean, topaz, ocean, daffodil, pale, Prussian, smoky, baby, royal, indigo, cobalt, ultramarine, cornflower, berry, sky, periwinkle, wisteria, violet, steel, electric, powder, cyan, midnight and Persian really already taken? It’s as though D&G’s marketing department decided to pull an April Fool’s Day prank on its designers and said, “Hey, let’s tell ‘em the focus groups LOVED the name light blue! We’ll say it test-marketed off the charts. It’ll be payback for last year’s crappy Christmas bonus. Italian bastards!”
Naming a perfume light blue is worse than just calling it blue. At least, blue is simple. In fact, it’s elegant in its purity and restraint. It’s evocative. It could be a color. It could be an emotion. It could be part of a French curse. Perhaps that’s why Chanel called one of its fragrances, Bleu de Chanel. (Don’t even try to argue with Coco or her company – even though she’s dead, her pearls and taste live on.) However, by prefacing blue with something as utterly dull as the word light, D&G effectively spit in our collective female faces, then said in a withering Italian accent, “You just weren’t worth the effort. We couldn’t be bothered to come up with something memorable or interesting or elegant, you silly readers of American slut magazines. In fact, we’re not even going to bother capitalizing the name. Vaffanculo!”
Now, I wouldn’t expect Wired or National Geographic to advertise perfume, so I turned to my trusty copy of Vanity Fair, the bastion of expensive advertising. Sure enough, D&G didn’t dare run an ad for light blue in VF’s pages. Why advertise their unimaginatively-named toilet water in a magazine read by people for whom sapphire and Tiffany blue are the norm? (What? I have sapphires. They’re my birthstone.) Possessing higher expectations than the average Cosmo disciple, VF readers have paid top dollar over the years for the likes of wordsmithing by Christopher Hitchens, Salman Rushdie, Dorothy Parker, Clare Booth Luce, Langston Hughes, A. Scott Berg, Dominick Dunne and Sebastian Junger. Somehow, I just don’t see Rushdie ever penning an column for Cosmo entitled, “Little Black Dresses That Will Garner You Death Threats” or Berg authoring an in-depth profile on Charles Lindbergh’s “Top Ten Sexual Positions Bound To Drive Your Man Airborne.” Nope. They have higher standards and – at 43 – I probably should as well.
But I was conned by the promise of a $5 bargain. Sucked into the frigid, air-conditioned pages of a glittering casino-like magazine splashed with bright, gaudy colors; tantalizing words like sex and orgasm and shoes and pedicure and handbag flashing at me like a strobe light above a one-armed bandit; and a veritable smorgasbord – an all-you-can-eat buffet, if you will – of information about understanding and pleasing the complex species known as Man, and how to look skinny, fashionable and youthful while doing it. And now, I’m paying for it. Five whole bucks – and I’m forced to look at the perfectly-waxed crotch of an anorexic, spray-tanned model wearing a white bikini (Hello! Always a mistake – I don’t care if they’re supposedly lined.) while being embraced by an equally-bronzed male model who stares at me mockingly while hocking a woman’s perfume that doesn’t have the decency to don an appropriately vivid and eloquent name in the same manner that one dons a robe before answering an early-morning knock at the door.
Before I completed my character assassination of D&G’s lame ass branding (How’s that for eloquent?), I figured I should see if any other designers, pseudo-celebrities or perfumeries put as little time and effort into naming their fragrances. Perhaps this isn’t indicative of disrespect for the Cosmo-level clientele on behalf of the perfume industry; perhaps the people who make “stink-um,” as my grandmother used to call it, are just lazy by nature. My research uncovered a vast spectrum in the fragrance-naming game, but here are a few of my favorites:
Cumming by Alan Cumming
Funeral Home by Demeter Fragrance Library
Full Choke by Francesco Smalto
Solar Donkey Power by Henrik Vibskov
McGraw Southern Blend by Tim McGraw
Of course, my taste leans towards the gutter and the latter sounds like a whiskey I’d buy if I drank whiskey. That said, even morons celebrities like Paris Hilton put more thought into their perfume branding than D&G. Though Heiress, Can Can, and Fairy Dust aren’t names that reek of elegance or imagination, at least they smell of some level of effort, however small. And how embarrassing is that? Yes, Dolce & Gabanna, Paris Hilton did a better job at something than you – and it didn’t involve wearing an uber short dress, carrying an accessory animal, being talentless, or shrieking, “So hot!” when prompted.
And with that, I am cancelling my subscription to Cosmopolitan, folks. My aging heart can’t handle the rage that burns in me when insulted by fragrance ads aimed at vapid college students who think cunnilingus is the latin word for clever. Or worse, a sexually-transmitted disease. Bargain or no bargain, I can’t afford to believe there are more sexual tricks than I already know – or am sufficiently-flexible to perform upon request. Fashion has already been restricted to black, basic black, slimming back, lacy black, sparkly black, sexy low-cut black, clingy black, black Spanx and the jeans that Cosmo taught me years ago I could wear without looking ridiculously pear-shaped. And I understand my man – at least enough to know that my roasted rosemary chicken served up with steamed asparagus makes him deliriously happy and that he really appreciates it if I put the television timer on before we fall asleep at night. He’s my real bargain – and there’s not another one like him to get for free if I tried.
In Miami, it’s practically impossible to grow up surrounded by anything but diversity. My family moved there when I was six, but I first discovered I wasn’t in Kansas (okay, Sarasota) anymore when I noticed that many of our neighbors in our new apartment complex had nailed skinny, metal plates with strange lettering painted on them in their doorways at crooked angles. The OCD side of me wanted badly to straighten them, but they were clearly meant to be that way. Either that or they’d all hired a handyman with balance issues to hang what I later discovered to be their mezuzahs.
Until we moved to Miami, I’d never known a Jewish person. I’d known two midgets – both of whom had appeared in The Wizard of Oz, a dwarf and a girl who’d worn braces on her legs, but that was as interesting as it had ever gotten for me. No black people. No Latinos. No Asians. No Indians (dot, not feather). I didn’t eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until I was fully five years old. Clearly, I’d been sheltered. Of course, having been raised in the Assemblies of God church, I knew of Jews. Theywere God’s chosen people. As far as I was concerned, the Jews received all kinds of special treatment from God, while us “Born Agains” were the red-headed step-children of the world.
Of course, it took some time for me to discover that these nice people with whom my parents socialized and with whom I played in the pool, were different from me in any way. They looked the same. Except for the occasional foreign-sounding word, they sounded the same. In fact, they spoke more like me than my German grandmother, who peppered every sentence with words like hündchen and danke schön and bitte and auch du liebe. Unlike Grandma, all of our adult Jewish friends read The Miami Herald, rather than a newspaper written in a foreign tongue. Not to say that I didn’t pick up a little Yiddish. In fact, I was the only first grader at Westwood Christian School who, when something went wrong, often shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oy vey.” With a New Jersey accent, courtesy of Mrs. Schwartz in 3B.
As I discovered our differences, it became immediately apparent that they were minor. Some of our holidays were different, but it didn’t stop us – kids and adults alike – from dressing up for Halloween every year or celebrating one another’s birthdays. The introduction of Matzo ball soup into our diet was no stranger to me than I’m sure the butter and sugar sandwiches – a nod to my mother’s European heritage – was to them. The only truly distinguishing characteristic I could make out between my family and our Jewish friends was the fact that they seemed to possess no interest in converting others to their religion. Jews, apparently, didn’t recruit.
Protestant Christians make the U.S. Army look like amateurs when it comes to recruiting. “Be All That You Can Be” just can’t compete with “Become A Christian Or Burn In Hell For All Eternity.” Sure, the Army’s got the GI Bill and on-the-job-training, but compare that to eternity in a mansion encrusted with diamonds and precious stones and streets paved in gold surrounded by angels playing harps, and, suddenly, free college tuition in exchange for risking your life for several years doesn’t seem like such a bargain. During chapel at school, we were urged to share the gospel with our non-believing friends because we didn’t want them to spend an infinite number of years screaming from the pain of hellfire and brimstone raining down on them, now did we? Born with an innate sense of guilt that any Jewish mother would have been proud of, I bore the weight of the world upon my shoulders on a daily basis as it was. To add the fate of my friends’ immortal souls to that mix was unbearable. I had to lighten the load.
At the time, my closest friend was a pretty, raven-haired girl, we’ll call Simone. Half Jewish, the future of her soul concerned me more than some of my other friends in the apartment complex because her dolls were always naked. Barbie – naked. Even worse, Ken – naked. Absolutely shocking, Donny and Marie – naked and sometimes lying on top of each other. It’s not like they didn’t have clothes, she just didn’t choose to dress them in them very often.
Playing dolls at her apartment was like witnessing the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah over and over again. When we’d play Barbies, in my head, my Ken doll – his red bathing suit having never been removed since it was delivered to me factory-fresh – was Lot, Malibu Barbie was his wife, and Skipper and the Bionic Woman were his two daughters. Once poor “I’m-a-little-bit-country” Marie Osmond had been mounted by one of several paramours, including her brother and The Bionic Man, my dolls would turn their backs to the plastic orgy, climb The Twin Bed Mountain and wander off into the wilderness of Simone’s Wonder Woman bedspread. Being the Christian that I was, I didn’t even allow Malibu Barbie to glance back longingly at the brimstone falling down on the heads of her comically-proportioned, nude girlfriends. I mean, she was my best Barbie. It would have done none of us any good if she’d turned into a pillar of salt. Of course, back then I didn’t realize that Lot’s two daughters later got him drunk so that they could have incestuous relations with him. They didn’t teach that part of the story in Sunday School.
Though I was now seven, I had not yet developed the savvy conversion techniques possessed by our pastor. However, I’d listened carefully in church and I knew what selling points had worked on me. Still, this would be my first attempt at witnessing as they called it. What if I flubbed it? Would Simone give me a second chance to win her soul for God’s army of Christian soldiers? Inexperienced as I was, I became determined to save my friend’s precious, immortal soul. After all, if I didn’t, who would I play naked Barbies with in Heaven?
One afternoon, as we sat in front of my wooden dollhouse amusing ourselves with my Barbies (dolls that were between nine and thirteen inches high, plastic and not of the baby variety were collectively called Barbies then), all of which were fully-clothed (my apartment, my rules), it became apparent to me that I couldn’t put it off any longer. Simone, despite my warnings, undressed Malibu Barbie, presumably so the doll could take a bath in the pink whirlpool tub my parents had given me for my birthday the year prior. Making the situation even worse was the fact that the tub was located on the third floor of the dollhouse – in the master bedroom. And who do you think was seated in that room, on the bed, his head turned so that he stared directly at the plastic, jetted bathtub? Ken. Who’s mouth was practically salivating in anticipation of seeing Malibu Barbie’s uncovered boobies and hoo hoo? Ken. Who was being corrupted by a seven-year-old Jezebel intent upon bringing sin into my dollhouse? Ken. Poor, fully-dressed in a winter coat in the middle of April, celibate Ken.
As Simone plopped the naked and voluptuous blonde into the tub, I handed her a miniature bikini. “Put this on her,” I said firmly.
“But she’s taking a bath.”
“No, she’s soaking. Our parents don’t get naked in the Jacuzzi.” I could feel my nostrils flaring and my chest turning splotchy and red, a signal that I was becoming uncomfortable.
“That’s because the Jacuzzi’s outside,” Simone said, a smirk overtaking her perpetually-tanned face. “This one’s inside their bedroom.”
Oh. As if that explained everything. As if nakedness was okay just because it was confined to the walls of a plywood room intended for sleeping. Simone had a lot to learn and there was no time like the present. God forbid she should die in a horrible car accident the following day; certainly she’d end up sitting on the right hand of the devil, little horns sprouting through her shiny, dark bob and a long, red, spiked tail emerging from you-know-where and curling around her ankle. So, right then and there, I shared my secret with her.
Blinking back my tears, I confided, “Simone, I’m very concerned about you.”
“Why?” she asked, discarding the blue and white bathing suit I’d handed her moments earlier into a pile of doll-sized clothes.
With two fingers, I plucked from the mess of clothes, the red one-piece that Malibu Barbie had worn the day she arrived under my Christmas tree two years prior. Tossing it at Simone, I casually said, “Because if you continue on this way, you’re going to burn in a lake of fire in Hell for all eternity.” I looked pointedly at the crimson bathing suit, now resting on her thigh, and then at the naked doll, who I’m sure was mortified to be stared at by Ken in a way that must have made her feel objectified.
The young girl’s forehead creased and I swear she snickered. “No, I’m not.” Snatching the bathing suit up, she folded it into the palm of her hand and tightened her fingers into a fist, before releasing her grip and allowing the crumpled bit of nylon to fall back into the pile from whence it had come. Clearly, fear-mongering wouldn’t work with this one. I doubted she’d ever become a Republican.
Okay, I’d take another tack. “Yeah, you will. But that’s fine. I mean, I just thought you’d like to hang out with me in my mansion.”
One eyebrow cocked skeptically, Simone retorted, “You don’t own a mansion.” But she hesitated. She waited. I’d caught her interest.
“I will. When Christians go to Heaven, they each get one,” I said, conveniently leaving about the part about dying first.
“Says who?” Simone was as tough as a vanilla wafer that had fallen between the sofa cushions and remained undiscovered for months.
Rolling my eyes as though the answer were obvious, I answered, “Jesus.” The name prompted a blank stare from Simone. “You know, the Son of God.” This earned me a half-hearted shrug of her sun-kissed shoulders. Sighing deeply, I dutifully recited: John 14:2. ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.’ I was so certain and dogmatic in my belief system as a second-grader in the Seventies, I’m glad I wasn’t born in another place and at another time – like Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. I’d have been running around handing out pamphlets and quoting The Communist Manifesto.
“Huh?” Simone said, her eyes widening. I’m not sure if her confusion was because another seven-year-old was quoting scripture or if she just had no idea what I was talking about. Looking back now, I realize that they only thing separating me from Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction at that particular moment was the absence of a gun and an afro. Perhaps it wasn’t confusion in her eyes, but terror.
“It’s from the New Testament.”
“What’s that?” she asked, her eyes never leaving my face. I’m also pretty sure scooted back a little, putting a good foot of green shag carpeting between the two of us.
“It’s part of The Bible,” I said incredulously. “It’s the sequel to the Old Testament.” Finally, Simone’s head nodded in recognition. “Anyway, that’s not important. What’s important is that when Christians go to Heaven they each get a mansion and the streets are paved with gold and there are diamonds and rubies and sapphires, like, everywhere. Even the gates are made completely of pearls.”
My friend’s eyes grew even larger and her lips formed a perfect “O.” Fear had been replaced with good old fashioned greed.
“And you get crowns. Jeweled crowns.” I vaguely remembered the pastor saying something about crowns. “And princess dresses and a pony.” Now I was just making stuff up, but deep in my heart, I was certain that God wouldn’t give me diamonds, yet refuse me a Shetland pony. What kind of Heaven would that be? And He sure as heck wouldn’t make me run around in my blue plaid parochial school jumper. That would just be cruel.
“Crowns are for boys,” Simone insisted, folding her arms tightly against her chest. “I want a tiara.”
Of course, she did. All girls want a tiara. “That’s what I meant,” I added quickly. “The boys get crowns and the girls get diamond tiaras.” C’mon. I was so close. Simone was salivating more than Ken with his prime time view of Porn Star Barbie. I could see the wheels in her head spinning; I could practically hear the whirring and clicking of the gears in her brain as she processed this new information about Heaven and how it might benefit her to give Christianity a go.
“I want one with sapphires. That’s my birthstone,” she said, her eyes narrowing. I smiled and nodded, indicating that it was a done deal. “Okay.” Simone shook her head. “What do I have to do?”
As simply as I could, I explained that she just had to believe with all her heart that Jesus Christ was the Son of God – the Golden Ticket that would magically open up the Pearly Gates (still leaving out the minor you’ve-got-to-be-dead-to-go-to-Heaven component) so that she could gain entry to her new life as a jewel-encrusted, Lady of the Manor – and that he had died on a cross and rose from the grave three days later. That’s when the fear crept back into her stare and she slid backwards another foot on the carpet. I’m pretty sure she had a really bad case of rug burn by the time this whole ordeal was over.
“What do you mean he died on the cross?” she asked. For some reason, a guy nailed to a wooden cross, a crown of thorns cutting into his scalp, who’d been stabbed and was going to eventually croak was a bit traumatizing for her. The happy, shiny Heaven story had suddenly turned into an Edgar Allen Poe tale of murder, with a ghostly apparition rising wispy and fog-like from a cracked gravestone.
In homage to my future legal career, I hurriedly glossed over the carnage. “Oh, it’s no big deal. He comes right back a few days later. And He’s fine. Just a few scars.” I pointed to my hand with my finger as though a hole clear through your palm was the equivalent of a pockmark. Still, Simone’s face remained doubtful. “Look, Jesus is up there with God in Heaven right now. Their thrones are right next to each other’s.” I painted a cozy picture of father and son, plopped down in adjacent recliners with their feet propped up, watching an episode of Sanford and Son together and laughing every time Redd Foxx fakes another heart attack or argues with Ernestine.
Soon, her forehead uncrinkled and she agreed to move forward. Then I helped Simone kneel and instructed her to pray to Jesus, asking Him to forgive her for all the sins she’d committed and informing Him that she was now accepting him as her personal Savior. When she was finished, I’d expected her body to convulse with a jolt of Born Again power. This is what always happened at church. The wicked sinner would kneel before the pastor, say the prayer and then the pastor would touch the new Christian’s forehead, causing him to fall back, shuddering, as if he’d been shocked with an animal prod. When Simone remained upright, I tentatively touched her brow with my finger tip. Nothing. Next I tried pushing her backwards using a tad bit more force, but either the Jesus Juice wasn’t flowing through her loins quite yet or she had figured out what was expected of her and was resisting. Frustrated, I finally flicked her hard – just below her hairline – with my thumb and finger, prompting her to wince and yell, “Ow.” Okay, it wasn’t a convulsion, but it was something.
“You’re done,” I announced, digging the tiny, red bathing suit out of the clothing pile and handing it to her. Without another word, Simone quietly removed Malibu Barbie from her bath and slid the one-piece onto her plastic body.
A week later, Mr. Adams, Simone’s non-Jewish father, cornered me by the public bathroom at the complex’s community pool. Dripping wet and chilled, I stared up into his contorted, angry face, and shivered uncontrollably as he launched into a diatribe that would have frightened a Mafia Don. I was emphatically informed that despite the fact that Mr. Adams was a Christian, Simone was being raised Jewish and I was to never try to convert her to a different religion again. As I cringed before this man twice my size, I thought of missionaries who’d been murdered in the rain forest for trying to save the souls of indigenous tribe members. What horrendous fate would I suffer in the name of spreading the Gospel? Before I could imagine myself being burned at the stake or my severed head dangling from the fist of a savage, pagan head hunter, it was over. At least, I thought it was. Mr. Adams had turned away, taking his shadow with him, leaving me panting from the adrenaline rush in the bright sunshine.
Suddenly, he twisted around and hissed, “And don’t you ever tell Simone that she’s going to burn in Hell again. You got that?” I nodded silently, my heart pounding in my throat.
Hah! I knew it. Simone had been scared shitless at the concept of swimming in a one million degree lava lake. I’d sold her from the beginning, but she’d held out for a sapphire tiara. Maybe she’d turn out to be a Republican after all.
As a full-time resident of the Sunshine State, I am heavily-medicated due to tolerate your presence for four to five months out of each and every year. During your visits to my hometown, I strive to be patient and even welcoming. After all, you bring with you a collection of used, wadded up tissues (can’t ever have enough of those), the endless fragrance of Bengay and cold, hard cash. Tourism drives our local economy and, because of your winter forays to our tropical oasis, there are theaters that can afford to stay open year round, some of the best medical care doctors can overcharge for, and a terrific selection of colorful canes and walkers in every pharmacy, hair salon, liquor store, veterinarian’s office, McDonald’s, strip club – hell, they’re everywhere. However, we need to set a few ground rules. If you would follow these orders written in the blood of octogenarian roadkill suggestions, not only would it be greatly appreciated, but it will increase the likelihood that I won’t run you over with my Camry as you take forty-seven minutes to cross the fucking street. Thanks!
1) Your car may not occupy more than one lane at a time unless you are in the process of changing lanes – and then, only for a second. Florida roads are not like the bank, where you can stand between two teller lines and refuse to commit to either one, preferring to hover in the middle until it is apparent that one line is moving much faster than the other. Here, you must select a lane and, preferably, stick with it until you reach your destination. If you refuse to choose a lane, I will pick one for you. Beware, if I have to select one on your behalf, you may experience a painful sensation in your neck, commonly referred to as whiplash. Opening your car door when you choose to exit your vehicle may also be extremely difficult or impossible.
2) When determining the speed at which to operate your motor vehicle, consider the speed limit an order, not a recommendation. When you drive twenty miles below the speed limit, I have the urge to ride your bumper like it’s George Clooney’s naked body – and not in a good way. Being stuck in traffic behind one of you old codgers is worse than watching Cowboys and Aliens – on an endless loop. I imagine that the road to Hell is packed with sinners driving uncomfortable Ford Fiestas – all of which have no air-conditioning and a radio that blares nothing but Judy Collins singing “Send In The Clowns”- and honking their horns at the guy in the lead: one old fart crawling along at 2.7 m.p.h., waving his fist out the window of his 1988 Chrysler Fifth Avenue, hollering, “Keep your shirt on. Why are youngsters always in such a rush?”
3) No one uses checks at the grocery store in Florida. If I see you pull out your checkbook, expect to have a zucchini inserted into an orifice that only your proctologist and freaky sex partner from half a century ago have ever seen up close.
4) Your Depends cannot be flushed down the toilet in public places. Likewise, please don’t ball them up and leave them in the corner of the bathroom stall, in a fitting room or under your seat at the movie theater. And despite the fact that they are made of plastic and paper, they aren’t recyclable, so pulling your used ones apart and depositing each half in the blue and red plastic recycling bins is punishable by life in prison without possibility of parole or lozenges discouraged.
5) Much like with a dangerous amusement park ride, there is a height requirement for driving in the State of Florida. If you can’t see over the wheel, take the bus. The fact that your blue hair can be viewed above the wheel by other drivers is insufficient. I must be able to see your eyeballs. More importantly, you must be able to see me, my bumper, your rear view mirror, me, your side mirror, your blind spot, me, traffic signs, pedestrians, me, traffic lights and the occasional indecisive squirrel. And me.
6) As you age, some things get better. Women stop menstruating and don’t need to shave anything but their faces. Men lose their hair and rarely have to deal with random boners. However, your farts don’t stink any less. Nor are they cute. No one giggles and says, “How adorable! Did you get a whiff of that old codger’s ass vapors? Makes me want to nuzzle his belly and give him a zerbert.” So don’t pass wind in public. You didn’t do it when you were forty and doubling your age doesn’t automatically entitle you to a “free gas pass.”
7) Just because your hearing isn’t as great as it used to be doesn’t mean mine isn’t absolutely perfect. Therefore, when you choose to watch television without your hearing aids inserted and/or turned on, you may be forcing others, namely ME, to listen to reruns of Lawrence Welk whether they (again, ME) like it or not. Personally, this can be irritating when I’m trying to watch – say, True Blood. Polka and vampires go together like Rick Perry and the number 3. Furthermore, if you find that you are constantly punching the upward facing volume arrow on your remote and, yet, the sound emanating from the television is not increasing, it’s because you’ve hit the volume limit. Which means your television is TOO FRIGGIN’ LOUD. So before you gingerly sit down in your Barcalounger with your glass of prune juice, all ready for a hot date with Andy Griffith and Angela Landsbury, do this for me. Charge your hearing aid batteries, insert said batteries into said hearing aids, position said hearing aids in your ears and turn them on. Then, once you’re all settled and comfortable, turn the volume on your hearing aids way, way up and the volume on your television way, way down. FYI, repeated exposure to the music of Lawrence Welk is the leading cause of psychotic episodes for people between the ages of 20 and 50. Don’t become a statistic.
8) Halitosis. Not sure what it means? Look it up and buy some mints. Not a small box of orange Tic Tacs, either. Purchase the jumbo megatron-sized crate of Altoids. Carry them with you at all times and – most importantly – use them. I don’t care how many times you soak your dentures every day, your mouth still smells like my grandparent’s bathroom – on the day the sewer backed up. No amount of Aqua Velva covers the odor of sulfur combined with day old Salisbury steak. My cat wouldn’t sniff your breath. Moreover, in the same way that your walker entitles you to additional personal space, your bad breath entitles me to more of the same when in your presence. Please stand at least a foot away when you speak to me. You never, ever have the right to lean in close and whisper to me for any reason. Even at a funeral. Unless you want it to be yours.
9) During Old Coot Snowbird Season, the traffic in Florida can get preeeettttty bad. For those of us with jobs, schedules and limited free time, it would be greatly appreciated if you would refrain from traveling on the roads between the hours of 7 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. I know what you’re going to say: But my Early Bird Special is between 4 and 5 p.m. Too damn bad! My husband’s right to get home within a reasonable time after leaving work is not superseded by your desire to save two lousy bucks on Surf ‘n Turf. And while we’re on that note, why do you insist on grabbing up all the early morning doctor appointments in town? You’re retired. You have absolutely nothing to do all day. Before you open your mouth, mahjong and bridge don’t qualify as things. I realize that 8 a.m. is mid-day to you, but people with J-O-B-S need those slots. So no appointments – anywhere – between the aforementioned hours. You’re not supposed to be on the damn roads anyway!
10) Don’t assume that people need or want to know anything about you, your former career, your military background, your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren or “the good ol days.” If we are curious about such things, we will inquire. So how do you apply this information to your visit to Florida? Let’s say you need to drop off a prescription. Don’t give me that look. You geezers take more drugs than Charlie Sheen. So, you’re at Walgreens (Not “the Walgreens” – it’s just called Walgreens. No need to insert an article in front of the name of any store.). When the clerk asks if she can help you, the appropriate response is: Yes, thank you. Here’s my prescription. What time should I return to pick it up?” She will give you a time. You can thank her again as politeness is always appreciated, but nothing more need be said.
Seriously. Don’t utter another word. Especially this: Thank you. What’s your name, dearie? I can’t quite make out your name tag. I don’t know why they make ’em so small. How am I supposed to call you by your name? Isn’t that the point of a name tag? Hold on a sec. Just let me get out my readers. (Two minutes elapse as you rummage through your purse, locate your glasses, wipe them with one of those moldy tissues from the bottom of your bag and perch them on your nose.) Oh, my. You look just like my granddaughter, Mindy. And whaddya know – your name is Cindy. How funny is that? What are the odds? Harold, come over here! Doesn’t she look just like Cindy? And her name is Mindy. Their names rhyme. Oh, Cindy, I gotta show you a picture of her. No, okay. What time did you say my prescription would be ready again? You know, I never used to have to take blood pressure medication, but ever since I developed hemorrhoids, my doctor said I should take ’em. I guess he’s worried that I could strain while on the toilet and have a heart attack. But I take an aspirin everyday. You know, one of the baby ones…” Have you caught on yet? If you do this, particularly when there is a line of people waiting behind you, it could be dangerous. Codgers have been bludgeoned to death with their own walkers for much more minor infractions.
Now was that so bad? You probably thought I was going to be unreasonable. But I’m sure you can agree that these are simple orders that must be followed under penalty of death by firing squad requests. Following them will ensure that we all continue to co-exist in the Sunshine State peacefully. On a side note, Snowbird Season officially ends on Mother’s Day. Please make your travel arrangements to leave the state now. Right now. I’m not kidding. I’m holding a butter knife, you know. And I’m irritated. Are you dialing US Airways right this second? Good. Hurry. My neighbor’s been watching Lawrence Welk for the last three hours straight and I’m not feeling so good.
The Taller Than Average Woman and Pretty Much Everyone Under the Age of Seventy in the State of Florida