Bad gifts

“But he was good, Will could see that now. Not good as in obedient and uncomplaining; it was more of a mindset kind of good, where you looked at something like a pile of crap presents and recognized that they were given with love and chosen with care, and that was enough.”
– Nick Hornby, “About a Boy”

When I was nine my grandmother gave me the most disappointing gift of my life. She prepped me for weeks before Christmas about it, playing “bigger than a breadbox, smaller than a house” guessing games, conferring loudly about it with my aunt, and making me rigid with anticipation during an already stressful season. I couldn’t imagine what could be so good that people were literally more excited for me than I was.

Christmas, post-lunchtime, I was so anxious I hardly ate anything. We were in my grandma’s basement which, incidentally, used to be a Mexican restaurant and had a mural of a bullfighter and a cactus painted on the wall that scratched your arms when you walked too close. I sat at the table across from the bull. As soon as the dishes were cleared, my cousin handed me a box wrapped in red paper dotted with Christmas trees. There was clearly envy in his eyes. Obviously word had spread.

I tore the wrapping paper off to find a box with a picture of a doll on the front. The doll was a little blonde girl (like me!) holding a smaller doll like a baby. Two dolls! Pretty cool, I thought. Gift of the year? Not really. But maybe it did something…

Oh, it did. Grandma took it out of the box and turned it on. The first thing I noticed was that it was a black doll, which would have been fine except that hair braiding was definitely out due to its short Afro hairdo and I was also going to have a very hard time passing her off as my biological daughter-doll. The second more terrifying aspect was that it was mechanical and when it was switched on, it played music and rocked the baby doll in its stiff little arms while opening and closing its eyes. I hugged my grandma and thanked her, but didn’t take my eyes off that doll.

Before I even left the table I had decided that her new home would be my mom’s bedroom closet. Occasionally, one of my brothers would put her on my dresser so that when I flipped on my bedroom light switch at night, she would be staring at me from across the room. My mom claimed that once it turned on by itself and she was going to throw it away but she was afraid my grandma would find out. I would have been afraid it would have reappeared on my dresser, covered in trash, blinking at me hatefully.

The thing is, I never let on. My grandma went to her grave believing that I loved that gift, just as she should have. Because she meant well, and sometimes loving people means lying about things, even if it’s terrifying and blinking at you and rocking a dead-looking baby doll.

“I could see my mother going in Spaulding’s and asking the salesman a million dopey questions. And here I was getting the ax again. It made me feel pretty sad. She bought me the wrong kind of skates–I wanted racing and she bought hockey–but it made me sad anyway. Almost every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up making me sad.”
-J.D. Salinger, “The Catcher in the Rye”

It didn’t look at all like this:

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Road Trip, Day 3

About a year ago, I was gently prodded by my friend Shari to visit her on the East Coast: “I’m still a little bitter you don’t live on my street… Can this be the year I get to meet you in person?… If you come visit, and I ever get the chance to meet Michael C Hall, I promise to willingly hand him over to you.” (I made that last one up. No sane woman would ever say that.) Not that took much prodding, since I’ve been dying to meet Shari for years anyway. I also knew that Shari regularly hangs out with Stefanie (whom* I also know from the interwebs) and I have been itching to meet her for years as well. Two birds, yo!

The NYC portion of the trip was fantastic and awesome and I’m so glad we went (to) there, but the trip was actually originated by a little seed planted some time ago by Shari. We decided to meet at Stefanie’s house in Pennsylvania, so I asked her for some hotel recommendations. She told me about a hotel not far from her house with a great diner and a sign outside that says “It’s the Coconut Pie!” Unfortunately, said Stefanie, whenever she goes, they are always out of coconut pie. I told her I would demand a refund of my room if there was no coconut pie. She said she would have my back and act as my Coconut Pie Wingman. It was all the encouragement I needed.

After driving directly from a New Jersey White Castle (my husband’s entire lunch was shaped like O’s-chicken rings and onion rings- exactly what you might see in an elementary school cafeteria) and was ready for a confrontation. I stormed into the diner (this part is slightly exaggerated for the sake of your entertainment) and, banging my fist on the bar, demanded a coconut pie. To my surprise, they had coconut pie but could only sell it by the piece because their pie plates were not for sale and in order to sell me a pie in its entirety, they would have to have had more notice so they could have baked it in a disposable pie plate. Huh. It’s hard to dispute such sound logic. So instead, I left with six pieces of pie carefully stacked (shoved) into two styrofoam containers.

By the time we got to Stefanie’s, it looked a little like coconut pudding, but it was the best they could do on short notice (plus, the people were really nice and one of the ladies told me about her pet parrot so in all it was quite a pleasant experience. I would do it again.) Speaking of getting to Stefanie’s… it was amazing. I hugged her for real and hugged Shari for real and met Stefanie’s adorable children and husband (who I knew from photos and somehow expected them to recognize me too, because, you know, two-year-olds regularly check their mom’s Facebook accounts.) We spent a lovely afternoon in the yard, drinking wine, eating cucumber sandwiches and talking about hilarious events that brought us to become friends in the first place. Then we spent a lovely dinner, eating kebabs and doing the same thing. We were the happiest girls you’ve ever seen with a kebab. Then we ate lemon cake and coconut pie while the kids ran around being adorable and the cat eyed us carefully in case we were crazy people (we are.) Then we left because there was a storm coming and we were all exhausted and Dexter was about to come on.

On the way back to the hotel, I told my husband how grateful I felt to have such a great group of friends and how nice it was to see that they are just as awesome in person as they are online and wouldn’t it be great if you could just condense all of your favorite people into a 5 mile radius of where you live so you could just pop in and see them whenever you want or whenever you need to laugh. Unfortunately, that will probably have to wait for the retirement home we’ve talked about, which will be the raddest retirement home ever. And they better have coconut pie because if they don’t, I will be prepared.

*correct usage of whom? Whom knows? Whom cares?

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Reading, PA is sexy, and so is this.

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Road Trip, Day 2

I was wide awake Saturday morning at 7 a.m. after only about 5 hours of sleep. I never sleep well in hotels and besides, I was about to see New York City. I’ve only looked forward to this day since I was practically an infant. So I showered (loudly), dried my hair (more loudly- wake up people!) and put on my new sundress (could not figure out how to do that loudly although it was a little tight and a groan or two may have slipped out). Finally we were all up and ready to go. We ate breakfast and delicious chocolate chip muffins downstairs. Then we hopped on the bus, went through Lincoln Tunnel, and were dumped off at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I was in THE CITY. THE ONE. It was awesome.

We walked around all touristy (I don’t care) taking pictures of everything. I (almost literally) ran into a wax figurine of Justin Timberlake and posed like a moron (don’t care, still. Plus, I think he was into it.) When we got to Time Square, Lisa told me it is not rude to ignore the people passing out flyers and those wearing character costumes, as they are simply out to make a buck. So we posed for a few pictures and this guy in a rooster costume laughs hysterically because he was photo bombing in at least three of them. He posed like Jesus on the Cross in his rooster costume and I was like, real funny, I’m still not paying you. But of course I was the polite Midwesterner I was raised to be and thanked him. I thanked him without money, which was surely disappointing but I wasn’t even completely sure what I was thanking him for. Thanks for ruining my pictures, maybe? So anyway…

We saw Rockefeller Center, Saks Fifth Avenue, Radio City Music Hall, and tons of other cool things they have crowded together in that area. Then we took the subway to China Town. I, being an odd mix of naive and self-righteous, was carrying my iPad on the subway. It was crowded and my husband had this weird look on his face and kept glancing at what he seemed to think was a shady character (I had been waiting for this moment) standing suspiciously close to me. When we got off the subway, I was like “what was the problem?” because I thought the guy was maybe checking out my lumps or something. Turns out, he was checking out my iPad. Bummer.

Then we went to Wo Hop! It’s a Chinese restaurant in a basement in China Town. I had the best lemon chicken ever. And egg rolls. Then we visited all of the Flight of the Conchords sites in the area. I sat on Bret and Jemaine’s stoop. I lurked in Mr. Lee’s stairwell. I saw the New Zealand consulate and Dave’s shop. It was magical. I was also getting hot because it was 90 degrees in New York City that day. I popped a few Excedrine migraines and hot-footed it to Starbucks for a Lime tea. Delicious. Also very crowded.

We walked past Yoko’s house and then to Central Park. It was beautiful. It was also hot and I was tired so we parted ways with Lisa ( who had to take care of a few things at home) and went back to the hotel for a rest. Unfortunately, I couldn’t rest but I showered again and cooled off and got ready to meet Lisa for dinner. During the bumpy bus ride back into the city, I got sicker and sicker. We walked to Hell’s Kitchen and everything I saw made me feel ill. It was also still hot and humid. There was a guy with no legs on a scooter who somehow managed to be on a corner behind us, and then reappeared on a corner ahead of us without passing us. It was messed up. I thought maybe I was hallucinating. And it was trash day, so there was trash everywhere. I could smell the entire world and its trash that night.

We went to a diner and I sat like a wet blanket while the others ate. I mentally calculated the steps it would take to get back to the hotel and whether or not I would survive. Lisa got a bag of ice from the diner owner and I held onto it just in case I needed a sick bag for the bus ride back. Luckily I didn’t..
I just made it to the hotel bathroom and then went to bed.

And that is the entirety of my NYC nightlife. It’s probably a good thing I don’t get invited to parties with JT. Some day I will tell the story of my Las Vegas trip when I was so overwhelmed I had to take a nap. But that’s a fascinating story for another time.

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Road Trip, Day One

On July 5th, my husband and I started a road trip of my own design. According to him, “I’m just along for the ride,” and although his enthusiasm was underwhelming, it did take some pressure off.

After picking up the rental car (this smooth little Eco-friendly Kia that was so quiet I tried to turn it on twice after it was already started) we hit the road. We set the GPS and spent a little while trying to figure out how it worked, which was no problem since we were going straight on I-80 for about a billion miles. We drove east across Indiana and saw nothing but grass and road. We drove east across Ohio and saw the same thing. We got to Pennsylvania and it was the same story until the mountains appeared, and let me tell you: they were a big thrill after seven or more hours of grass and road and Hardee’s service plazas. I asked my husband if they were mountains or just big hills and he wasn’t sure. Eventually we were both sure because they became huge and winding and pretty fun to drive through after going straight for hours with only intermittent road construction for entertainment.

Eventually, we stopped for dinner at a Perkins somewhere in PA. My friend Lisa was meeting us in New Jersey, so I sent her a text update which gave her virtually no information except that “the GPS says around an hour and a half more driving.” We ate fast and got back in the car. I waited for instructions from the GPS but apparently she wanted us to actually be on a road before telling us where to go. We got back on the highway. I merged when instructed (“stay left, then go right”) and we finally entered New Jersey, headed toward our hotel in Secaucus (purchased at a great bargain with a little help from William Shatner.) It was exciting to see signs pointing to New York since that was our ultimate goal. Our more immediate goal, though, was New Jersey and soon the traffic got crazy and the sun went down and since I have very poor night driving vision, I was pretty sure our adventure was going to end with us and our smooth Kia as a slick stain on the New Jersey turnpike. The GPS kept giving useless instructions like, “turn right in 30 feet,” as though I had the time or ability to calculate in my head “okay, if I’m going 75 miles per hour and there is an angry Soprano six inches from my bumper and three exits coming up within the next 50 feet, I should “exit right” when?!?”

Incredibly, I only exited wrong once and the GPS lady kindly turned me back around to the terrifying highway. Pretty soon it was darker and the lights were more glaring and the signs had large arrows pointing to lanes (I was already in!) reading “Lincoln Tunnel.” But see, I KNEW about Lincoln Tunnel, and I knew where it ended up and I also knew that after driving in New Jersey that New York City was out of the question. So I “stayed right” and “went left” until my knuckles were white and we (finally!) got off the highway and ended at our hotel. Big relieved sighs all around.

Then I realized that I promised to pick Lisa up at the bus station.

We checked in, threw the suitcase on the bed, checked to see what kind of premium movie channels were included in our cable package, and I threw myself on the bed to call Lisa and prayed that I didn’t have to go back out there.

Turned out, she was totally cool about it. In fact, there was a bus stop across the street from the hotel. So we organized a rollaway bed, greeted Lisa in the lobby, caught up a little and then slept like we had actually been killed on the highway.

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Graduation

Our youngest son graduated from high school this year and today we had an open house to celebrate. I am sitting here exhausted, but feeling so fortunate that so many of our friends and family joined us in congratulating him and wishing him a bright and joyous future.

I don’t know where the time goes, but it feels like just minutes ago that he was bravely clutching his stuffed dog before walking into Kindergarden “because on their first day, they may need someone to hold onto.”

As far as people to hold onto, I was touched to see how many care and support not only him, but our family as a whole. I was proud of how many people spoke well of how he behaves when we aren’t around. When people I’ve never met tell me that he is a wonderful young man, I know he’s someone who will do good things in the world on his own. Releasing a child into adulthood without that knowledge is a pretty scary thing, but I know he’ll do just fine.

Today I am a very proud mom. School’s out. What a ride that was.