Friday, October 7, 2011

Mad Housewife Meets Her Match

It was early November and eighty degrees by eight a.m. I knew it was going to be a bad day. The heat gets into the new folds of flesh on my abdomen and infuriates me. I have somehow gained six pounds. Fucking Halloween candy....
"There's no milk?" had been my morning greeting from the Husband. He didn't mean it like it sounded, but I put down the knife I was using to cut up a mango, just in case.
"There are worse things" I say cryptically, and hunch into the the sink to finish up last nights dishes. I have no pity today, no empathy, no remorse- "don't eat so god damned much" crosses my mind, but I keep it to myself. He walks upstairs with a handful of dry cereal, leaving a trail fit for Hansel and Gretel in his wake. Naturally, I step on every single errant piece in my effort to get the kid's feet into clean socks and their minuscule behinds into impossibly small pairs of panties while he takes a long hot shower. I haven't taken a long hot shower in over six years, a force of habit from the days where the kids might die if left unattended for more than thirty seconds. God, it sure seems like men have it easy, meeting their needs whenever they arise. I feel like a domestic Colonel Kurtz, a rotund mad housewife holed up in the cave that is my laundry room, bellowing commands every so often......

....The stench of dirty laundry fills the air, the smoke billows from the unattended toaster oven.The cries of suffering fill the air as the TV gets turned off.......I love the sound of dry cereal underfoot in the morning.....

Yeah, I am clearly not okay today, so do what I say and stay out of my way.

Once in the car, I feel like Travis the taxi driver, wanting to pick off the people who are in my fucking way with a weapon I fantasize about owning but never ever would( have you read the stats about guns?). Then I have a flash of rage because all of my cultural references are from films- why the fuck didn't I read more when I had the time? And how come "fuck" is my default swear word?
Got the kids to school, music blasting to drown out the bickering. Even Sly and the Family Stone couldn't lift my spirits. Keep thinking about him living in that van in the Crenshaw District.
On to the grocery store to buy the god damned soy milk that started off the morning so brilliantly. Pavilions is on the way home to my empty house, the unmade bed beckoning, the rancid laundry emanating from every basket, the floor littered with bits of lint and paper and dangerous dried pasta spirals that will puncture my bare rhinoceros skinned feet with ease. I need a pedicure in the worst way-my feet are like Velcro, sticking to the bed sheets, crackling me awake in the middle of the night.
The lot at Pavilions is filled with wayward slow moving targets, all varieties of irritating: old women doing an extended diagonal cross at a snail's pace, young hipsters on their cell phones strutting so slowly that they sway dangerously from lack of forward momentum.Get out of my way should be written on my filthy station wagon's windshield today. I park and take my eco- friendly bag inside. The sun is beating down so intensely, and I can almost hear that high pitched noise they use in movies when someone is alone under the searing desert sun. Or is it the sound of sun damage since I am not wearing sunscreen or a hat. Fuck.

I find a basket and go directly to the produce section. We have no vegetables at home, which always depresses me. I grab organic carrots and stare over at the dairy section, paralyzed. Evidently, according to my husband's new chiropractor, the soy products I have been using for the last six years will harm my children. Okay, fine, but what Dr. Sky is Falling failed to mention was that dairy products contain growth hormones and/or were stolen from the mouths of screaming calves who were taken away to a living hell to eventually become veal. Almond milk has zero nutritional value and a lot of sugar. I know that goat milk can't be an ethical choice either, and hemp milk, well, can I really feed the kids hemp milk? I must be depressed because I can't seem to find the upside to anything, and I live a charmed life in one of the finest, freest places on Earth.
I am interrupted by a solicitous but slightly garbled, "Finding everything okay?". Without making eye contact, I nod my head and say quietly,"Yep, all good". I stare at the dairy case and can't remember what I was there for. Fuck. I wander around, hoping it will come back to me so I can go home and crawl into bed. I am now standing in front of the organic apples and wondering if the kids will eat a whole bag of them when Mr. Solicitous returns. "Finding everything okay?" he asks, exactly the same way as he did thirty five seconds ago. Oh, Jesus, not today, please. Again, I nod my head extra emphatically and say, a tad curtly," Yep, all good!". He fades into the background as I remember that I need milk. I grab a carton of soy milk, the one that will give my kids fertility problems down the line, and head for the freezer section to look for frozen peas. I hear Mr. Solicitous approaching, this time pushing a wide broom, up and down. I know this because I can hear him asking passers by the same question he asked me, each time the same, with no variation in tone or inflection, like a robot. I get a good look at him, and he is actually a lot like a robot. He is a bit goofy looking, though, tall and gangly with an uncanny resemblance to Christopher Lloyd. He must have swept the freezer aisle four times, and each pass forced me to step to other side and out of his way,which was particularly annoying since the floor just wasn't that dirty. I braced myself for his third inquiry as to whether or not I was finding everything okay, but mercifully, it didn't come. He just needed to be whistling an aimless tune, and I easily could have gone Jack Nicholson on him right there in front of the Novelties section.
Forgetting why I was standing there, I gave up and went to lane number four to get the hell out of there. I wanted to go home. I put all the stuff on the belt and, as if by magic, Mr. Solicitous materialized at the end of the check out lane, already doubling a plastic bag in anticipation. As I handed him my bright pink reusable Breast Cancer Awareness bag, our eyes met, and he held my gaze.

....In my head, I hear the blast of a guimbarde trumpet rom The Good,The Bad and the Ugly. I see him through narrowed eyes in three separate frames-the first frame- his eyes- which were slightly crossed;the second frame- his jaw- which was slightly slack; and third frame- his forehead with a small bead of sweat starting to form at his hairline. ...He had clearly caught my less than friendly tone and didn't like it one bit. ....I stared right back, as I found his tone to be overly friendly and somewhat monotone, and I didn't like it one bit either. .....

It was in that moment of looking back at him, just about to break out my best Clint squint, that I realize something kind of important: the man I had so casually called Mr. Solicitous in my head, the man I was staring down in a fantasy super market Spaghetti Western, the man who had helped put the icing on my bitchy cake, was more than a few bricks short of a hod.

Yes, I was silently going toe to toe with a mentally challenged grocery bagger.

He looked at my medium sized bag and then down to my pile of groceries. The checker said, "All in one bag, ma'am?". I looked at him, wondering when I became a "ma'am" and said "that'd be great!". Mr. Solicitous looked down at my groceries again. I saw fear in his eyes. He swallowed and started to bag the items coming down the conveyor. I watched him trying to determine where the divider was between my stuff and the person's stuff behind me. He craned his neck, appearing genuinely concerned that the one bag would simply not be big enough. I grabbed the personal watermelon in an effort to calm him down. "Don't bag this, I will carry it".
Suddenly, my horrible mood lifted, and I felt like being nice to him. I even managed something resembling a smile. He reluctantly wrestled all of my items into the bag, though the Pirate's Booty didn't want to ride on top and kept falling out. I collected my cash back and balanced the watermelon in the crook of my arm. I reached for my overstuffed bag. As he handed it to me, and I prepared to give him an ear to ear grin and a huge gummy "thanks!", the melon rolled out of my arm and hit the floor with a perfect horror movie soundtrack splat. It cracked, of course, and the juice went everywhere in seconds. He stared at me blankly for a beat, then apologized faintly and went to get paper towels. I couldn't tell if he was smirking or not, but when he walked back with the towels all I saw was his concern for the next customer's things that had begun coming down the belt. I insisted on cleaning it up, and he let me. I put the destroyed melon in a plastic bag and exited the store, leaving a sticky trail of droplets all the way out of the store and through the parking lot to my car. I opened the trunk and put it in the back, not caring if it leaked. I just wanted to not feel this way anymore. I went home and tried to cut up what was left of the pulverized melon. If we liked watermelon soup it might have had a chance, but it had sustained extensive tissue damage in the fall. I threw it away, wondering if the human head is as fragile. And all this before ten a.m.

Yeah, well, what else is there to say, really, except, in the inimitable gutturalness of Charlie Brown, AAUGH!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Butterfly Effect Interrupted

In my PTSD state,after a very long month of first world concerns-sixty five hours of flying time, amazing safari in Africa, annual trip to the Jersey Shore, countless hours spent planning husband's dual fortieth birthday parties(one was cancelled due to weather and the other's venue closed its doors unexpectedly a week before the party), constant socializing, being evacuated from Hurricane Irene, power outages,family drama, last minute back to school shopping, settling back into the school routine of getting up at six a.m. every day-I locked my keys in the running car one Friday afternoon, twenty minutes before pick up at school. Little was not in school yet, and thankfully, not in the car. She was standing next to it, holding her Strawberry Shortcake doll and a bowl of Life cereal, watching me peer angrily in through the tinted window at my wallet, cell phone and, of course, keys.
It took me a moment to figure out what to do. I am too paranoid to hide a key, so I went to the neighbor's house and rang the bell, thinking I'd call AAA and the school and be there twenty minutes late. He answered. After I'd explained my predicament into the speaker at the front door, he said "I am on the toilet, I will be down when I am done". While I thought this was over sharing a bit, I appreciated his candor and went back to stare at my station wagon idling in the driveway. It was highly possible, since he is a man, that he might not finish his business for another forty five minutes, in which time my car could have easily run out of gas. That's when I decided to break in.
I went to our eight foot gate and gave it a hard push, thinking I'd probably have to scale it somehow. To my horror/relief, it opened as if I'd uttered magic words. I realized then that the double locked bolted business that had given me such peace of mind for the last four years was total bullshit. I made a mental note to call the landlord and started looking for a way inside. Suffice it to say that I found a point of entry, a particularly spidery and gross point of entry. I'd give you the humiliating, frustrating and dangerous details, but I won't be able to sleep at night if I have shared written instructions on how to break in to our house. And for you cyber criminals who enjoy my blog-it was really, really difficult, and we don't have anything of value except a flat screen that is four years old that took three guys five hours to bolt it to the wall.Good luck getting it down.
Once I found the spare car key and loaded Little into the car, we were miraculously only ten minutes later than usual. I sped down the street to the corner and looked left, hoping that the oncoming traffic would give us a chance to make a quick right turn and get through the green stoplight on the next corner. There was one oncoming black station wagon, at first approaching at a normal speed, then slowing, then stopping at the green light. I questioned her in my head "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU STOPPING FOR???", which translated to a very subtle shrug and benign hand gesture. Nanoseconds from accelerating, I turned my head forward and saw a girl's head disappear in front of my car as she fell off her bike and onto the street, out of view. It took me a second to realize what had just occurred, but, in a nutshell, I just hit a kid on her bike in the crosswalk.

Yay me.

To clarify, I don't think I HIT her because I didn't feel anything. I certainly didn't SEE her and probably just nudged her enough to throw off her balance as I s-l-o-w-l-y rolled into the intersection, waiting to make the right turn. Had the woman in the black station wagon not stopped, my acceleration would have surely been the catalyst for a Butterfly Effect of the worst kind. And I never got to thank her.
My first thought was "What is this kid doing in front of my car?". Unsure if Little would freak out if I got out of the car, and not wanting to risk heightening the intensity of the moment with my toddler's screams of anguish, I opened my car door and asked if she was okay. She didn't seem to be injured but was very discombobulated. She tried to pick up her back pack and very politely asked me to move back my car because the STRAP WAS STUCK UNDER MY FRONT TIRE. I tried not to vomit at hearing this, and very carefully put the car in reverse and moved back a bit, painfully aware that I was perilously close to becoming the night's news story about a panicked woman accelerating instead of reversing and ending the life of the twelve year old in front of me, with her soft breakable bones and pretty turquoise bike.
I watched for a few seconds as she attempted to right herself, which she seemed unable to do. She was so awkward and so young and trying so hard to get her bearings. The books fell, the bike fell, the backpack fell. I put the car in park, told Little that I had to go and help her and got out. With legs of rubber, I walked over and picked up the bike, apologizing profusely and asking repeatedly if she was alright. She took the bike from me, reassuring me repeatedly that she was alright. I saw no blood, no scrapes, the bike seemed fine. She kept looking at me like she wanted to get the fuck away from me. Hell, I wanted to get the fuck away from me-what kind of moron hits a kid on her bike in the crosswalk? She finally got it balanced, walked it across the street and down the sidewalk, presumably toward home.
In an adrenaline haze, I got back in the car. I drove as carefully as humanly possible to pick up my other child, Big, at school. I made each lane change, each turn, with great purpose and gave each light a three second lead as I listened to Little chatter on about something we were supposed to do later on that day."Sure, Little, if I can manage not to kill someone with my car", I wanted to say.
In a matter of seconds, my life had become a Robert Altman movie. It resumed, with soccer games, play dates and the daily grind, while I waited for either the police, or an irate parent to bang on the door and demand to know what was wrong with me. I thought constantly about the story line in "Short Cuts" where Lily Tomlin hits the kid on his bike and,unbeknownst to her, he dies hours later. I watched the news, read the local paper and waited for a corner shrine to pop up with teddy bears and religious candles. Nothing happened. I know it was an accident, but it is the kind of accident that happens to other people, and you read about it in the paper or see it on the news and shake your head in amazement, wondering how on earth it could have happened.
I saw her a few weeks later, crossing at the same intersection. I saw her bike and her long brown hair. I wanted to stop her and tell her how sorry I was again. I also wanted to encourage her to wear a helmet, but I am not sure about the etiquette of giving unsolicited advice to someone who you came very close to killing.
I definitely used up my Get Out of Committing Manslaughter Free Pass that day, and I am so unbelievably glad that I was NOT texting or drunk. My excuse is that I was truly confounded and deeply disconcerted by my own stupidity in locking my keys in running the car in the first place, and I let it get the best of me. My eternal gratitude and heartfelt thanks go out to the woman in the black station wagon. Her actions that day have affirmed what I have always believed to be true: that those annoying drivers out there who always seem be in my way,who irritate me to no end, who are the reason why my kids already know almost all of the really bad swear words? Well, those folks are really my protectors-either from myself or from what lies in the road ahead. Lemons into lemonade, I know, but if she hadn't been there......

Friday, September 23, 2011

Six Hitched-Here's to Fifty More !

I have written about some of this before, so please don't think I am looping. I just like this part of the story a lot:
The year was 1996. I was twenty seven and,despite my affiliation with one of the most successful talent managers in the business, my career was in the toilet.
In January,I made a bunch of New Year's Resolutions that I didn't keep and waited for pilot season to start. I watched Monica Seles' comeback on a muted tv, finding her guttural soundtrack unbearable.  February came, and Alanis Morissette won  a Grammy while people debated whether or not a "fly in your Chardonnay" was,in fact, ironic or simply just gross and annoying. Pilot season was busy, and  I auditioned for  "Gilmore Girls" and many other long running, career making shows. I  tested for nothing. March arrived abruptly with the Menendez Brothers getting sentenced to life in prison for murdering their parents. "Braveheart" won Best Picture, Nick Cage won Best Actor and Susan Sarandon won Best Actress. Since then, all three have fallen from grace, though Miss Sarandon's isn't entirely her fault. She really shouldn't have to hawk milk to pay the rent, you Ageist Fuckers. Then, one afternoon in April-feeling chunky and banal- I called  my manager's office. A Nice Man answered the phone (insert tweeting birds, unicorns and rainbows here). I explained that the crap audition I'd just been on was a disaster-one of the producers had experienced a coughing fit that not only interrupted the reading  but left me with the moral quandary of continuing with the trite love scene I was playing with the casting director or acknowledging that the producer might be expiring  in the hallway. In true actress fashion, I chose to go on with the show and delivered a distracted, inauthentic performance. I departed, all fake smiles and overly emphatic handshakes, feeling like shit. The Nice Man called me back the next day and informed me that,while I was not getting the job, I had been number two. Instead of sharing how fitting that description felt at that point in my life, we set a lunch date. We went to the Newsroom on Robertson. He was very professional in the face of my depressed, actressy rambling.
May arrived, and we bonded on a quasi date after seeing "Welcome to the Dollhouse".
He invited me to see Natalie Merchant at the Greek Theater on  June 14th, and we officially  became an item.( on the down low, of course)

Let's not forget-he was a mere twenty five years old when we met, accompanied by the requisite filthy apartment and posse of questionable friends. He had been a frat boy, had Journey and Hall and Oates on his list of favorite musical acts and was a bona fide hypochondraic. I hadn't gone to college (and actively blamed frat boys for most of the world's problems), had the Talking Heads and The Pretenders on my list of favorite musical acts and had no patience for sickness unless it was the chemically treatable kind. We were very different.
However, he had gorgeous brown eyes and a lovely smile. He was earnest, sweet and downright decent in a sea of  duplicitous, mean and  morally bankrupt industry peers. I fell for him,  in that cheesy rock ballad sung by a homely mullet clad New Jersian kind of way.  He also thought that I was perfect. I recall the moment that those words left his soft bow shaped lips, and the voice in my head said (a la Jeremy Irons) "You have no idea.....". Yeah, since then he has discovered most of my, er, quirks, and yet he remains the same earnest, sweet and downright decent man from all those years ago. After a nine year courtship, we were married on September 24th, 2005 with our three month old daughter in tow.
The Nice Man  is the best thing that ever happened to me. In the last decade and a half,  I have lived more, learned more, seen more, laughed more, complained more, yelled more, cleaned more and loved more than I could ever have imagined. I look forward to the future,silently praying to the universe that  his optimism continues to counteract my pessimism, that his extrovert will continue to inspire my introvert, that he will learn how to properly hang up a pair of dress pants, and that the light that makes his eyes sparkle so brilliantly doesn't dim in the face of  other people's bullshit. He is a rare person: gem, mensch, loyal to the core, with a dash of rascal and a smidge of con artist( his words, not mine) just to keep me on my toes. Happy Anniversary, Wonderful Husband!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Phone Call

Last week I was on the treadmill reading an horrendous article about a mob of South African slum dwellers who murdered an innocent Zimbabwean man. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he was foreign. The report was riveting and filled me with all sorts of conflicted emotions as I kept my 4.4 brisk walking pace and 135 bpm. I should have been pushing, running at 7.5, but the story was quite a piece or journalism. I could not stop reading it. My cell phone rang just as the writer was describing exactly which blows to the Zimbabwean man's head might have been fatal. I glanced down and saw that it was a number that I didn't know in Beverly Hills. I stepped off the treadmill and answered it. A cartoon like voice asked for me. It sounded like Alvin the Chipmunk's girlfriend was calling. I could not understand a word she said. The second time, it came in crystal clear:

" I am calling you from the Beverly Tower Women's Center. The doctor wants to you to come back and have an ultrasound of your right breast and some additional imaging done. When can I make you an appointment?".
I had just had a mammogram, or a boob squishing, as Big likes to call it, the day before. I stuttered a little and made the soonest appointment I could get, which was six days away. I pressed end and thought about the suggestion box in the procedural area. I may leave  a note that the bearers of such news should be required to use their Jeremy Irons voice instead of their I-just-took-a-hit-off-this-helium-tank-voice.

I got back on the treadmill and finished the article, which only got more devastating since justice was never served and not one person feels guilty about killing an innocent person. I could not shake the phone call, either. I was sure it would be nothing, as many many women receive the second call. I couldn't help fantasizing into the future if the worst case were true. The first thing I thought is how delightful it would be to have the down time. I know, it sounds insane, but please know that I do not want cancer so I can sleep in. It just seemed like a nice idea to be the one with the needs for a change, instead of always anticipating other people's needs. Then I thought of the mom at our school who is battling cancer for the second time but who is there all the time anyway, looking exhausted, but obviously trying to savor every second she has. She is simultaneously wearing the " volunteer mom" hat and the "I might die tomorrow" hat, so I suppose in reality, the downtime I seek will be in death. Warren Zevon had it right with " I'll Sleep When I'm Dead". Then I thought of all the weight I might lose (just trying to see the upside, people). But how pointless to worry about looking fat when I might die horribly from something hiding in my boobs. I wondered if it might be the result of the few times I carried my phone inside my jogging bra, or those extra dental x-rays, or all the traveling through airport scanners, or that time the Channel 7 News parked in front of the house with their Pluto sized satellite pointing right into the bedroom windows. My neighbor chased them off, claiming that the microwave rays were nearly deadly at such close range. I thought he was insane at the time, but maybe he was right- technology is probably killing us. Rationally I know that the majority of my worries are unlikely, or everyone would have cancer. Then I thought about how truly awful it must be to receive such a diagnosis and how all the bitching and complaining I have done up to this point is just ridiculous considering the lives of others.

My doctor called the next day and told me that the follow up was necessary because the images they had taken were "inconclusive", so I didn't need to worry about it. I did, but the call made me feel better. We still had a fine weekend, with lots of socializing and spending time with the kids. I mentioned my second call to a few friends, all of whom had the same experience, so it seemed less stressful as the day of the follow up appointment drew nearer.

I went back to the same place the following Tuesday. I was called into the same office as before. I was given a dusty rose colored poly blend "gown" and asked to wait in a small room the size of a Motel 6 closet. My name was called by the same person who had taken the photos last week. She was fiftiesh and had shoulder length white hairLike last time, she had the overworked and underpaid quality that seems so prevalent in healthcare. They were understaffed, again, and someone had just gone home sick. She brought me into the same room as before and said " The radiologist saw something on the right side that wasn't their last year, so let's take some different angles and get a better look." Not what I was expecting to hear, as my doctor's call had made it sound like the pictures had simply been blurry. The woman then proceeded to smash my boob into several sadomasochistic positions, as if she were planning on winning a pizza making contest right there in the exam room. It was not pleasant, but neither is cancer.

When we were finished, I was told to wait for the ultrasound tech to call my name. After fifteen minutes in the little closet with the accordion door, a scrub clad blonde woman with an Eastern European accent called my name and took me into another room. It had a bed covered with white crinkly paper. I lay on the table. She squirted the ultra sound gel onto my right boob and smooshed it around with the wand. It is always a bit surreal to have anyone who isn't your offspring or your spouse handle your boobs without so much as a handshake, let alone a cocktail. We both looked at the screen. The inside of the human breast looks like the bottom of a Louisiana bayou- all strands and globs and strangeness. She was squishing around silently, and finally located the mystery image that "wasn't there last year". She took several photos of it.  "Nah, you are good- just some cysts",she said suddenly.  I nodded, assuming that was good news and said something like "Great!". She handed me a tissue, told me to wait for the doctor and left. I sat up and wiped the residual goo off my chest, thinking that about what a bizarre thing the human body is. How cruel it is that the one thing that sustains human life can clandestinely harbor the very thing that takes it awayI heard the clip clop of heels on linoleum, the chipper rat a tat tat on the door.A terrifically stylish, tan linen sheath wearing, perfumed doctor poked her head in. She also sounded Eastern European. "Okay! It is just some cysts, so you are all good- come back in one year!". I said "Great!" again, and she was gone, clip clopping down the hall to the next room I wondered what her demeanor was like when delivering bad news-did she actually enter the room? Did she walk more slowly? Did she wear quieter shoes?

I am eternally grateful that I did not have to find out that day. I passed by the suggestion box and thought better of leaving a comment. It seemed that everyone in there was pretty damn chipper despite their obvious exhaustion with the subject matter. If they want to greet the public with relentless cheeriness and enthusiasm to counteract the effects of having the burden of a million women's health issues on their heads, then far be it from me to interfere. I wandered out onto Roxbury Drive and back to my car, thinking about how awkward it is to navigate the healthcare system when you are well. My heart goes out to the women who are sick and fighting,and also to that poor Zimbabwean soul who didn't deserve his fate.