This week my husband and I took our annual micro-vacation. Neither of us likes to be away from home too long – for me, because I can’t bear to be without all my clothes and makeup and hair products, and for him, because he is afraid the pets will pine for him.
Sure enough, I didn’t like the sandals I brought, and although I thought that would be a nice excuse to buy some new ones, I couldn’t actually find any. Well, I did find some, but they were pricey and cute and didn’t match the one extra outfit I had brought, so then I would have need a new tee at the very least, if not a new bathing suit, since the cute sandals would have been atrocious with the bathing suit I had packed, and I only had forty-five minutes till the parking meter ran out and that was certainly not enough time to make a decision as monumental as shoes.
And on my husband’s side, sure enough, the cats pined away for a terrible, horrible one-and-one-half days without my husband, and the most docile of them even hissed at the kind neighbor who was feeding them. Of course, the cats can hardly endure my husband going to the bathroom, never mind Rhode Island.
But despite having the wrong sandals and fretting about the poor abandoned kitties, we had a really nice time.
We stayed at the marina in Newport, and it turned out the dockside bar was right outside our room. This was a sign, I was sure, that I was meant to relax.
So right after we didn’t purchase shoes, and didn’t purchase grey pearls (although hubby came close – he’s a sucker for beautiful jewelry – a cross I have had to bear all my married life – poor me) we strolled out the seven feet to the bar for a pre-dinner drink.
Two other couples soon joined us, and naturally my husband made new friends. My husband’s social skill is the only thing that keeps me from becoming a pathetic recluse.
Drinks all around. Everyone – but me – decided to have a Dark ‘N Stormy. This drink is made with Gosling’s Black Seal rum mixed with ginger beer. Everyone loved it. Made them feel like pirates. It’s definitely a pirate drink. Argggh.
I had a glass of merlot.
Merlot is not exactly the classiest wine. Real wine drinkers refer condescendingly to merlot. (Just think of insults poor merlot received in the movie Sideways.) But I like it. But as classless as merlot’s reputation is, I still thought that perhaps a glass of wine made me look snooty as compared to Dark ‘N Stormy big tumblers.
I didn’t want to look snooty. I wanted to be a regular guy, like the Dark ‘N Stormiers. So I ridiculed the ostentatious display of the yachts in the marina. Yes, I made fun of the wasteful clueless rich. I don’t know why I did this. I don’t really have anything against rich people. I would like to be one myself.
And of course, it turned out that my husband’s new pals were the occupants of one of those yachts.
I didn’t exactly know how to redeem myself.
Maybe I could have a Dark ‘N Stormy. We can all have that pirate drink and be happy pirates together.
But I just couldn’t.
My Polish grandfather (Dziadzi is Grandpa in Polish – think “Ja-Jee” for pronunciation) liked his drink. He was a shot-and-a-beer guy all the way. Any kind of whiskey – and then a beer chaser. Like most immigrants from eastern Europe, Dziadzi liked his beer warm. He kept his Schlitz in the bedroom closet – and in the summer, in his third-floor, bathroom-down-the-hall tenement, that was WARM.
When I was a teenager, my mother used to visit Dziadzi a few times a week. In summer, Mom often asked me to accompany her. Her motives were a little suspect. Dziadzi would always ask her to bring him a bottle, and she didn’t like to deny him the pleasure of a drink in his later years. But she worried about him drinking too much – and she knew of the risk of combining too much whiskey with the many medications he was taking.
So she would bring him a bottle – but she didn’t want to leave him with too much to drink alone after we had gone. So she’d say, “Come with me to see your grandfather. And have a drink with him.” I was still in high school.
So on a hot summer morning, we would drive to New Britain. And I would have a shot and a beer with my mother and my grandfather. She’d bring him a very small bottle, so we’d only be leaving him a little if we both had a drink too.
So at ten a.m., often twice a week, in an apartment already approaching 90 degrees, I would have a shot of Jack Daniels and a warm Schlitz.
To this day, 45 years later, I only drink wine.
As much as I would like to drink Dark ‘N Stormy like a pirate with some nice rich people and be as sociable as my husband -
And a glass of merlot.
In honor of blueberry season – we’ve been picking for three weeks and our big freezer is almost full – I am re-posting last year’s Public Service Announcement.
BLUEBERRY PICKING RULES
I went blueberry picking today. Late-season, late-in-the-afternoon is just the way I love it. The air is still, the rows of bushes straight and beckoning. Blueberry-picking is a serene activity.
I wish that everyone could experience blueberry-picking.
By ‘everyone’ – I don’t mean, like, ‘everyone’ everyone.
I’d like to suggest a few exclusions:
- If you are bound to be loudly disappointed because you remember when the blueberries were bigger, sweeter, firmer, juicier – please don’t come.
- If your children have an attention span under seven minutes and/or you are forced to yell “Stop That!” more than seven times a minute – please don’t come.
- If you have a story to tell that requires multiple uses of the phrases, “So then she goes…” and “So then I go…” – please don’t come.
- If you wish the bushes were closer to the parking lot – please don’t come.
- If your cell phone (let’s just call it your Blackberry, because I can’t resist) rings more than three times in a half-hour – please don’t come.
- If Rover has to participate – and has to poop – please don’t come.
- If you and your loved ones can’t keep track of each other, and you have to shout “Marco”/”Polo” on a regular schedule – please don’t come.
- If you feel the need to smuggle out blueberries in your purse to avoid the weigh-in – please don’t come
- If you shriek when a bee comes within 24 inches of you – please don’t come
- If the ambiance of blueberries compels you to grope your significant other’s private parts – please don’t come.
- If you can’t bear the thought of your kid eating something that has not yet been de-germed – please don’t come.
- If you need to sing more than one stanza of “I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill” – please don’t come.
- If, despite the 1,200 bushes available, you still want to pick from the one bush I have chosen – please don’t come.
Other than that -
A while back, I had a discussion with some friends about Rich People. And yes, you need to capitalize Rich People because they are Special.
Anyway, we were discussing the difference between Rich People and not-rich-people. Not the difference between Rich and poor – that’s obvious. But in these times when the average person has cell phones and nice cars and eats out when he wants and has loads of “stuff” – our lives in a lot of ways are not that much different. So what then singles out Rich People?
Of course, there’s the fact that their shoes are really really expensive. And their expectations to be waited on are really really high.
But when it came right down to it, I thought there were only two things I truly envied about Rich People. (Now that I want a house on the beach, let’s make that three things.)
But back then, those two things were:
Good Art – I’d love beautiful inspiring paintings on my wall to look at every day -
The time to get really good at a sport.
Being a good athlete takes a lot of practice. I always wanted to be good at a sport – any sport – and never had the time necessary to develop the skills.
And you need LOTS of practice if you haven’t got any natural ability.
The first athletic endeavor I remember is “Red Rover.” I was very puny and I could never break through the locked arms of the other kids. And so I was easy pickings and always called on: “Red Rover, Red Rover, we want Nancy to come over!” And I’d try and try and fail and fail. So one day after being played like a yo-yo (which I couldn’t do either, by the way) – I furiously revved myself up and ran like I had never run before. And just when I got to the kids, they laughed and let go. And I ran right through them and into the brick wall of Lavoie’s Market. I had a real gusher of a bloody nose and never played Red Rover again.
Then I tried baseball. I played baseball with my boy cousins in New Britain. Again, I gave it my best effort but I didn’t know anything about baseball. But they tossed me an easy one and I hit it. I really did! And they said “Run! Run! Run to first base!” And I did. And then they said, “Ha, Ha! You’re out! You ran on a foul ball, you dummy!” End of my baseball career.
I took a gymnastics class at the Girls’ Club. After six months of effort and numerous minor injuries, I could turn a crooked cartwheel. Almost.
I did not take any sports in high school. I had gym class of course. I liked square dancing. I went Allemande Left when everyone else was Allemande Right.
It was all Woodstock Hippie Love and Peace in college. Thank god that did not entail any physical commitment beyond sitting on the floor with a joint.
After college, my goal was to find a good job. And so I worked at a mediocre job and went to school every night. No time for much more than the walk from the office to the parking lot and from the classroom to the other parking lot. And it worked. I got a very good job.
And so next on my list was a boyfriend.
I joined a “fun” sports club. Skiing, Tennis, Volleyball. Just young adults (cute men and pretty women) getting together to have fun. I couldn’t ski, so I signed up for volleyball. Just for fun, right? Wrong. These guys had to WIN. These guys I wanted so badly to meet would not let me on their team. And why? Well, because I was terrible. I don’t think that’s very sportsmanlike, do you?
So I took tennis lessons. We were volleying back and forth one Saturday morning. Three people on each side of the court. Warming up. I was only watching the ball from the person that I was paired with. Keep your eye on the ball, I was told. But another dude hit another ball as hard as possible. Directly into my throat.
Well, how about Golf? I played in the company golf tournament. One hundred foursomes. I came in last. So I took lessons. My instructor said that he couldn’t promise to make me a great golfer, but he promised that I wouldn’t come in last anymore. At lesson number eight, he said, “Well, you might still come in last.”
Zumba is great. I love dancing to that sexy music. I’m pretty good at it too. My hips almost sway. Not quite, but close.
And I practice Yoga. I’ve been at it for twelve years now. And sometimes I can stand on one foot. For ten seconds.
But I found it! Finally!
The athletic pursuit I’m great at!
Who knew that all I had to do was find the right kind of Yoga!
I went to a Restorative Yoga class.
It’s basically different kinds of lying down.
I excel at lying down!
Back in February, I shared several of my favorite days, culminating of course with the best day of my life – so far, anyway - February 9, 1964.
This week I remembered one very special morning.
First, a little background. I spent much of my career at that bastion of testosterone, ESPN. If you are a competitive person, boy, have I got a job for you. But some gentle souls worked there too. (Thank God.)
Mark was in Program Finance. That’s where financial analysts formulate budgets for shows. If you’re an accountant, that’s as close as you get to fun.
Mark had six young children. Back in the olden days (like when I was growing up), lots of families had six kids. But by the 90s, it was pretty rare. But Mark and his wife both came from very big families, so it was normal for them. I remember their oldest daughter telling me that when they went to their grandmother’s house for Christmas, they needed five high-chairs just for the baby cousins.
A small three-bedroom house was home to Mark. He and his wife in one bedroom, the girls in another, and the boys in the third. That could have turned out pretty unfair if there was one boy and five girls, but luckily, there were three girls and three boys. Even-steven, as my mother would say. Mark told me that they had considered buying a bigger house, but he said that he grew up that way and he had a very happy childhood. “Kids don’t need privacy,’ he said. “They need each other.”
Mark’s kids were really nice. I would take all his six over the boss’s two anytime. (Even over one.) His kids were sweet and funny and pretty well-behaved. For kids. One year, Mark even took the whole family to Florida on vacation – and DROVE there.
“How in the world can you manage six kids in the car from Connecticut to Florida?” I asked.
“The big kids help with the little kids,” Mark said proudly. Then he added, “But I admit that I have a lot more to threaten them with on the way down than on the way back.”
Everyone at ESPN works a shitload of hours. Nights, weekends. Every day is a sports emergency.
But one Sunday, when Mark went to the office to finish up a project, he found he was the only one in our little Finance building. He was relieved, since his wife was away and he had had no choice that day but to bring along the kids.
So he gave the kids a project of their own. He sent them around the office to collect the phone numbers of every phone in every cube – more than thirty, as I recall. Then, while he worked on his hockey budgets, he had them call every number and leave a message.
We all reluctantly dragged ourselves in to start another week. And every accountant and finance geek had a message.
We had a joke.
A little kid had left a joke on each person’s voice mail.
“What did the pen say to the pencil? You’re looking sharp!”
“Did you hear the joke about the roof? It’s over your head!”
“What did one elevator say to the other elevator? I think I’m coming down with something!”
“What did the hamburger name his daughter? Patty!”
“What has four wheels and flies?” A garbage truck!”
And all of us over-educated over-worked over-achievers spent the first hour of the day going from cube to cube to listen to little children’s voices telling the world’s corniest jokes.
Best Monday Morning Ever!
I was commenting about work on a friend’s blog, when it occurred to me that I have been working for forty years. (And it would have been even longer except that I stretched out college for absolutely as long as my parents could stand.)
Well, forty years of work life has provided me with some insights.
And although most of the readers of this blog are as old as I am – which is why they want to read about wrinkle cream and bunions after all – I will share my vast accumulation of job advice.
So this post is for all my young readers – all three of you.
1. If you are like the vast majority of human beings on this earth, you will always have a boss. This boss might be dumber than you and less competent than you and sooner or later will even be younger than you. I have a chance to have one more President of the United States older than me (if Hillary runs and wins) – but that will be my last time. I am now used to people in authority being younger than me.
But here’s the thing about bosses. No one likes to be told what to do. But unless he or she is a real prick (pardon my language, but it is the right word here), it is up to YOU to get along with your boss. If your boss asks you do something that is even remotely connected to your actual job description, you say “Sure.” And you do it. Try to make your boss’s life easier. The last thing you want is for your boss to think that one of his problems is YOU.
2. When you are new at a job, you will not like it. Look at it this way: You just left a job where you knew what you were supposed to do (to the point of boredom…that’s probably why you left) and now not only are you unsure of what you are supposed to do, but you don’t even have any friends, or know where the mailboxes are or when to have lunch. OF COURSE you hate it. But you did not necessarily make a mistake taking the job. Give it six months. You might eventually make a friend and be able to transfer a call and even find the copier toner.
3. Speaking of competence, we all make mistakes. When you make a mistake, own up to it. Apologize, accept responsibility, and move on. If you don’t dwell on the mistake, your chances are better that no one else will either. But here’s an interesting caveat. I made a pretty big mistake early in my career. I felt horrible. When I told the boss about my error, I also said that I was really, really sorry and very disappointed in myself. And he said, “I should be really mad at you myself, but I haven’t got the heart to yell at you. You already feel bad enough.” Hmmm, I thought. This could be a pretty good strategy for fucking up.
4. Take your vacation time. Take all of it. I offer this advice as someone who never did. And now I see that the company and the world will not fall apart if you schedule some deserved relaxation. You need a break. Take one.
On the other hand, be careful about sick time. Learn to work sick. I’m not saying you should drag yourself in and infect everyone else with Ebola. I’m saying that as much as good sense indicates: Suck It Up. Taking planned, expected time off makes you look reasonable and responsible. Unplanned, unexpected, and inconvenient absences make you look unreliable.
5. Don’t complain about your job. (except to your spouse or your best friend – with them, you have permission to bitch a little). No one likes his job every single minute. You are always going to have good days and bad days. Don’t complain constantly – especially at work, but also in restaurants, on Facebook, at the gym… you could be overheard. And when someone asks you about your job: If overall you like it well enough, you say, “It’s pretty good.” And if it is terrible, say, “I’m learning a lot” – and keep quietly looking for a better one.
6. Try, whenever possible, not to go to HR with your issues. I’m not dissing HR folk – after all, they hire us, they make sure we have medical benefits and training and shit – but if you go to them with a problem, they have no choice but to make it a big deal. And you may be very sorry later when things get blown out of proportion. I do not mean that you should submit to workplace abuse or sexual harrassment or that you should turn a blind eye to unethical conduct. But if you have complaints about a coworker or you think your boss is unfair or you think that you should have gotten that stupid promotion – try to take it directly to the person you have the issue with. And leave HR out of it. Address the problem yourself. Face people. You will have better results.
Let me reiterate that I am not talking about illegal behavior. But sometimes the direct approach can even nip that in the bud. Many years ago I had a co-worker that was a little too “hand-sy”, if you know what I mean. He couldn’t seem to talk to me without giving me a back-rub too. I was worried that eventually it would be a front-rub. One day I said, “Charlie, I don’t think you realize that it makes me uncomfortable when you rub my back. You are a nice guy, and I am sure that now that I have told you how I feel, you won’t want me to be uncomfortable with you any more.” And it never happened again. We even went on a business trip together and he was respectful and businesslike – and nice to be with.
7. Last, but not least – (until I think of more, anyway) – learn the value of coffee or tea. And perhaps a good piece of chocolate in the afternoon. As an accountant, I speak from authority when I say that staring at numbers plus a nice little lunch equals a very sleepy interval about 2:00 PM. And I am also speaking from experience when I say that once you fall asleep at work, it is very hard to live it down. Especially if it happens more than once. In the same week.
Over my 63 years, men have said some memorable things to me.
So I present to you my
Best Pick-Up Line:
I go all the way back to 1969 for this one, I was hanging around at the end of my summer job shift with some other teenagers, and I was wearing my coolest Mod Squad outfit. It was a mini-jumpsuit. A short-short kind of onesie with long sleeves, a big collar and a hip-hugger belt.
And one of the guys remarked on my outfit. He said, “I like your get-up.What do you call it?”
And another guy that I didn’t even realize might like me said, “Mine.”
Now after forty-five years, I may not be as keen on a man declaring me as his possession, but at the time, I thought, “wow.”
(This was not spoken to me, but reported to me)
My husband and his brother were invited to some man-thing for the weekend. My brother-in-law did not think his then-wife would be happy about it.
My husband said, “Just tell her you want to go. She wants you to have fun – she’ll understand.”
And my brother-in-law answered, “That’s easy for you to say. You’re married to Nancy.”
This is definitely the prize for most offensive Man-Words.
I was the business manager of a cable system. I had come from the health care industry, so although I was a good accountant and budgeter, I was still learning some of the technical aspects. So the regional engineer comes in for a meeting, and uses some term I did not quite understand. So – wanting to gain as much knowledge as possible, I said:
“Can you explain that, please?”
And big-shot engineer said:
“It’s complicated, honey.”
Biggest Generation-Gappiest Line:
At my next job, I was budgeting for that humongous sports network (you know the one). But in 1990, not everyone was computer savvy – especially some of the old-guard salesmen. And there was one guy – probably the oldest guy at this very young company – who was a sales manager to cable affiliates. I kept sending him his budgets to update, and I never got them back. So I gave him a call.
“Al, where are your budgets? I sent them to you weeks ago.”
“I got your emails, but I didn’t see any budgets.”
“They were attached. At the bottom of the email. Do you see the attachments?”
“I see a bunch of little pirate ships,” Al said.
If you remember the old version of excel… email attachments looked like this:
Funniest Line of All Time:
I don’t think anything for the rest of my life will top this:
Back to 1981: I was thirty and still single, and I was seriously considering having a baby. I really wanted to be a mother and I didn’t want to wait any longer. I was looking into adoption, and word got around the office.
One of my co-workers sat down opposite me at the lunch table one day.
He said, “I heard that you want to have a baby. And I wanted to let you know that if you want, I would do it for you.”
“Joe,” I said, “I wouldn’t let you within ten feet of me.”
Without missing a beat, Joe said, “I could do it from there.”
I had a beach day yesterday.
I love the beach, but my joy of the beach has always been mingled with overwhelming worry. Worry about my body.
I’ve written many times about my self-consciousness on the beach.
When I was a teenager, I worried about how skinny I was. I cannot think now of anything more moronic. But such is adolescence. Girls with breasts and hips hate them. Girls without desire them.
And my adult years – I’ll admit to more than forty of them – have been filled with every other kind of worry. On top of worrying that my breasts were too small, now my stomach was too big, my thighs were too dimpled, my hair too flat, my shoulders too sloped, my ankles too thick.
And I can go on and on. I felt every one of my flaws was on display in the bright sunshine. And I had thousands of flaws – in my mind.
What did I like about myself? My brain. But it was in a very imperfect casing – in my mind.
Over the last two years, my husband and I have put in a lot of effort into getting healthy.
And looking better has helped me like my body a little. For the first time in years, I didn’t feel horrible in my bathing suit.
But something else extraordinary happened at the beach yesterday.
Way more extraordinary than liking my body.
I liked everyone’s body!
Not being obsessed with my own flaws caused me to notice how great all our bodies all. ALL OF THEM.
The big ones, the little ones, the dark ones, the pale ones, the hairy ones, the bald ones, the skinny ones, the fat ones, the tall ones, the short ones, the young ones, the old ones.
All those bodies were amazing, doing amazing things.
Our remote ancestors probably crawled along that same beach eons ago, but evolution did a fantastic job. The human body is perfect.
Those bodies could swim, and splash, and run through the sand, and stroll along the water’s edge, and eat sandwiches, and throw frisbees, and build sandcastles, and read books, and holler at their kids, and kiss, and collect seashells, and carry huge coolers, and feed seagulls, and sleep.
I even saw one old lady having a happy squirt-gun fight with a kid probably seventy years younger. And they both could pull the trigger, and they both could duck, and they both could laugh.
How much does shape matter, when you can do all that?
This weekend I attended a party where I did not know anyone other than my husband and the hosts.
This is not my kind of party. I am self-conscious and uncharacteristically shy around strangers. People have told me that my shyness often comes off as conceit.
It’s because…well …because… honestly…
Because I AM conceited.
And when I am uncomfortable, it seems to be the only attribute that willingly pops out.
But I didn’t have any reason to be nervous. Everyone was so nice and so interesting. And there were a lot of folks there who were ballroom dance aficionados, which means even more eccentric than me. So I fit right in.
One person in attendance especially fascinated me. She makes regular appearances on a local morning talk show. I guess you could call her a minor celebrity. Except in her own mind. Where she appears to be a major celebrity.
I thought I was conceited. But she humbled me. I need a hell of a lot more practice in being self-important to even sit at the same table.
But I did sit at the same table. So I learned a lot.
I learned that you should mention your fame at least once every half-hour. (I can translate this to at least one blog a week touting my novel.)
I learned that you should gush about the talents of your co-workers while at the same time making it clear how much you help them.
And I learned that you should make a wardrobe change midway through any event. When the sun goes down, why would you just add a sweater over what you are already wearing when you can instead put on an entirely new outfit, and get another round of compliments?
But the best thing I learned, I learned from my husband’s interaction with Celebrity-Lite.
He asked her where she lived, and she not only said the name of her affluent suburb, but then she added, “Have you heard of that town?” (Because of course, even though Connecticut is a very small state, we might be morons.)
But instead of getting offended (which I did), my husband said, “Sure, I used to have a snow-plowing route there.”
And on the way home, I asked him why he mentioned the snow-plowing, when it was so long ago and doesn’t do him justice, given his long and successful business career.
And he said, “I like to play it low-key. If people are nice to me even if I am a nobody, then they are nice people. And with someone like that, they are immediately uninterested in me and they go away. I can’t lose.”
Summer re-run: Here’s a reprise from when I first started blogging. But I wasn’t doing illustrations back then, so at least the drawing is new.
I have a theory for everything. Some of my theories are what my family calls “out there”, but I have one theory that has abundant evidence supporting it.
I believe that when a boy reaches a certain age, (probably when he discovers his best friend/body part), his father sits him down for a serious and confidential discussion.
It goes like this:
Pretty soon girls will come into your life. And eventually you will marry.
When you get married, your wife’s expectations will be very high. So you need to know the secret of lowering her expectations- a secret passed down from father to son for generations.
When your wife asks you to do something, you don’t argue. You say ‘Sure, Honey’. But then you screw it up so badly she will never ask you again.
Here are some examples:
Laundry: Red shirt in with the whites.
Vacuuming: Suck up the cat toys.
Cooking: Two words – smoke detector.
Cleaning the Toilet: gritty cleanser on the seat.
Changing diapers – you don’t need any hints on this. You will mess this up. Don’t show any improvement.
If you are okay with looking completely incompetent, you can even go all the way to loading the dishwasher and watering the plants.
Son, just lower the expectations. Screw it up and you are off the hook. For ever.
There are a few chores that do not apply:
Taking out the garbage. This is a man’s job. Folklore has it that in the nineteenth century a man tried to get out of this duty by dropping the garbage. But it was a horrible mess, and his wife made him pick it up. So just do it. However, I don’t mean, ‘just do it’ – like literally – let your wife ask you at least three times.
Mowing the lawn. This is a man’s job. It entails equipment, and that’s fun.
Barbecue – this entails fire and lighter fluid, and that’s fun.
Car maintenance – you get to buy tools.
That’s it, son. Follow this advice and you will get through marriage relatively painlessly.
Oh, one more thing – NEVER EVER say, ‘What did you do to your hair?‘