Shrink Rap

The first summer after we left Manhattan’s Upper East Side for the rolling hills of central New Jersey – when I was three – Jan enrolled me in day camp. I assume she explained “day camp” to me beforehand, but I have no recollection of said discussion. What I do recall is this: one warm June morning, I was enjoying a tasty bowl of Apple Jacks on the chartreuse velour couch, watching a show about three boys and three gold-haired girls whose parents were newlyweds, when a short bus pulled up at our door.

“The bus is here, Traci!” Jan announced.

And this relates to me … HOW?

“Time to go to camp!”

Hahahahaha, good one Mommy! Camp! As if!

The bus honked and suddenly the reasons why I was wearing only a yellow ruffled bathing suit, blue Keds and white ankle socks became crystal clear.

Um … uh-oh.

There was no escape. I had no choice but to face the reality that Jan wanted to get rid of me while my infant sister – future eager beaver diaper-clad toddler – got to stay home aaaaaaaaaaaall day.

Frick on a high-waisted, bell-bottomed stick.

And so I spent the day at this place called camp. I drank the camp fruit punch. I ate the cheap, camp duplex cookies. I endured the insomnia at camp naptime. I swam/tried not to drown in the camp pool, which to this day seems about 20 miles deep and really dark. I was civil to the other smurf-sized campers. But I was sure as hell not spending the rest of my life in this shithole.

Thankfully, a few days later, I fell down the stairs in our bi-level apartment. I fell down one stair, to be exact. And I slid gently rather than  fell, to be exact.  But after this tragic accident, I couldn’t put any weight on my left ankle. I was a three-year-old gimp.

Sayonara, short bus.

I had X-rays. I had pediatricians and orthopedists inspect the injury. I had ice and an ankle wrap of some sort. I had lollipops. I took a few spins in a wheelchair.  Nothing was broken or even remotely wrong – most likely because nothing had really happened. But nonetheless, I remained unable to walk.

As thrilled as I was to be done with camp, I quickly grew tired of all the visits to doctors. Why did I have to keep going? I’d obviously never regain the use of my leg… why couldn’t we all just accept that and move on? I could still get clogs from Fayva, right?

Finally, Jan and Lew agreed there was nothing more the mainstream medical establishment could do for their daughter. They had no hope and no remaining options, so they decided to go to the mall. I limped my way out to the Volvo and we got in the car. We were almost there when the car made a sharp left into what looked a lot like another doctor’s office.

“You said NO MORE DOCTORS!” I yelled with rage.

Jan and Lew looked at each other and Lew said, very nicely, “This is a special kind of doctor. All you have to do is talk to him.”

Too dumb to feel duped or realize they obviously thought I was INSANE, I headed into the “special” doctor’s office, caressed the plaid cloth wallpaper, played with a few dolls, chatted him up a bit, and then walked out using both my legs.

The kiddie shrink told my parents I was stubborn, strong-willed and fine.

Sometimes a banana is just a banana ... or is it?

Unfortunately, with old age comes problems that no shrink can cure in one 50-minute period, and Dr. Plaid Walls was not the last “special” kind of doctor I’ve spent time with. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either – panic attacks and depression are no fun, and neither is going through life angry, afraid or completely devoid of introspection. I am definitely one of those people who thinks we would all benefit from a few minutes on the couch every week.

Over the years I’ve “spent time” with an array of “special” doctors. Some needed serious help themselves. Some were totally creepy.  Some were very good but stopped taking my health insurance.  And one, I am entirely convinced, was actually a robot. I called him Shrink Tron and our conversations would go something like this.

Me: Blah blah blah. What do you think it means?

ShrinkTron [insert robot voice]: Idon’tknowwhatdoYOUthinkitmeans?

Me: I know what I think it means, asswipe. I want to know what YOU think it means. That’s why I pay you.

ShrinkTron: Idon’tknowwhatdoYOUthinkitmeans Idon’tknowwhatdoYOUthinkitmeans…MALFUNCTION MALFUNCTION MALFUNCTION SIZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZLE

Me: Uh … there’s like, black smoke coming out of your nose and like, your stainless steel leg just fell off. Is that like … normal?

ShrinkTron: YOURMOTHER YOURMOTHER YOURMOTHER YOURMOTHER …TIMEISUP TIMEISUP [insert massive explosion sound effect]

Finally, a few years ago, I found a “special” doctor I actually liked. I think she’s made a big difference, and even though I’m quite sure she finds me boring, repetitive and annoying at times, she’s always seemed to be fond of me overall. But after today, I’m not so sure.

Normally she greets me at the door to her office and I go right in. Today, even though I was a few minutes late and the session before mine had easily been done for 10 minutes, her office door was closed. I could hear her on the phone, although I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I didn’t know what to do — knock to make my arrival known? Leave? Wait outside? Sit there and inadvertently overhear something confidential? Assume some patient was in crisis and that’s why I’d been booted from my usual time slot?  The minutes ticked by.

Finally, I started writing her a note explaining that one of us must have gotten our dates mixed up, that I was leaving and that I’d be back next week unless I heard otherwise.  Whilst I was mid-note, she opened the door and appeared shocked to see me there.  She apologized profusely and told me that for some reason, she just didn’t have me in her book for today.

Most likely, that’s true and it was just an accidental scheduling error. But on the other hand, as she and her fellow special doctors are so often known to ask, is there really such a thing as an “accident?” Did she get confused about the dates, or did she subconsciously want to avoid me?

Idon’tknowwhatdoYOUthinkitmeans?

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Shrink Rap

PurpleKumquat

When I first moved into the city an alarming number of moons ago, it was still fairly easy to find a TCBY. I don’t know exactly when the country demoted it to SECOND best yogurt, but at some point in the mid-90s, the stores seemed to become extinct. For the next 10 years, unless they were at the airport with access to a Columbo machine, Manhattanites seeking low-fat frozen desserts were forced to settle for a local chain called Tasti D-Lite.

Tasti D-Lite was the inspiration for a famous episode of Seinfeld, in which Elaine’s beloved “non-fat yogurt” turns out to be full o’lard.  You can read the episode’s script here, should you need a refresher. In reality, Tasti D-Lite is not any kind of yogurt.  It is not any kind of ice cream. It is not ice milk. It is not custard. I cannot tell you what it IS. I can only tell you that it feels cold on your tongue and is vaguely creamy. It comes in dozens of flavors, from German Chocolate Cake and White Russian to Latte Fudge and Pecan Praline. Except that all of them taste exactly the same: like air. I gave Tasti D-Lite several opportunities to prove itself. It failed to do so, and I was forced to begin referring to it as Tasteless D-Lite.

Frankly, ingestion of low-fat faux ice cream was a sham for a junkie like me. None of it had the same kind of impact. None of it made me forget about Brownies a la Mode at Haagen Dazs or the soupy Chocolate Marshmallow I enjoyed at Buxton’s in my New Jersey girlhood.  No ice cream-like concoction was ever going to take the place of actual ice cream for me. 

But I have to tell you. It takes a strong woman to eat real ice cream in broad daylight in a city like New York. Sure, digging in to a pint in the privacy of your own apartment is one thing (and one thing I do often). But it’s just not feminine — it’s not lady-like — to publicly indulge in full-fledged ice cream if you’re not visibly knocked up and/or accompanied by a preppy gentleman with whom you’re on a pukishly cute, wholesome date.

Just this afternoon, a riotously funny co-worker and I took a post-lunch stroll to the Mr. Softee truck at 23rd and 6th. We both ordered milkshakes, and I got a cone for the VP of Marketing, who then chided me for accidentally going with rainbow instead of chocolate sprinkles. I cannot tell you how self-conscious I felt walking that block back to the office, milkshake in one hand, wilting cone in the other. I could practically hear the thoughts of those who saw me: She’s obviously bulimic; Poor thing has been eating heavily since the divorce; Wow, if she keeps that up, they’ll have to bury her in a midget’s piano.

This lack of social acceptability almost certainly stems from a ridonculous belief held by many a female: that if no one sees you eating fattening food, you can’t actually get fat. Case in point: there’s a restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue called Josie’s. There’s also one in a neighborhood called Murray Hill, and FYI, both are owned by the actor Rob Morrow. Josie’s fare is organic, free-range, grass-fed, locally-grown, hormone-free, antibiotic-free and largely TASTE-free. But it’s allegedly healthy, so the body-dysmorphic love it.  

Behold an ACTUAL conversation I heard two girls having one night when I was forced to dine at Josie’s and  fantasizing about the frozen pizza I would have when I got home. [Insert Long Island version of the Valley Girl accent.]

Girl 1: “Uh. Muh. Gud. Jen. This. Is. Like. Amazing. It’s AMAZING.”

Girl 2: “Uh. Muh. Gud. Rully? I’m. Like. Suh. Hap-pay. Fuh. Yuh. Wha. Is. It?”

Me (but not really): “Uh. Muh. Gud. Do yuh. Morons. Have. Like. Rully. Hot. Food. In. Your. Mouths? Why the FRICK are you talking like that?”

Girl 1: “Uh. Muh. Gud. It is just. Plain. Brown. Rice. Buh. It. Is. AMAZING.”

Girl 2: “Rully? Wow. I shu. Like totally. Get some for Alana. She like. LOVES. Brown. Rice.”

Me (but not really): “Uh. Muh. Gud. Alana wuh. TOTALLY heart you if. You like. Brought. Her. Brown. Rice.”

You see what I’m dealing with. For years, this internal battle between conformity and amour de creme raged on, torturing me. Then, at long last, it seemed there might be an answer: Pinkberry. Billed as a new take on the world-renowned tart-n-creamy frozen yogurt at Bloomingdale’s, it had a great deal of potential. It wasn’t trying to replace ice cream; it was merely another option that required freezer storage. Kiki treated me to my first Pinkberry. And it sucked. It tasted like Lemon Tasteless D-Lite, and it pissed me off.  What kind of name was Pinkberry, anyway? Where do pinkberries naturally occur? Screw you, Pinkberry.

So the battle raged on. And then, about two weeks ago, I noticed a shiny new sign above a storefront in Chelsea: Red Mango. I was annoyed at first: again with the stupid made-up fruit name? What was next? Another yogurtorium called TealNectarine? PurpleKumquat?

But then curiosity got the best of me. I ordered a small, original with strawberries, tiny little chocolate chips and … brace yourself … GRAHAM CRACKER CRUMBS. The strawberries were real and fresh, the chocolate not even remotely waxy and the GCCs reminiscent of S’mores. The yogurt itself — a mere 90 calories! — actually tasted like yogurt, but better. In a word: dee-LICIOUS! Thanks, Red Mango! You earn my highest endorsement.  

PurpleKumquat

May 2, 1972

If you’ve been to Facebook this morning, you know that today, I am 25 years and approximately 4,015 days old.  In honor of the occasion, I thought I’d share with you some of the other defining events of May 2, 1972.

  • 91 people die in Idaho’s Sunshine Mine Disaster (Idaho? No, YOU da ho’!)
  • J. Edgar Hoover croaks
  • Nixon and Kissinger hold a secret meeting to discuss possible Vietnam exit strategies
  • On what appears to have been a busy day for Nixon, the president also signs the first proclamation of National Hunting and Fishing Day
  • Indiana holds its Democratic primary
  • The University of Oregon names associate German professor Edward Diller the new dean of its Honors College
  • And last but certainly not least … Dwayne Howard Johnson (b.k.a. “The Rock”) is born in Hayward, CA
May 2, 1972

Childhood Trauma: The Infectious House

The following tale is really more of an oddity than a trauma, but for consistency’s sake, let’s ignore that fact. When we first moved to New Jersey from the city — circa 1975 — my dad spent many a weekend making rounds at the hospital. This meant that my sister and I spent many a weekend in the company of my mother (you remember Jan) and grandmother (aka “Grandma”).

There were trips to the Woodbridge, Short Hills or Menlo Park Malls, and there were afternoons spent on the playgrounds of Middlesex and Union counties. But by far one of Jan and Grandma’s favorite activities was something I have recently dubbed “the infectious house drive-by.”

We’d climb into the blue Volvo and cruise through upscale neighborhoods of towns we didn’t live in. Jan would drive at about 5 mph down tree-lined blocks, admiring the massive center-hall colonials and sprawling modern ranches that belonged to strangers.

Jan: Would you look at that one? That is JUST breath-taking.

Grandma: [SOMETHING YIDDISH] Is that a BREAKFAST NOOK? [SOMETHING YIDDISH]

Jan: Marla says the guy who lives here is shtupping his nurse. Rich plastic surgeon. The wife’s a real piece of work.

Grandma: A lotta people gotta lotta money.

Me: I like candy.

I understand the desire to view beautiful homes. To this day, I enjoy touring the posh neighborhoods of whatever city I’m visiting. What I did NOT understand, however, was what my mother said every time we left one of these tony neighborhoods: These houses make me SICK. Just SICK. Feh.

It was very confusing, most notably because I had no idea what the word “feh” meant. But moreover, it defied my limited knowledge of epidemiology. I knew that the kids in my nursery school class could contaminate me, but not that HOUSES could. Did Jan mean that if a house had chicken pox, we could all catch it from the car? WTF — was she trying to kill us? And how come I didn’t feel sick, if she did? Oh my god! Could houses DIE?! Wait, if these houses made her sick, why did she voluntarily subject herself to them?

It was too much for a 3-year-old to process. Actually, I’m pretty sure it drove me to invent Evan, the invisible friend who passed away suddenly when my dad threw him out of the car on the Parkway one day.

Childhood Trauma: The Infectious House

Sweet and Sour

 

Pretty Photo, Ugly Flavors

Please note: The photo above appears here courtesy of Cybele (candyblog.net). Thanks, Cybele!

Among the many emergency supplies I carry around with me in my pocketbook is a pack of LifeSavers.  I keep it in a ziplock bag along with no fewer than three flavors of sugarless gum (two mint varieties and one fruit flavor) and a Triple Threat Power Bar.  Yes, it’s a little sad and spinster old lady-ish, but halitosis is a very real issue, and you never know when the next bout of hypoglycemia will kick in. I like to be prepared, and LifeSavers are a portable way to avoid passing out on the subway. You may scoff, but I’ll never forget the episode of “Happy Days” in which Joanie and Howard Cunningham were locked inside the hardware store and Joanie saved Howard from resorting to cannibalism by feeding him the melted candy bar she had in her pocket.  

As it happens, this afternoon I was returning to the Upper West Side after a jaunt to Bloomingdale’s when a particularly virulent bout of low blood sugar overcame me.  I reached in to my Mary Poppins-sized faux patent bag — procured in Dallas with Dave — and dug out my trusty (unopened) roll of “5 Flavors.”  Traditionally, I opt for the all-cherry pack, but I’d been unable to find it and gone with this one in its stead.  It had thus been some time since I’d had any flavor other than cherry, and was happy to see that the first ring in this pack was of the green variety. Mmm … lime … dee-licious! [INSERT COOKIE MONSTER VOICE]

A more fitting thought would have been, “FRICK ON A PLASTIC-TASTING, LIME-IMPERSONATING STICK!” 

Green, it seemed, was no longer the color of lime but rather, of WATERMELON. And I like watermelon as much as the next guy, but not in LifeSaver form and certainly not in place of LIME.  I winced and bit down on the offending piece, eager to be rid of it and move on to the next.

But there would be no comfort in the next, yellow LifeSaver. That one, which I’d always known to be lemon, was now PINEAPPLE.  And after that, it was a bruise-colored RASPBERRY.  In the immortal words of my friend Loren’s husband, “Da fuck, man?!” How could any confection company take away a classic flavor like LEMON and replace it with PINEAPPLE?!

I reviewed the fine print on the striped wrapper, thinking perhaps someone at the LifeSaver factory had put a “5 Flavors” wrapper on an “Exotic Fruits” roll by accident. But the mistake was mine. I read the list of enclosed flavors: Watermelon [tiny LifeSaver-shaped bullet] Pineapple [tiny LifeSaver-shaped bullet] Cherry [tiny LifeSaver-shaped bullet] Raspberry [tiny LifeSaver-shaped bullet] Orange.  The simple, elegant candy I had known and loved since the very early 70s — the candy I often chose (over Fruit Stripes gum) at the Parsonage Diner in Edison — was gone forever.  

I fully understand why new products come along, but I do not understand why they have to piggyback off the good name of long-standing favorites. Go ahead and sell pineapple and raspberry LifeSavers. But for the love of god, put ’em in a TROPICAL or MIXED BERRY pack. Leave lemon alone! What did lemon every do to you?!

Another example of this is the Three Musketeers bar, now available in MINT. Ew! A Three Musketeers bar is, by definition, taupe nougat surrounded by chocolate. It is not supposed to contain pale GREEN nougat. Invent a new candy bar — call it the Three Stooges or the Three Minty Wisemen! But why add a whole new connotation — and a rather unappealing one, at that — to a staple of Halloween buckets everywhere?

Hershey’s? CHEAP, GOOD MILK CHOCOLATE FROM THE MIDDLE OF PENNSYLVANIA. Don’t put it in a fancy label, don’t use the word “caςao” to describe it and don’t try to sell it as a fine Brazilian import.  It was PERFECT the way it was.

Snickers Almond? It’s called a Mars bar. Junior Caramels? They’re called ROLOS. What’s next? PEANUT JOY? REESE’S JELLY CUPS?

Recall, if you will, the M&M jingle of yore — “…the milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” MILK chocolate, people. MILK. Not dark. MILK.

Dr. Pepper is a flavor unto itself. Don’t add vanilla. Don’t add cherry. If you want cherry-vanilla soda, INVENT A NEW ONE.

Dunkin’ Donuts, as the name implies, should sell DONUTS, not PIZZA. PIZZA Hut, similarly, should sell PIZZA, not pasta. It’s not Dunkin’ Pizza and it’s not Pasta Hut. I shudder to think about the consequences of a mix-up at either venue. Boston Kreme Pizza? Deep-dish rigatoni?

And THEN, I come to Word Press, seeking refuge, and the entire dashboard is different. I see burnt siena bars where none were before. The buttons are in different places. This is just mean! Is nothing sacred? It’s a sad, sad world. What would Willy Wonka say?

Sweet and Sour

Have You Seen This Man?

cooper2.jpg

 

 Note — Frick on a stick.  This template is REALLY limiting in terms of image placement options! I can’t even illustrate my punchline properly! But I digress.  

When HBO first came to Central New Jersey — back in the early 80s — I became permanently obsessed with a program called Missing Persons: Dead or Alive? It relayed the eerie stories of infamous disappearances, from Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa to Judge Crater and THIS MAN — D. B. Cooper.  For the last 20+ years, I have thought of good old D.B. often, wondering if ever we’d learn his fate. What happened to him on that November night back in 1971, when he hijacked and then jumped out of a commercial airplane somewhere between Seattle and Portland?

I Googled him every now and then, but failed to realize the awful truth until today, when the media announced that his parachute may or may not have been found near Amboy, WA.  What happened to D.B. Cooper? It’s so obvious! He underwent plastic surgery and became ROSS PEROT.

Have You Seen This Man?

Childhood Traumas: The Mozzarella Incident

Note: I have decided to trash the “Childhood Traumas” page and move its contents here. So, you can look forward to intermittent posts about some of the memorable things that befell me as a youngster.  Below, the first “Childhood Trauma.”

Picture, if you will, an innocent three-year-old girl with bouncy brunette pigtails, sporting a snazzy floral bikini and even snazzier white leather Buster Brown sandals with crepe soles. It is 1975 in New Jersey, and while my parents (Jan and Lew) are sunning themselves by the swim club pool, I am sitting down to a tasty lunch with my fellow day campers.

The counselors — a bunch of stoners in cut-off Levi’s shorts and halter tops — pull our small brown paper bags out of a giant plastic garbage bag and toss them to the appropriate camper. 

Stacey Cohen is already digging in to her PB & J on Wonder Bread, while Kenny Stein pulls out his turkey sandwich, which features a perfect lettuce ruffle.

I can barely contain my excitement! What did my future hold — what had Jan packed for me this morning?! MMMMM … maybe some egg salad? OOOH. Maybe some of that plastic yellow cheese?

I giggle, thinking of the thrilling little sandwich bags that await me — one containing my delicious main course, one containing a fistful of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish or maybe some Berry-Lu cookies …

My brown bag comes flying at me, hitting my forehead.

After nursing my injury for a few minutes, I reach inside the bag and pull out a rather heavy item wrapped in tin foil.

It’s so heavy! What could it be?!

Eagerly, I tear open the foil. It’s … it’s … it’s … A BIG CHUNK OF SOMETHING WHITE.

I am quite confused, as anyone expected to ingest a big chunk of something white would be.  My confusion turns to embarrassment, and I look around to see if anyone notices what’s sitting in front of me.

Sadly, someone does:  Cindi, one of the stoner counselors. 

“What the hell is that?,” she asks as I try not to cry.

I have no answer for her.

She calls the other counselors over and they take turns speculating about the nature of the big white chunk as all 20 of the other nursery school-age “Lenape Lizards” listen.

“Is it cream cheese?”

“It looks more like butter.”

“It actually looks like SOAP.”

SOAP?! Why would Jan give me soap?! Was she mad at me?!

I can’t help but be moved to tears by my own plight.

Then Cindi asks, “What kind of mother gives her kid SOAP for lunch?”

Wait, are they insulting my mom?! That’s so mean! My mom is nice! My mom must have made a mistake! Take that back, evil stoner counselor!!!!

I am afraid to taste the mystery chunk, so Cindi has to page my parents by the pool.  I only hear part of the conversation, but it seems Jan mistakenly grabbed the wrong tin-foiled item that morning. My real lunch was still at home, and what I had with me was mozzarella cheese.

Cindi and the other stoners, as well as the Lenape Lizards, all find this rioutously funny. 

Chuckle away, I think. YOU had leftover macaroni and cheese.

I can’t recall what I ended up eating for lunch that day, but I do know that the whole thing scarred me for many, many years.  I referred to the trauma constantly, eventually dubbing it “The Mozzarella Incident.”

At first, Jan was apologetic and expressed sincere remorse for her error.  But as time went on and she realized I wasn’t going to get over it, she changed her story.

“Look, for the LAST TIME, I thought you LIKED mozzarella! I was trying to do something NICE,” she repeated in self-defense, adding an unintelligble Yiddish phrase that I assume meant “You’re driving me crazy, shut the fuck up.”

To this day, I can only buy string mozzarella cheese, as the sight of the chunks bring tears to my eyes.

Childhood Traumas: The Mozzarella Incident