Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Professor

On Easter morning during our vacation north, we awoke bright and early. I stumbled into the dining room, eager to gorge myself on creme eggs and marshmallow chicks, and there, occupying my spot at the breakfast table, was a massive chocolate bunny. He was approximately 18 inches high, with large yellow eyes that stared menacingly out of his box. The container was decorated with colorful, retro-50s pictures of frolicking woodland creatures and across the top it read "The Professor." I loved him instantly.

My father, who shares my childlike infatuation with large edible sugar creatures, had discovered The Professor during an errant wander down a drugstore candy aisle. Despite my mother's protests that a giant chocolate hare was not at the top of newlyweds' wish list, he proudly presented me with The Professor that morning, eyes twinkling with self-satisfation.

The Professor watched us silently as we ate our Easter brunch. He presided over cocktails that evening from his lotfy post in the corner atop a stack of ancient magazines. He witnessed me wander into the kitchen for a glass of water in the dead of night, fierce yellow eyes gleaming in the moonlight.

As we were packing our bags to race to the airport the next day, my father called to me, distressed.

"Don't forget The Professor! You must take him back to Los Angeles!"

It pained me to point out that, sadly, there was no room in our luggage for a gigantic rabbit. The Professor must stay behind.

Several days later, I arrived home after a long day at work to find a large box on our doorstep. I opened it, gleefully anticipating a very late wedding present, and there he was, yellow eyes staring up at me. The Professor had come home.

Since then, The Professor has become a part of our little family. When I awoke early one morning, I placed him, box and all, in our bed, noble chocolate head resting on my pillow, tucked carefully into the blankets. By his yell, I assume that attempting to snuggle with an edible animal was not a pleasant way for my husband to start his day. He sought vengeance by putting The Professor in his place the next morning, and I too awoke with a faceful of cardboard, staring into those fearful yellow eyes.

Sometimes The Professor wanders into the kitchen while I'm cooking, and sometimes he placidly watches the game with my husband. He watches over us.

My husband says that we have to get rid of him, that grown people can only have so much fun with a chocolate rabbit. But I know the truth.

The Professor will return. Oh yes, he shall return.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lopping of the Locks

This past weekend, my husband and I were on vacation visiting my family in Northern California. These journeys generally consist of wandering from winery to cafe to candy store and back again, enjoying country living and eating mom's home-cooking like geese being fattened for slaughter. However, on this particular vacation, an unprecedented day trip to San Francisco found me bounding into a salon on posh Union Street, hellbent on a rejuvenating change, having sent my husband to a bar with promises of a new-and-improved wife joining him later.

I greeted the pretty, petite stylist with "Hi! Please chop off all of my hair." To her credit, she did not appear at all annoyed, perplexed or disturbed by my creepily anxious grin and jittery anticipation, nor did she try to argue in favor of my keeping the long blonde locks rippling down my back. No - I sat down, we exchanged brief, hypercaffeinated pleasantries, and the next thing I knew I emerged newly shorn into the San Franciscan sunshine.

Women are funny about their hair. A coworker recently admitted that she burst into tears when, after a recent cut, her stylist revealed an unrequested extra two inches missing from her mane. None of us can tell a difference, yet she vexes constantly, bemoaning the state of her tresses and pounding megavitamins to encourage speedy regrowth. Recently, a good friend found herself arguing fiercely as her hairdresser balked at her request, insisting firmly that "bangs are for fat girls." My glamorous aunt continually implores me to get the name of my sister-in-law's stylist in hopes that she too can achieve her precise shade of honey.

Rare is the woman who has not coveted the haircut of the celebrity du jour while lamenting her own "bad hair day." Until recently, I was one of these women. My ego always liked to think that I was above such self-obsession, limiting my narcissism to a more useful focus, like freckle-prevention. Hair grows back, after all. Why trouble myself with such things when there are pores to examine?

Post-haircut, Saturday morning found my mother, husband and I visiting a local biodynamic winery to attend a "green tour." We would be walking the property, exploring the grounds and learning about organic growing procedures, culminating in a picturesque hilltop tasting. Eager to disprove my mother's theory that shorter hair would diminish my grooming time, I had spent 45 solid minutes primping and preening, fluffing and fixing, attempting to style my chopped tresses. Slightly disgruntled at this mirror-front reminder of my inability to do anything related to hair, I nevertheless arrived at the winery in high spirits, gaily tossing my fluffy head for the appreciation of my fellow tour-goers.

After briefly tisk-tisking my four-inch boots, our sneaker-clad tour guide led us into the organic, sustainable gardens. I pranced outside, sassy hair swinging, and joined the group in the shade of a large oak tree. It was a beautiful spring day, clear and cool, birds cooing softly in the wind. Our guide was young and knowledgeable, and as she yammered on about rare grape varietals I found myself focusing on her unfortunate selection of pants and wondering what a sideswept bang would do for the symmetry of her face.

In the midst of my makeover reverie, I suddenly felt something drop on my head. Pesky oak leaves, I thought, interloping upon my new hair. A few seconds later, another weight on my head, this time accompanied by a sickeningly familiar splatter. The birds cooed tauntingly overhead as I glanced down at the ricochet of filth onto my prize navy blazer. Several agonizing minutes later, our guide moved on, leading the pack up the hill toward the vines. I stopped my husband and my mother to inform them of my situation. Clearly they would witness the dire state of my well-coiffed hair and remedy the predicament. By the burst of laughter that followed, I could see this was not the case.

While on our French honeymoon several months ago, I had found myself in a similar situation when an errant pigeon used my head as a toilet on a steep hillside in Montmartre. Now, my mother doubled over and pointing, my husband smiled and said "Oh honey, it does feel a bit like Paris out here, doesn't it?"


Later that day and several glasses of wine in, my mood was improved. I had combed the bird feces out of my hair as best I could, and after an hour in the drugstore hair aisle poring over a variety of bottles, jars and boxes, I had found a product that I was certain would replicate the sleek style from the salon. I slathered this miracle paste into my new bangs, refusing to leave the bathroom and engage in any form of social activity until the proper piecey texture was achieved. Satisfied at last, I joined my family at the dinner table.

Several hours later, dessert eaten, merlot downed, sleepy-eyed, I glanced in the mirror while brushing my teeth. Wow - that is some mighty fine hair, if I do say so...but wait. What the hell is THAT?

From scalp to cheeks, my forehead and eye area was covered in a spotchy red rash. My face, with its prized pores and porceline pallor, was now a monochrome Jackson Pollack. In the midst of my ensuing mania, I realized that perhaps my husband had had a point when he advised against purchasing the $2.50 miracle hair cream. This merely irritated me further.

"Don't worry," said a doctor friend as I called in near hysterics. "Take a Claritin and use some hydrocortisone."

I sat, bemoaning my birdshit hair and general hideousness and feeling decidedly unsassy.

My allergic reaction cleared up over the next several days, and I returned to Los Angeles humbled. After indulging my vanity, I was brutally punished by the universe. My ego was shamed by flying poopmachines and beaten into submission by cheap hair paste. Henceforth, I vow that my hair shall be free to flop and frizz as it chooses. Bird- and rash-free is the way to be.

Yes, hair - I give up. You win. I'm not the boss of you.

Fun with Vegetables

The best thing ever.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Daily Delicious

Corporate crack.

The Triumph of Labor

Every so often, when the President of my division becomes thoroughly self-satisfied with his smashing success and the overwhelming industry of his worker bees, he throws us a congratulatory wine-and-cheese party. This takes place in the dim lobby near the elevators, and is always the topic of breathless whispers throughout the great cubicle labyrinth.

This afternoon, two hours beforehand, the reception area has already been cleared for the soiree - chairs haphazardly thrust into corners, forcing waiting visitors to camp refugee-like near the toilets, bare tables lining the walls, awaiting the laden platters and hungry masses to come.

All throughout the floor, desks are buzzing with a hushed energy - wide-eyed secretaries speculate on the vast varieties of cheese and nervously await breaking their diets with plates piled high with smoky gouda, sharp cheddar and runny brie. Analysts loosen their collars while debating the merits of goat versus blue. The receptionist twists her hands anxiously, silently cursing her decision to give up wine for Lent.

All around, employees smile to themselves in the warm glow of their computer screens, knowing that a few short hours will find them clutching a glass of merlot, syrah or pinot grigio and gnawing on a stinking hunk of Stilton. Shy researchers anticipate dazzling their secret crushes with a wit plied free by wine. Assistants prepare to gather in clusters, munching almonds from salty fingers, murmuring intimately as they trade gossip about their bosses.

We will go home to our spouses, children and televisions with full, content bellies, blaring our radios a bit louder than usual, singing along in tipsy gaiety. We will sleep tonight eager to rise and return to our screens anew, where, stomachs rumbling, we will dream of our next reward.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stranger in the Mirror

I was 15, a sophomore in high school. I had a penchant for knee-high rainbow socks worn with combat boots and florescent laces, for my brother’s baggy hand-me-down Levi’s, hems dirty and shredded, for a ragged blue hoodie so decrepit with age that my mother begged me endlessly to throw it out. I raced from class to class, shouting greetings to friends across the quad, a tiny blur of white-blonde hair streaking across campus. I was an honors student, involved in sports, clubs and theatre. My teachers called me Sunshine. I was happy.

Aside from constantly bemoaning my pale skin, I had never given much thought about what I looked like. Having grown up a gangly, tree-climbing tomboy, I was fairly content with what I saw in the mirror. After spending most of my life thinking that my scrawny, awkward self was as good as it would get, puberty had come as a pleasant surprise. Could be worse, I figured.

I was dating (if such a term can be applied to holding hands at lunchtime) a younger boy a year behind me in school. He had a mischievous grin, fluffy hair that flirtatious cheerleaders loved to ruffle, and he strode the halls with his bag slung jauntily over his thin shoulders.

We hadn’t been a couple long when one day, out by the tennis courts, he pulled me close, kissed me breezily, leaned his head against mine and said "You know, you would have such a great body if only you had a smaller waist."

After school, I raced headlong into my poster-bedecked bedroom, flung my backpack in a corner, and discarded all of my clothes. I stood naked in front of my full-length mirror, the same one I had danced in front of that morning, blaring mid-90s pop and lipsynching my heart out. As I stood examining myself, I suddenly realized in a sinking rush of anxiety that he was right. I twisted and turned, eyes raking every inch, appraising, aware. All that pale, pasty skin...where was my waist? And what was wrong with my calves? How about that squishy part on my inner thigh? The soft curve of my hipbone looked foreign - I wanted hollows. How had I not noticed all of my flaws?

At 16, I began modeling. After I had my first San Francisco photo shoot, my mother took me to Johnny Rockets on Chestnut Street to celebrate. Walking in with my hair curled and coiffed, chapped lips freshly glossed, I searched my pockets for nickels to plug into the mini jukeboxes on the counters. Pressing the smudged keys, I played myself my favorites - The Ronettes, Elvis, The Beach Boys. I wish they all could be California girls... Sitting on the red leather stool next to my elegant, confident mother, I was glamorous and mature in my pancake photo shoot make-up. We ordered burgers, extra-crispy fries and thick vanilla shakes, giggling, planning, conspiring together. Just the girls - us versus the world.

A year later, I returned home after a summer at theatre school before my senior year. In my month away I had feasted on cafeteria food, my roommate and I smuggling fat bagels and Rice Krispie treats to our dorm for midnight snacks, hitting up the vending machine for Red-Hots on our way to class. The week of my arrival home, I visited my photographer in San Francisco to add new pictures to my portfolio. The studio was deep in the garment district in a crumbling building with a maze of high-ceilinged cavernous hallways. Between shots, I changed into a new outfit in the small dressing room and overheard a conversation in the next room.

"She looks great. She’s gained some weight. Needed to, she was so thin."
There was a sigh, a strained chuckle, and my mother.
"Oh. Well. We’re working on that. We’re trying to lose it."

Naked in the dressing room, one leg halfway into a pair of palazzo pants, ear against the door, I sighed too. I hadn’t realized it, but I was holding my breath.

Eleven years later, there is still no telling what I will see when I look in the mirror. At 15, something broke in my mind, and suddenly I was covered in flaws which since that moment have taunted me daily. I am dimly aware that the person reflected back at me is not the same person that the rest of the world sees. Every day I fight to know this.

In college, I ran into the old boyfriend. We had somehow ended up at the same university, and I saw him wandering past the bookstore one day, cotton candy tufts of hair tousled by the ocean breeze. He called out to me, gave me a hug, told me how great it was to see me, that he’d love to find some time to catch up.

I looked at him, standing on the steps of the campus center in the mid-afternoon sun. I saw the years of struggle and dysfunction. I saw the obsession, the fixation that was bigger and brighter than me. I saw myself at 15, and I saw a little boy in front of me.

"Do you remember what you said to me in high school?"
As I relayed his teenage critique of my pubescent shape, his eyes squinted, then widened. He laid his hands on my shoulders, looked into my eyes and said "I am so sorry. You are absolutely beautiful."

And sometimes, more now than ever, I know he’s right.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Little Piece of Heaven in Anaheim

Yesterday I found myself awake at an atypically early hour on a Sunday morning, blearily rolling out of bed and bustling hurriedly out of the apartment.

With my husband out of town all weekend for a Vegas bachelor party, I was eager to relive my single days of yore by packing every spare moment of time with social activity. Before he staggered back into our home that evening, reeking of tequila, stripper and desperation, I was determined to run myself ragged painting Los Angeles a lovely shade of scarlet.

By Sunday morning, my plans were progressing perfectly - I’d gossiped and wine-guzzled with one girlfriend on Friday night and hiked myself to a state of utter delirium with another on Saturday morning. I had noshed on raw food for a dear friend’s birthday dinner on Saturday night and then met another for dessert at a nearby wine bar. I had amusedly witnessed the Santa Monica singles scene while fending off the advances of overzealous suitors who disregarded pesky wedding rings. I had paid bills, baked vegan muffins (eggs be damned!) and cleaned the apartment. When my alarm rang bright and early Sunday morning, my social butterfly was ready to flutter off to the sanctity of a warm couch and a cool glass of iced tea. Yet as I crawled out of my covers that day, congratulating myself on having had quite a weekend, it was not over yet. I was on my way to the holy mecca.

A friend and I pointed the car south and barreled straight down to Anaheim. En route, I sucked down some lukewarm coffee, bran muffin rumbling uncomfortably in my belly. I generally try to avoid setting foot in Orange County when at all possible, operating firmly on the (immensely unfair and admittedly untrue) deeply-ingrained prejudice that it is a land of endless concrete and soulless humans with deep pocketbooks and shallow morals, essentially representing everything that is wrong with America. However, as we pummeled down the freeway that bright, golden morning, I found myself twitching in joyous anticipation. I had heard the stories. For years, I had been regaled with promises of what lay in wait. Laughter and adventures galore. Goodies as far as the eye could see. Friendly faces eager to lend a helping hand. As we drove south that morning, I was abrim with trepidation. Could my long-awaited fantasy possibly live up to the hype?

Disney, schmisney! We were going to the real happiest place on earth – the Natural Products Expo.

Upon arrival, we braved the suburban jungle, parking in a distant lot near a lone field of exhaust-incrusted strawberries, an agricultural hold-out, a stoic remnant of the Southern California of yore. We trudged past, merciless spring sun smacking my determined hatless face. In the distance, the glorious spires of the Anaheim Convention Center glistened. Were we being challenged? Was the smug, pock-marked teenage parking attendant testing our devotion with his terse “Lot’s full?” No matter - we forged on.

As we approached the center, feet aching, throats parched with smog, an angel appeared.
“Welcome,” she said. “Would you like an herbal antioxidant goji berry shake? New for 2008!”
“Bless you, friend,” I said. “That would indeed quench our great thirst – we have traveled from afar to pay worship.”

We walked on, rejuvenated by our mineral-packed refreshment, when suddenly there appeared another angel, and another and another.
“Over here!” one said. “New Coconut Crème Larabar! 100% vegan, all-natural ingredients!”
“Try a Chocolate Peanut Chew!” said another. “Totally gluten-free and organic!”

Dear lord,
I thought. I have not even entered the building, and already I do not want to leave this magical place.

We continued, arms full, burdened by a variety of delicious soy treats, sustainable fruit snacks and botanical supplements. The gates opened, and with a rush of cool recycled air we suddenly found ourselves in the most heavenly place on earth.

Behold, my child! The rumors were true! All around us were smiling, glowing, treat-laden people, generously offering delectable snacks. I shrieked. I salivated. I lost all semblance of self-control. Within moments, I had left my body and floated off in a hazy euphoria of organic brownies, pesticide-free pita chips, no-hormone ice cream, and antioxidant-infused energy bars. I guzzled restorative fruit juices and swilled buckets of meatless tempeh stew. I slathered paraben-free vegan lotions onto any and every available bodily surface. I ate 27 protein bars' worth of samples. And when I could no longer contain the glory of this bounty, I feel to my knees and wept tears of sheer joy.

Yes, the Natural Products Expo is a wondrous place indeed. Our day ended far too quickly, but I learned something. As I rolled out of Anaheim two hours later, hopped up on acai berries and soy protein isolate and sporting a disturbingly distended organic belly, I realized that gluttony is gluttony, any way you spin it.

In other words, I am a typical American after all. Praise be!

Not-Quite-Daily Delicious

Oh evil s'more, why do you tempt me so?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Snack Paralysis

As a child, I was willful, determined, and stubborn. As a teenager, I was loud-mouthed, feisty, outspoken, always confident in my choices. Upon reaching college, however, things changed. As impetuous teenager faded into young adulthood, a crippling indecision slowly began to creep in. So many majors to choose from! So many activities! So many cookies in the cafeteria! For the first time, I was conscious of the terrifying enormity of LIFE and RESPONSIBILITY - keywords consistently ground into my head by every adult in the vicinity. But how the hell was I supposed to know what I wanted to do with my life when I couldn't even decide what kind of bagel I wanted for breakfast?

Fortunately, I was not suffering alone - I clearly recall standing in the deli section of Ralph's with a close girlfriend, both of us suddenly consumed by near-panic over our utter inability to choose which roasted chicken (this was back in my meat-eatin' days) to buy for dinner. Our choices were Lemon Herb and Lemon Herb - flavor was unimportant. But WHICH chicken?! The one on the left was plumper, but looked pale and dry, whereas the bird on the right was thinner, yet had dark, enticing skin. We were Indiana Jones confronted by the roomful of cups, with the old man's words echoing in our head - "choose wisely." After ten solid minutes of grocery store angst and enduring strange glances from passing clerks and customers, the situation was interrupted by a phone call from a friend -

Me: "Quickly - ask him which chicken. He shall decide for us. Chicken A or Chicken B?!"

Her: "Wesley, Chicken A or B? A OR B?!?"

Wesley (sighing): "Why can't you two just decide this for yourselves? It's just a CHICKEN."

Me: (grabbing phone) "Listen buddy, we MUST leave the deli. Now choose the damn chicken!"

He complied (and likely never called again). We learned nothing.

My poor decision-making grew worse years later, when I lived right down the street from a Trader Joe's with a friend even more indecisive than I. Both meagerly employed in lackluster jobs, we would snack together, complain about our pitiful careers and wail about wasting our lives. Together we would walk to the Trader in search of junk food, only to find ourselves at an utter standstill in the chip aisle, staring slack-jawed at the endless bags. This paralysis was usually remedied by asking a very irritated shelf-stocking employee to choose for us: "Excuse me - potato or tortilla? Pita? Pretzels?!? DIP???" How could we possibly be responsible for determining what we would want to eat upon arriving home? That's five whole blocks away!

Eventually, as my professional life shaped up, my angst faded into a comfortable confidence as I embraced my newfound security. Decisions came more easily. There are exceptions, of course.
Two nights ago, Gelson's ice cream aisle:

Me: "Half Baked or Phish Food?!? Which is more delicious??"

Amused Husband: "How about these instead?" (holds up bag of dog treats)

Me: "You're not helping! And those are for dogs!"

Husband: "They are? ...chicken wafers? Ugh. But they look so delicious!"

Me: "Why the hell am I so indecisive?! I hate this! I hate MY BRAIN!!" (slams freezer door dramatically)

Yes, decisions still cripple occasionally, but lately I have a new coping mechanism. I've learned that the best solution is to glance over at my husband. That man is the easiest decision I've ever made.
Yes Indy, I've chosen wisely.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


This article sickens me.

President of Westland/Hallmark Meat Company:
"Oh, lookee there - look at all those half-dead cows blatantly tortured by slaughterhouse workers! Yeah, I guess that is inhumane treatment, now that you mention it. Regulatory violation? Well, yep..yep, guess it's one of those, too. But they most certainly were NOT slaughtered for food, so there is NO, I repeat, NO food safety issue, American public! No, not here at Westland/Hallmark, processors of exceptional quality beef! Yeehaw!
...what? Oh, another video? Um...hehheh...yeah. Well, look at those workers shooting that cow...ooh. And dragging him to the kill box. Wowza. Guess you're right, folks. Guess there are some safety problems. Only logical, after all. Shucks and darn! Guess we gotta get it outta the food supply - what? Most of it has already been eaten? By schoolchildren, poor folks and the elderly? Well shit...just my luck, ain't it?"

I repeat - sickening.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Save Face

I am unabashedly obsessed with skincare.

It began in junior high at my hoity-toity private school, where my extremely pale face earned me the nickname “Zombie Girl.” I clearly recall walking into Science (Mrs. Lyons - great teacher, saved the baby rats from being snake food and gave them to me to take home, bless her heart, thereby becoming “Rat Girl” as well) and the ringleader of it all, scrawny, pimply-faced Maxwell Baumhefner, yelling “EWWW!!! Smells like formaldehyde! Dead girl! ZOMBIE girl!” And so the chanting began.

The damage this caused my adolescent psyche will no doubt someday be measured by the wrinkles on my face, given that I subsequently spent every spare moment of my time (of which you have many, when you are 12 and live in Healdsburg) spread-eagle and bikini-clad on my parent’s roof deck, ruthlessly frying myself to a crisp. Upon surveying my (burn) tan lines I daydreamed of one day sashaying confidently into Science, deep island glow glistening, nonchalantly tossing my luxurious mane of golden blond. In my fantasy, boys’ jaws dropped and girls loathed me on sight. Mrs. Lyons tried desperately to control the class as I burst into a rousing chorus of “You’re the One That I Want” from “Grease,” leaping nimbly from desk to desk, leading my hypnotized classmates Pied Piper-like out of the room to dance on the balcony, awed and adoring, snapping their fingers in time. In reality, I was a knobby-kneed 80-pounder, an awkward, spastic collection of lanky limbs tucked under a disheveled head of limp white straw.

Upon reaching high school, a new deity entered my life: my child, behold the glory of Seventeen magazine. My father was sent a free subscription for his office and brought an issue home one night. The moment the smooth, gleaming pages were deposited into my hungry little hands, I was a convert. This would change my life! I could no doubt benefit from Beauty Secrets of the Cutest Cheerleaders and Are You and Your Crush Compatible? 14 pages of The Best Spring Shoes? Clearly I would become the most popular girl in school, stat!

Sadly, this did not occur. What my many hours of consumer worship and obsession did provide was a loyal appreciation of good skincare. I feverishly embraced my pale face, slathering on anything and everything – face masks pilfered from friends’ mothers’ vanities, samples snatched from mall cosmetics counters. I enjoyed self-proclaimed Maintenance Days, scrubbing, loofahing, moisturizing and polishing my skin into teenage pseudo-perfection. I devoted countless weekends to my quest for the best sunblock, dragging reluctant tomboyish girlfriends to the local RiteAid to join me in my crusade. Words swam endlessly through my head, taunting me mercilessly…sun damage, wrinkles, pores, age spots, certain death. As God was my witness, I would never be tan again!

These days, my busy grown-up life largely prevents such narcissistic frivolity. Although I am far less militant, I am still known as the Sunblock Nazi amongst my circle of girlfriends, and I did dedicate several precious hours of my Parisian honeymoon to a mission for my favorite French sunblock (yes, my husband is a very patient man). And sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly indulgent, I sequester myself in my bathroom with a stack of magazines, a bath of bubbles, and have myself a Maintenance Day.

After all, if you can’t pamper yourself, how do you expect anyone else to do it for you?

Save your skin! Avoid damaging chemicals in your products. Check out my favorite new site: Skin Deep - a service of the Environmental Working Group.

(Almost) Daily Delicious

When I die, bury me in this cake. That way, my zombie can eat its way out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A few years in the life

I am haunted by Jamal.

Post-college, I worked as a substitute teacher for five years in several Los Angeles-area school districts, focusing primarily on middle and high school kids. I had graduated early, due less in part to overachiever motivation and more to a sloth-induced aversion to reapplying for my scholarship. Thus, I arrived in LA at barely 21, a wide-eyed innocent with limitless aspirations and “Take Advantage of Me” stamped firmly on my forehead. If you had looked up Small Town Girl in the dictionary, there would have been a picture of me, looking stupid and naïve and probably wearing something unflattering.

Upon arrival, I bumbled around for several months in a directionless blur, exploiting the generous hospitality of patient relatives and finally realizing something key: I had lofty dreams of stardom, but - short of one-billion-lattes-worth of coffee shop baristahood and endless hours of spandex-pants-schlepping at Macy’s - no job experience. Fortunately, in the midst of my shiftless haze I vaguely recalled a college acquaintance proclaiming that between college and law school she planned to substitute teach. Ding ding ding! Sounded fabulous to me. Working with kids all day couldn’t possibly be more miserable than the dire fate of, say, cocktailing at Hooters, could it?

I called my mother to inform her of my new plan. She immediately insisted that I was most certainly insane and would doubtlessly be killed instantly upon setting foot on a Los Angeles high school campus. I believe the conversation went something like this:

Her: "They eat little white girls like you for breakfast in those schools!"

Me: "But I must support my ART! It beats whoring about in hot pants, serving onion rings!"

Her: "Onion rings don’t carry knives."

Too stupid for fear, I ignored her, insisting that my plan was the one way that I could earn a living, pursue my craft, and maintain a semblance of self-respect. Next thing I knew, I had taken the requisite tests, applied to several districts and was suddenly a proud employee of our fine California educational system.

I met Jamal at Wilson Middle School, where I became a regular substitute for an 8th grade History class. I remember the first time I laid eyes on him – post-recess, the door to the classroom was thrown violently open, shattering my brief moment of solitude between passing periods. In waltzed the most massive child I had ever seen, twirling his empty backpack on a finger, munching Cheetos and staring me down through surly slits of eyes. He reeked of attitude. Sweet Jesus, I thought. Mom was right. This one has come to kill and eat me.

Fortunately, by the time Jamal entered my life, I had already been subbing for quite some time. When I was 21, I was pelted with such an onslaught of rubber bands that I ultimately retreated from the room in near hysterics. At 22, I stood helplessly in the band room, ducking occasionally while I watched the hellions that were my class engage in Chair War. On several occasions, I bodily blocked adolescents four times my size from grinding each other into bloody hormonal teenage pulp on my classroom floor. I gradually befriended every security guard in Pasadena Unified, and along the way, I learned.

Let me tell you this, my friends: there is nothing that will toughen you up like substitute teaching. I truly believe it is the boot camp of all professions. My guileless good nature was gradually ground into a fiery nub of sheer willpower, just daring a student to try to take advantage. I may have looked pleasant, but I was stone cold steel. Don’t mess with Miss T, kids.

Despite my rocky beginning, I grew into a popular substitute in the district – students liked me because I was young and attractive, just a few years older than they in many cases, a far cry from the craggy gray wenches that usually hobbled crankily into their classrooms (I even turned down several invitations to prom, thankyouverymuch). Teachers liked me because I worked my ass off – if there was an assignment, my students either did the work or were sent to detention. They needn’t be perfect, they just needed to try.

When Jamal strutted into my classroom that day, I knew I had a challenge on my hands. We circled each other like rabid wolverines.
Yes, my eyes said, you will read this chapter today and tell me how the Mayans grew corn.
Oh, hell no, Blondie, his said. Put that book in my hands and you might lose a finger.
Still, I believed I could get through. I could make contact.

This was a week-long assignment, and over the course of the next several days I used all my bag of tricks on Jamal. I disciplined, I lectured, I cajoled. I complimented and I encouraged. No dice. He remained stubbornly impenetrable. When he wasn’t disrupting class by spontaneous yelling or staring blankly out the window, he was tossing paper wads into the girls’ hair to watch them squeal. The few times he did attempt an assignment resulted in a few words scratched illegibly across a dirty paper – no name.
Despite my optimism, I left at the end of the week beaten down by this child.

On subsequent assignments, it was the same story – Jamal the Difficult, the Petulant, the Sullen. The boy didn’t seem to have any friends, trudging the halls alone and eating lunch by himself on a lone bench at the far end of the field.

One day, he fell asleep at his desk. I awoke him, and he managed to stay lucid for the remainder of the period. When the bell rang, he remained in his seat, making only feeble attempts to gather his belongings, rubbing his eyes and casting sidelong glances at me at the front of the room. Bingo.

"Jamal, what’s up with you today? Why so tired?"
He stared at his feet, the floor, the grubby eraser near the trash.
"Uhhhh…yeah, Miz T. Sorry ‘bout that. I didn’t get home last night 'til four."
"Four? Why so late?"
"My mom went to her boyfriend’s house and I was waitin’ on the couch for her to come down so we could go. Didn’t get home til four. My contacts is hurtin’ my eyes today."
"You must be sleepy. What about your dad? Couldn’t he have come get you?"
"Oh, he in jail, Miz T. ‘Nother year at least. I’ll see you later, Miz T. I gotta get some food."

He left the room.

Jamal left school several months thereafter. I don’t know where he went, but one day he was no longer on the roster – any roster. And I wondered, Did I fail him? Have we all failed this child?

He is 17 now.
I am haunted by Jamal.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Daily Delicious

I dream in caramel.

Foolish Wanderer: A Brief History of My Brother the Nomad

My oldest brother is traveling to India, Tibet and China for the month of April. This is slightly worrisome, given that he has a somewhat checkered traveling past.

His first trip abroad was a three-week journey to Australia. He'd had a stomach virus for several days prior to departure, and despite my mother's apprehensive flutterings, remained unconvinced that wandering alone into the outback was an unwise plan. Thus, we dropped him at San Francisco International, his scrawny frame burdened sherpa-like with several massive backpacks containing all the necessities to brave the wild new continent. My family and I waited, his own four-person cheering section, while he stood in line to check in. I pranced back and forth impatiently, eagerly anticipating the moment we could unload my troublesome sibling and be bound for the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory, where my parents could make good on their promise of a Cable Car Sundae for yours truly (no, I wasn't 12. I was 21. Yes, I have a problem).

I stood there, staring at the exit signs, daydreaming of clouds of marshmallow fluff, rivers of caramel sauce and mini chocolate cable cars riding through treacherous canyons of ice cream, when suddenly my brother swayed beneath his baggage, took a step backward in line, and unceremoniously collapsed. He fell straight backward, buckling onto the terminal floor, eyes rolled back, head lolling. My mother shrieked and ran - my father and brother raced immediately to First Aid. After a moment of reflection - curses...there will be no sundaes today - I joined my mother in dragging him off the ground.

The paramedic's verdict was that the flu had simply rendered him too weak to travel (or remain upright, for that matter), so his trip was delayed several days while he recuperated, though given the level of my mother's anxiety he was fortunate to leave her sight at all. Aside from several possibly melanoma-inducing sunburns, the remainder of his voyage proved uneventful. He brought back a crippling fear of the sun and a wide-brimmed hat which he subsequently persisted to wear on any remotely sunny San Franciscan days (yes, they exist). This charming accoutrement never failed to illicit incessant cries of "Hey mate, put another shrimp on the barbee!" from neighboring hoodlums.

On his next journey, a trip to Japan, my brother was looking forward to visiting the famed snow monkeys that dwell in the northern part of the country. Apparently, as it watched the curious young foreigner trudge through the snowdrift in approach, the monkey decided it was not feeling particularly cordial. It bared its teeth and lunged. My brother managed to escape unscathed, and much to my mother's dismay now enjoys regaling audiences with tales of the malicious Japanese monkeys.

His most recent expedition was to Egypt. Roaming through the desert for several weeks left him in such a state of such extreme dehydration that he found himself flat on his back in a grimy Saharan hospital tent, IV-fluid drip in his arm, surrounded by sand dunes with no English speakers in sight. My mother was duly hysterical.

Given this tumultuous traveling history, she is justifiably anxious as her first-born sets off on his next escapade, the most ambitious to date. She called me during breakfast the other day to vex about it. Eager to put the kibosh on her lamentations and thereby return to gnawing at my organic toaster pastry, I assumed my most confident tone: "Don't worry, Mom. I'm sure he won't wake up in a bathtub with his kidneys missing."

Damn. By the shrill screeching that followed, I can only assume that my reassurance did not serve its intended purpose.

Good luck leaving the country, brother. And keep an eye on those organs.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Barefoot in the Park

My husband and I love a picnic. Mind you, we’re not those irritatingly pretentious yuppie picnickers, the kind you see in the park with $200 Pottery Barn picnic baskets outfitted with stainless steel cutlery and portable wine glasses, the people you really hope get shit on immediately by a large flock of passing pigeons. No, we picnic ghetto style – drag a blanket off the bed, cruise by Trader Joe’s for some cheap snacks, and find the nearest available bed of grass.

Our fourth date was a picnic – we lay in the park near my grungy-fabulous single-girl apartment, gazing droolingly into each other’s eyes. I read poetry. We ate cheese. Romance ensued.

Last spring, on a trip to Manhattan, we decided to have a picnic on a boat on the lake in Central Park. When he originally suggested the idea, I was immediately suspicious that there was a proposal afoot (mainly because every nosy prick under the sun had begun harassing me about when said proposal would occur, and their rampant curiosity had begun to rub off). Post-red-eye flight, we stumbled bleary-eyed and zombie-like about the mean streets of the Upper West Side, stopping to buy deli meat (serious lapse in the veg aspirations) and cupcakes (blargh) from cranky New Yorkers before wandering into the park. Out on the water, I lackadaisically lounged in the beautiful spring sun while he rowed like mad to find the perfect spot, unabashedly playing bumper-boats with passers-by.

Bobbing carelessly along during a particularly romantic interlude consisting of staring adoringly at one another like two mindless idiots, he took a deep breath and asked me to...make him a ham sandwich. My nervous anticipation was immediately shot - after all, what kind of crazy fool proposes after a ham sandwich whilst tasting all hammish?
Evidently, my husband is that crazy fool.

Post-sandwich, after indulging in some cutesy sweet nothings, the man dropped to his knee in the middle of the boat and asked me to be his wife. I’m still shocked that I didn't capsize the boat and drown us both with my joyous shrieks and spastic flailing of enthusiasm.

Clearly, we have a picnicking history. Post-wedding, we have promised one another that the romance will continue, and set a lofty goal of one al fresco outing a month. This was, of course, immediately shot to hell in favor of Law & Order reruns and tequila on the sanctity of our couch. Today, however, was different – today, we were pro picnickers. There was a grassy hillside, blanket, fresh deli fare. There were oogly smiles, covert kisses, Frisbees thrown. And there was plenty, plenty of dirt.

After two highly competitive Frisbee-pelting hours, during which I triumphantly managed to hit both a small child and her mother, my bare feet were black with filth. We were headed straight from the park to dinner with friends, and I was perfectly amenable to being Dirty Foot Girl for the evening, operating on the theory that perhaps the bar really hasn’t been set that high for my personal hygiene, so no one would suspect today's filth was anything out of the ordinary. My husband, chivalrous bastard that he is, had other ideas.

I quickly found myself sitting in the car in a mall parking lot, shoeless, dress hiked to my thighs while he (not that, you dirty monkey) fanatically scrubbed at my feet with a carwash brush in a particularly sacreligious Jesus/Mary Magdalene fantasy come to life.

That’s right – nothing but class with us. But oh yes, the picnics shall continue.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A moment

I used to be an actress. I used to create things. I made characters. I built people. I had talent.

It was a miserable life. I couldn't hack it. I didn't like other actors. I didn't want to be a waitress/substitute teacher/bum forever. I didn't want to be Blonde #3. I didn't want to be poor.

So I quit, in the most transformative decision of my young life. I gave up my identity, and I have no regrets. My new world opened up a realm of possibility I never fathomed. I work, I earn, I have pride. I have friends, my husband, a home.

I don't miss it. On the rare occasion I go to the theatre, there is a brief moment when the lights dim and I know exactly what is going on backstage. I feel the energy, the anticipation, the nerves. It almost brings tears to my eyes. Yet I don't miss it.

What I've missed is something to call my own. Lately, my creativity was restricted to hanging photos, baking, planning new outfits. It wasn't enough. I needed something for me. For the first time in a long while, writing these words, creating this blog, I feel full.

Fun is

...making's pronunciation guide repeat profanity over and over and over.
Yes. You're welcome.

Daily Delicious


Attack of the Enormous Feline

Last night, in the middle of emptying the paltry contents of our fridge into a frying pan and calling it a meal, my husband and I heard something outside. It was a distant, mournful meow. We ignored it, too busy haphazardly rooting about in our barren cupboards, determining what exactly we could mix with egg whites in order to fashion something resembling dinner.

In the midst of chopping our remaining clove of disturbingly mutated garlic, I heard it again - closer this time, and approaching rapidly. The cry grew louder and increasingly plaintive until I realized that it was coming from our porch. Being a cat person, I squealed eagerly, flung open the door, and in wandered the most tremendously obese feline I have ever seen. My extremely allergic husband backed quickly away, looking at me like I'd just thrown our newborn in the river. In a rare moment of rational thought, I realized oh shit...if this creature proves unfriendly, it can kick both our asses. Eager to make peace, I babbled and baby-talked at the cat, inquiring as to where he was from and whether he would like something to eat. Fatty totally ignored me, proceeding instead to waddle straight for our bedroom as fast as his stubby little legs could carry him. He moved at breakneck speed for a 400 pound cat, yet I managed to intervene just before he made contact with my husband's pillow. Cooing apologetically, I then hoisted his massive carcass over my shoulder, and, knees buckling under the strain of his tremendous bulk, chucked him once again onto the porch.

Corpulent Cat continued to wail right outside our window for the next hour, continuing straight through our dinner and leading me to believe that all the fat bastard really wanted was a taste of our soy meat egg scramble. Perhaps he's dieting.

Later, doing the dishes and murmuring reassuring things and false promises out the window in the direction of the screeching porch-dweller, I suddenly heard human-variety scuffling, followed by the triumphant yells of our neighbor. Upon opening the door I learned that Fatty was actually Oliver, a house cat who had made a break for it earlier that night. Evidently he got as far as our balcony, got hungry, and was bitching at us for not providing snacks for his vacation.

I want a cat. I promise I would feed it better than I feed my husband.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Daily Delicious


At this moment

I require a large sweatshirt, couch, jar of peanut butter and bowl of frosting.
I should be isolated from other humans at all costs.
There are Mother Rooms in this building, for women to pump when nursing. I personally advocate Sloth Rooms, for women to binge when cranky. Productivity would skyrocket.

In the land of baked goods

I work on the floor of carbohydrates. Donuts pounce at me in the kitchen. Coffee cake lurks in shadows. Bagels approach steathily, then fling themselves prostrate to beg at my feet. Most of the time, I'm quite content with my oatmeal and apple, but every now and then, I plunge headfirst into the sea of bakery items.

Although we are confronted daily by this constant parade of goodies, the paradox is that (with the exception of my skinny ass) the entire floor of my building is on a diet. It's rather horrifying. In their corporate version of "The Biggest Loser," they do weekly weigh-ins, calculate fat percentages, and have large sums of money riding on their ability to lose those extra inches. I have the great good fortune to sit right next to the kitchen, where I am continually entertained by a running dialogue concerning carbs, fat grams, calories, and points value as they microwave their frozen meals and gaze longingly at my peanut butter and jelly.

Needless to say, in this land of plentiful treats there is very little headway being made amongst the furtive, carb-lusting dieters. I witness the pilfered donuts, the "just one" chocolate that is suddenly five, the covert cookie consumption ("are those crumbs on your shirt, Sharon?!?").

Stop the madness, I say! Carbs are not the devil! What did the cute little donuts ever do to YOU? One bagel will not increase the size of your ass - four bagels might. One cookie is a delicious snack - ten cookies is gluttony.

Why are we taught to fear flour? Why banish entire food groups? When will our society accept that the only way to lose weight in a healthy fashion is to simply eat less and move more? Why do lazy Americans feel it necessary to pop high-priced "herbal" pills and suck down ridiculous "meal-replacement" shakes in order to gain a paltry sense of control over their increasing girths? Why must there always be a quick fix? What happened to eating vegetables, fruits, and foods that don't come from a box or a drive-thru? Why am I asking so many questions??

I hereby declare myself president of the National Carb Welfare League - protecting innocent carbohydrates everywhere.

I would rant more, but there's a bagel crawling up my leg that I must attend to.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Put down the tiger and step away from the computer

Let me preface this with the fact that I love my brothers. I really do. As the youngest child, I firmly believe that the years of merciless beatings and relentless harassment were character-building. Were it not for their totally uncontained childhood insanity, I would not be the tough cookie I am today. In fact, I clearly recall running screaming through the forest, my brother in hot pursuit brandishing my father's chainsaw, thinking awesome...this will be really great for my developing sense of autonomy.
So thank you, brothers. Thank you.

One of them emailed me today for dating advice.
To be more specific, he emailed me to inquire whether he should post a new photo of himself on his online dating profile. Being a bossy know-it-all, I was perfectly happy to oblige. Upon review, I learned that one of the photos my brother is using to entice the cyber-ladies is a picture of himself grinning demonically while gripping a Heineken and a large stuffed tiger. Yes, that's my big brother. His question today was whether it would be a good idea to add a picture of himself grinning demonically while gripping a Corona and a large stuffed teddy bear.

Granted, I've been out of the game for awhile. I don't know what kind of broads are trolling the internet in search of dates these days. However, I'm fairly certain they won't be impressed with a wide variety of faux-animal-clutching, beer-guzzling portraits of oneself.
I informed him of this, and was quite thrilled to be able to utter the stern reprimand "you're not 21 anymore."
I fear retaliation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

...and your little cookies, too!

I hate this time of year.
Yes, it's beautiful outside, with the approach of spring beckoning me away from my computer, tempting me to frolick merrily in the streets, picking daisies from people's front lawns and hugging bunnies and whatnot. I'm talking about a far more sinister seasonal phenomenon - those evil temptresses in uniform: the Girl Scouts.

Back, little wenches! I mistrust your beseeching, cookie-laden cuteness! Curse your delicious snacks! What? You have a new lemony sandwich variety? Huh? Lady Down The Hall (always a malevolent purveyor of guilt-inducing sugar-laden treats) has 87 boxes sitting on her desk for hungry coworkers to pillage freely?
How's a girl supposed to get any work done around here?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Half-Assed Veggie Girl Saves the World

I'll be the first to admit it - I'm a pretty half-assed vegetarian. While I enjoy obsessing about veg recipes, touting the health benefits of a veg diet, and annoying my friends and family with continual anti-meat harrassment, frankly, I love me some sushi occasionally (It's just fish, right? Those floppy little suckers didn't even see it coming!).

Unlike scary, militant veggieheads, my own dietary aspirations are less the result of an all-consuming passion for animal welfare and more about the overwhelming horror I felt upon discovering the environmental effects of a meat-based diet. Thus the pro-veggie harassment of my nearest and dearest. I see it this way: wallow in blissful ignorance, or educate yourself. Take your pick. (Yes, annoying and self-righteous, aren't I? That's okay, I've been called worse.)


For the record, the person who wrote the New York Times article at the link above is not a vegetarian, nor am I advocating vegetarianism for anyone. I'd just like to point this out:

"the University of Chicago calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius."
JUST 20 PERCENT, PEOPLE!! That's all I'm sayin'!

More highlights:
"...the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation."

"...assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests."

"...the world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons."

"Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens."

Veg out, people.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Beware the Wild-Eyed Newlywed

My husband and I have now been married just over four months (for those of you who enjoy fractions, you may realize that's one-third of a YEAR! 'Til death do us part - hot damn, we're on our way!) and since we returned from our honeymoon I've noticed something - people love asking "How's married life?"

Now, generally this innocuous social pleasantry causes me to respond slightly like Tony the Tiger, with an immense, slightly freakish grin and a "Grrrreat!" (although I don't subsequently provide the fortified frosted breakfast deliciousness). However, after I responded to this question several times, I began to see a pattern forming - I realized that with each inquiry my answer was growing increasingly enthusiastic. It didn't feel like it was enough to respond with a simple "Great" - I found myself expounding upon it, haranguing passers-by in the hallways, regaling innocent, inquiring individuals with joyously weepy details of my matrimonial bliss, actually uttering words like "soulmate" and "eternity" next to the watercooler. This never failed to result in me wandering stupid-faced and starry-eyed back to my desk, leaving in my wake an overwhelmed and regretful coworker who will doubtlessly refrain from initiating conversation in the future.

After several weeks of this, I had another epiphany - I noticed that, more often than not, the people doing the asking were single females. It was as if, upon returning from my honeymoon, all the wide-eyed singletons (thank you, Bridget Jones) came flocking to my cubicle, eager to delve into the mystical world of the Married Person. The same women who had once worked with me as a lonely, wistful (or cranky and bitter, depending on your perspective) single girl - with whom I swapped stories of dating dilemmas ("That bastard! He did WHAT?!") and bemoaned the sorry state of Los Angeleno manhood - were suddenly different. It was subtle, but I sensed it - a divide, a lapse in the sisterhood.

I hadn't changed...right? It's still me, just with a band of metal on my finger. Yet it seemed that, in meeting and marrying my husband, I had crossed some invisible line of communication in the world of women. I was now One Of Them - the most mysterious of all beasts in this town - a dating success story.

Is this why I wax romantic in my replies? Is this my unconscious response to the pressures of representing the Possibility? See, girls? Good ones are out there! You too can succeed!
Or am I just an asshole who likes to rub it in? Lookee here! I got me a HUSBAND, bitches! Isn't he neat and shiny?

I recently has the chance to turn this around on a male coworker who got married several months before me. He was marching purposefully down the hall, looking rather harried, when I wandered out of the kitchen, guzzling coffee and clinging to a handful of Girl Scout cookies like my life depended on it (yes, I earn my paycheck). In a caffeine-and-sugar-induced blur, I threw it out there - "Hey! How's married life?" He stopped, looked at me with tired eyes, and sighed "It's...all right. I feel like I've been married for ten years already." Rather taken aback at this lackluster response (and precariously balancing Thin Mints), I tread lightly: "I feel like I've been married for ten years, too - in a good way" I nervously chuckled. He smiled wearily and said "You're really lucky."
Then he scurried along his way.
And, you know, I am.