Imperfect 10


There’s nothing to get excited about anymore. Except Liz Lemon.

When I was young and stoopid(er than I am now), it seemed daily life was full of poignant things to write about. By hand, in college-ruled notebooks. Would I barf from eating those Pringles so soon after returning from Friendly’s? Was I the only person on earth whose hair was immune to Elnett? What would happen when Jan and Lew noticed I had added a third hole to my left earlobe? Did Doc Martens come in size 5 1/2? Whhhhhhhhhy did that douche who sat behind me in English class not love me, and why did I care? You see. Material a-plenty.

Now it’s not so easy. I don’t even know why, because I basically worry about the adult version of the same things. But this blog is dusty. The novel I’ll never finish has been 40 mediocre pages long for two years. I keep reminding myself that the actors I’ve mentally cast in the big screen adaptation are about to age out of their theoretical roles, but I’m still mentally paralyzed. Besides, now that I’ve moved from notebooks to bloggery, it’s all public – and anything I’d logically think to write about would cause a hefty number of people to file restraining orders and/or stop speaking to me. So in desperation, as you may know, I sometimes turn to the interweb and the array of writing prompts it offers, from places like Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop.

Among her latest batch of prompts was this one: “List 10 things that make you feel excited.”

What is this word, “excited?” You mean excited like, “agitated?” Excited like, “I’m so excited with rage that Imma* punch you in the balls?” What else COULD it mean?

What’s that? Some people actually get excited about GOOD things?!  Come on. You don’t expect me to believe that load of crap do you? I mean please. That’s absurd. Clearly I need to move on to the next prompt. 

That one turned out to be, “You know you’re a mom when …”

Okay then. 

My eyes went back to the first prompt and suddenly the bold words of one Barney Stinson came into my head: “Challenge accepted.”

So can I do it?

10 Non-Everyday Things That Fill Me With a Faint Hint of Excitement

  1. The first hot day of summer and the first cold day of winter, because they mean a new season and a new atmosphere are upon us, and that today will be at least a tiny bit different from yesterday.
  2. Similarly, the promise of a massive blizzard that may result in the office closing, for its novelty and reminder of youth. And because junk food eaten in extreme weather conditions doesn’t count. Nor does junk food eaten after extreme weather conditions because it would be a terrible travesty to let it go to waste. Or, for that matter, junk food eaten before extreme weather conditions to make sure it’s safe for consumption.
  3. A jam-packed schedule of urban adventures with the Communettes (or as millennials might say, “my squad”), to destinations including but not limited to Russian nightclubs (whence comes the name “Communettes”); burlesque supper clubs (my burlesque name, in case you were wondering, is Andromeda Muscle Strain); ancient bath houses; nail art emporia; Tim Burton-themed bars; circus side shows (see Item 5); and other not-as-sordid-as-they-sound locales. You know who you are, Communettes. Come back to me!
  4. Duran Duran concerts, because nothing is more life-affirming than singing and dancing like an asshole to Rio live while you ogle an aging but gorgeous bass player.
  5. The Coney Island Circus Sideshow, because one of the snakes there makes me feel real loved and I myself love the smell of lighter fluid in the morning. (That’s a fire eating/Apocalypse Now joke and I find it hilarious.) Also, very few things compare to the sight of stomach slime glistening on a freshly swallowed sword.
  6. The virgin wear of new boots, lipstick, or jeans, all of which will be perfect for approximately 36 hours, at which point someone else will walk by wearing a version that is “better” in some way that can’t be articulated
  7. Canine hugs
  8. Reunions/visits/trips with people I love but haven’t seen in eons (most notably my lil sis, my Texans, my aforementioned Communettes)
  9. A completely empty New York Times crossword puzzle on a page that’s in pristine condition, paired with Wite-Out and a satisfying rollerball pen. Similarly, a brand new pack of multi-colored Sharpies/Flair pens/smelly markers.
  10. The exact moment of touch down on the runway at a new airport. But only that one moment, because a nanosecond later, panic sets in about whether or not it’s safe to drink the water wherever I’ve just landed.

*Please note first-ever use of “Imma,” perhaps incorrectly. 



Imperfect 10

My Tragic Micro Fiction Challenge

Mag Glass
This shit is tiny.

I don’t usually have the attention span or intellect for any of the fiction (or non-fiction, for that matter) in the New Yorker. Plus, I’m threatened by the success of its writers. Plus, I have Netflix. But over the summer I did find this “tragic micro fiction” column quite chuckle-worthy.  Now, I may be too stoopid to understand what the term really means, but I personally interpret “tragic micro fiction” as shrunken stories – written with dramatic flair – about day-to-day annoyances that are minor on the scale of things but can still drive you bat shit crazy. Someone posted about the column this week and reminded me of its greatness. So, unable to think of anything else to write about here, I attempted to craft my own tragic micro fiction, based on “micro tragedies” that have befallen my friends and me over the years. Note: names have been changed to protect the guilty. 

He was very cute and they seemed to hit it off. Then he ordered kale.

Lynn was intrigued to see seven missed calls from the same number. It was a telemarketer.

The injury was too severe; there was nothing more they could do. Nicky Rabbit was going to lose his leg.

A local family reported him missing after he failed to return home. Last seen at show-and-tell, the pink teddy bear’s body was never recovered.

The boots were on sale, but came only in whole sizes.

Was it really melasma, she wondered? Or did she need to start tweezing in better light?

She attempted to show off her Spanish skills by asking the delivery man his name. Pedro was startled to hear her profess her love for him.

Aileen noticed too late that her new glasses were adorned with a tiny Peanuts logo at the left temple.

In reality, only certain LensCrafters could actually custom craft your eyeglasses in about an hour.

It was all starting to make sense: the green jelly bean was spearmint, not lime.

Evidence suggested someone had eaten corn the night before.

Karen couldn’t see out of her left eye, and the stabbing pain was unbearable. The side of her face was covered in a black soot-like substance. If only she hadn’t poked herself with the mascara wand.

The office candy bowl was filled to the top with grape Jolly Ranchers and three fun-sized Twix wrappers.

And Susan knew at that moment she would never eat creamy Italian dressing again.

Melanie asked for a trim. The hairstylist heard “chin-length bob.”

She had wanted her name, in German class, to be “Sabine.” Frau Schickelheimer assigned her “Hildegard.”

For Thanksgiving, Stacey asked her mother to bring cheese and crackers. Later, she wrapped the untouched seven-layer bean dip in tin foil.

Suddenly, she remembered that Chicago was an hour behind New York.

Outerwear was the one category not eligible for free two-day shipping.

Liz smiled at the famous screenwriter who was settling into his airplane seat, then made her way back to the last row in Coach.

Unbeknownst to them, Uber did not serve suburban Trenton.

VIP tickets were still available, but only for American Express cardholders.

Snooping through her boyfriend’s medicine cabinet, Leigh discovered a small bottle of Just for Blondes shampoo. Her hair was brown.

The “special surprise” promised on the children’s menu turned out to be a side of fruit.

One had to be very careful, she reminded herself, to type in the SEARCH field and not the STATUS field when stalking on Facebook.

The lipstick color did not, in fact, look good on everyone.

Some dogs, they learned the hard way, simply could not be trusted on the bed.

Beneath the absurdly cute, fuzzy exterior lurked the dark soul of a canine chew toy serial killer.

But “ankle-length” meant different things to different people.

It became obvious, after a few sips, that this was anything but Diet Coke.

An unsettling crunch in the molar region indicated that the Bit o’Honey was not as fresh as Erica had initially thought.

Perhaps, in the end, she could not do anything she put her mind to.

My Tragic Micro Fiction Challenge

You Say Tomato …

My husband, the produce expert (left) with recent acquisition
My husband, the produce expert (left) with recent acquisition

My own father – a physician and man of science who spends his days treating critically ill patients at a world-renowned medical center – could not pick a pasta strainer out of a kitchenware line-up and would rather buy a whole new set of unmentionables than figure out how to do laundry. Once and only once did Lew do the grocery shopping when we were little (at the Kings in Garwood). Needless to say, we left with $100 worth of Pringles, Chips Ahoy, Tastykakes, Cookie Crisp cereal and bubble gum-flavored Kissing Potion, a very delicious rollerball lip gloss. Most. Awesome. Supermarket. Trip. Ever.

In short, Lew is a great man who is not such a great help to my mother. As such, I witnessed — on many a childhood weekend — a meltdown during Jan’s Saturday morning cleaning process. I would start to hear angry but unintelligible muttering whilst eating my bowl of Honeycombs. The volume would increase and Jan would start naming random New Jersey countrymen who didn’t get their hands in hot water because they were pritzas.  (Pronounced “preet-zuhs.” I don’t know what this Yiddish word really means, but Jan and Grandma Ethel used it as a derogatory term for  women who were thin, pretty and/or rich). Soon she’d be full-fledged yelling about the lack of help she had around the house, referring to herself as “Tillie the Toiler.”  Meanwhile, “Tillie the Toiler” was actually a smokin’ hot cartoon office worker and part-time model who, according to Wikipedia, had no trouble finding men to escort her around town. Some would argue that Tillie was even a pritza.

The whole thing was most unfortunate.

But I was used to it, and assumed that all households functioned like this. So when Keith and I moved in together, I was shocked to learn I was wrong: not all men drove their wives to faux Tillie the Toilerhood.  If I start emptying the dishwasher, Keith feels guilty and immediately comes to help. Sometimes he even does it before I get out of bed. He also does his own laundry, irons from time to time and assists with fitted sheet folding. And by far the most helpful contribution Keith makes is food shopping. He says he finds it satisfying. I give him a list, he adds to it as needed, then heads to the store and calls me if he has any questions. Rather cutely, he then presents me with the groceries and eagerly waits for me to approve his purchases, which I always do.

Last week, one of the items on the list was iceberg lettuce. When I took it out of the bag, it felt really heavy and was so big I had to clear a shelf in the refrigerator  to accommodate it.  Keith looked very proud. The next eve, I went to prepare our salad. The lettuce was freakishly hard to cut. Its leaves seemed thick and rubbery and as I struggled to get the knife through them, the mysterious scent of Brussels sprouts wafted up to my nose. At first, I attributed the cutting difficulty to a sudden onset palsy that was obviously causing me to lose muscle control. The smell had to be a side effect – didn’t stroke survivors report experiencing strange aro… wait a minute. This wasn’t palsy. This was CABBAGE!

Frick on a leafy green stick.

I jumped away from the counter immediately, afraid that even the slightest contact with it would cause global thermo-gastrointestinal disaster.

Keith apologized profusely, but I told him it was an honest mistake and not to worry. Iceberg and cabbage bear an uncanny resemblance and really, only a seasoned shopper and vegetable-chopper would easily recognize the difference. Frozen green beans to the rescue.

This week, I put zucchini on the list. Keith handed me the bag, which also seemed heavier than it should have. A quick look inside revealed what appeared to be three ginormous … and purple … zucchini. Or, as you might know them, EGGPLANT.

Le sigh.

There would be no roasted zucchini with olive oil and breadcrumbs for dinner that night. I knew Keith would feel terrible if I told him, but I also knew he’d feel bad if I just left the purple “zucchini” I’d requested rotting in the refrigerator. So I did what any good wife would do. I made a lifetime supply of mediocre eggplant parmesan. And baba ganoush. And ratatouille (sans zucchini).

Keith is an amazing husband (especially for letting me make fun of him in this post) and never, ever causes me to refer to myself as Tillie the Toiler or to anyone else as a pritza. But no man is perfect – and clearly, he needs a bit of tutelage in the produce department. Perhaps I am at fault here – perhaps I failed him by not preparing him better for the world of supermarketry.

I am off to enroll him in Edible Vegetation 101.

You Say Tomato …

Chicago II: The Good Deed

My list of most satisfying sensations includes flossing after eating corn-on-the-cob; scratching mosquito bites; peeing after a long car ride on which excessive amounts of water and iced tea have been consumed; receiving dog kisses from clean Wheaten terriers; removing a dry contact lens; sneezing after several false alarms; successfully plucking a piece of stubborn eyebrow stubble; and watching mean people trip.

But truly, there are few feelings better than seeing the impact of a good deed you’ve done.

On Sunday, our last day in Chicago, Keith and I partook of the noon-ish meal at a diner-esque venue called Tempo and then threw away money on a so-called Gangster Tour. The Gangster Tour consisted of a 90-minute school bus ride narrated by a scrappy college kid in a cheap zoot suit. He instructed us to duck every time we heard (plastic) gunfire, handed out equally plastic roses to all the “dolls” on the tour, and had obviously trained at the Rodney Dangerfield Mail Order School of Comedy.

"Temporary lay-offs ... GOOD TIMES!" Cabrini Green facade
Cabrini Green: "Temporary lay-offs ... GOOD TIMES!"

The tour made just two actual stops. The first was Holy Name Cathedral, near which Earl “Hymee” Weiss, a Capone rival, was gunned down in 1926. That wasn’t his real name, in case you care, and he was Polish, not Jewish. The second was Cabrini Green,  icon of American public housing gone bad and the setting of Good Times. Cabrini Green wasn’t even built until 1942, long after Al Capone had gone crazy from syphilis, so I’m not sure what its remnants had to do with him. We did, however, do a very brief hi-bye of the Biograph Theater in Lincoln Park, where Public Enemy No. 1, aka John Dillinger, had been shot in 1934. That was somewhat cool. As was the cupcake we had from MORE on the way back.

That evening, we dined at the famed romantic fondue restaurant Geja’s. From Geja’s, we took a cab to Navy Pier. As we were getting out of the cab, Keith grabbed what he thought was my wallet from the back seat. It wasn’t. The cab pulled away very quickly so we weren’t able to return said wallet to the driver, who might have known which previous passenger had left it. Luckily, a policeman was walking the beat nearby. Unluckily, he advised us against giving him the wallet, as he’d have to send it to Central Processing where it would most likely just get sucked into a vortex and never see daylight again.

Thank you, officer. That’s very comforting.

We attempted to find the owner through the obvious channels with no luck — he had a pretty common name and there was no listing for him at the address on his ID card.  We considered the various options we had for getting it back to him, none of which were entirely viable.

I was sure that the journalist-stalker in me could track this guy down. There had to be something in the wallet that would tell us how to find him. I deduced that he had recently collected unemployment benefits (folded claim); worked in the food services industry or really liked roughage (handwritten list of salad types and the most appropriate dressings for them); was Catholic (tiny prayer card featuring the Virgin Mary); had relatives somewhere (photos of a couple and a little girl); knew a district attorney in Sacramento (business card); and didn’t drive (no license — just the government ID card).

Naturally I concocted the saddest possible story for this phantom wallet owner. He’d had really bad luck with jobs, which took its toll on his marriage. The woman in the picture is his ex-wife, Joanie, who left him, and the little girl, now an angry teen, is his daughter (Jessica or Lisa). The photos are old, but he holds on to them as a reminder of better times. He hasn’t seen his daughter in years and she’s a Goth now. His apartment is actually one room in an old, dark, depressing building, and he rents it from an elderly Croatian woman who wears housecoats and carries a broom around. His seeks comfort in prayer.

I was getting teary just thinking about it. He’d probably called Joanie and begged her to let him stay on her couch, but she’d said no because her new boyfriend, Mack, wasn’t cool with it. Oy.

The next morning we asked the woman at the front desk if the hotel had a Lost and Found. They did, but like the police officer, she didn’t recommend leaving the wallet there, as it might end up in any number of places other than the hands of the owner. We were trying to do a good deed, but there was no viable way to actually do it. We truly had no idea what to do with the wallet besides carry it back to New York with us, put it in the mail and hope it arrived safely.

But there was one last — albeit highly unlikely — possibility.  I’d noticed a pay stub from a corporate office in California.  One of the logos on it belonged to an eatery called “The Grill.” Which happened to be the name of the eatery in our hotel’s lobby.  I stopped in and asked the manager if there was anyone on staff with the name of the man whose wallet we’d found. THERE WAS, AND YES, HE’D LOST A WALLET THE NIGHT BEFORE!

We’d found a wallet two miles from the hotel and it happened to belong to someone who worked IN the hotel. Of all the hotels in the entire city. Uncanny, no?

I gave the wallet to the manager, who insisted that we wait until the wallet owner could thank us himself. A few minutes later, a waiter learned his wallet had not fallen into evil paws after all. He literally choked up as he expressed his gratitude profusely and relayed the details of the wallet’s loss (it wasn’t like him to lose things; he’d been distracted because this was his first week on the new job, he’d thought the wallet was in his pocket when he got out of the cab, and so on).  He offered us money and semi-hugged me. I remain convinced that I had his story down pat, but either way, this seemed to put a smile on his face.

And I have to say that as much fun as I had on our trip to Chicago, knowing we’d brought such relief to this stranger was the best part by far.

Chicago II: The Good Deed

From the Happy Ending Sundae Story Files …

Shortly after finishing my last post about the sad characters who torture me from time to time, I encountered yet another one who deserves to be included as an addendum. Or sad-dendum, as the case may be. 

Welch'sI was on my way to work the other day, listening to some retro music on my iPod, when a disheveled and malodorous gentleman appeared in front of me, out of nowhere.  He was carrying a giant box of candy that appeared to be a generic version of the Welch’s chewy fruit thingies pictured here. I am familiar with said thingies because my dear friend Kelly has been known to eat them for breakfast, on account of their being fruit and all.

“Buy some candy! Support [insert name of charity I’d never heard of]!”

I kept walking without responding, but am not sure whether it was because he startled me, because I didn’t fully hear him, or because I found his alleged charity – whose name included the words children, shelter, hospital, clinic, cancer, homeless, Katrina, asbestos, September 11th, AIDS, Basque separatists, Darfur, puppy mills, dolphins, fur, veterans, diamond mining, gay rights, reproductive rights, seatbelt laws, child labor laws, bottle-fed children, migrant workers, little people, exploited reality TV stars, Paris Jackson, and of course, recombinant bovine somatatrophin – highly suspicious.

I thought and hoped the man would see that I wasn’t interested in his wares and move on to the next passerby. But no.

He shouted the following after me: “Miss! MISS! COME ON! They just fruit treats. They not gonna hurt you!”

Frick on a tax-deductible stick.  Why did he have to say “fruit TREATS?” Of all possible words – why THAT one?

The question I really should have been asking myself was why the word “treats” made struck me as so sad, but I was too caught up in the epic drama of the moment to be introspective. I was also too caught up in the epic drama of the moment to actually purchase a bag of the harmless fruit treats. Instead, I continued on my way and sent 10 emails describing this interaction. I was comforted to know that many of my friends found the word “treats” touching as well. But still … it is I who must bear the burden of this man alone.

From the Happy Ending Sundae Story Files …

My Soul-Mat, Part 2

A split-second recap of “My Soul-Mat, Part 1”: I suck at sports.

Sloth found it intolerable that I didn’t want to rollerblade, scuba dive or ski with him.  He couldn’t relate at all to my phobia, and thanks to his harping, I came to think of my un-athletic nature as a serious manufacturer’s defect, and remain extremely sensitive about it.

Then I started spending time with the super-sweet K.  He is a true and versatile athlete. He runs. He surfs. He does something called urban rebounding. In high school, he was on the football, wrestling and track and field teams. He is in amazing shape and I couldn’t imagine that he’d ever speak to me again if he knew the full extent of my un-coordination.

The other day, he asked me if I wanted to join him for an afternoon yoga class at his gym.

Oh well. This was nice while it lasted.

The truth is, I’d always wanted to try yoga.  Multiple gym-going friends told me they thought I’d like it, on account of its ability to reduce tension and the fact that I am somewhat flexible. Then, when I read “Eat, Pray, Love” last fall, I became curious about the balance and clarity it’s supposed to cultivate.  Yoga sounded like the perfect thinking woman’s sport. But, being somewhat sloth-like myself, I never motivated.

So this would be my virgin experience. There was a 200 percent chance that I would look like a complete jackass in front of K. Was it worth the risk? WHY, for the love of God, had I not gone with Dave when he’d asked me a bazillion times in Philly? I’d have been a high-ranking yogi with my own ashram by now.

I knew I had to do this. And I wanted to. I was just a smidge anxious.

The first challenge was finding something to wear. I hesitated to even open the drawer in which I keep my limited stash of workout clothes, for fear that doing so would unleash a cartoon dust cloud. I did find a pair of faded black yoga pants that would have been perfectly reasonable had their left thigh not been adorned with some kind of oil stain, most likely from pizza. Ew. But what choice did I have? There was no time to shop for stylin’ yoga gear and skinny jeans were bound to hinder my bending ability.

So, in my flawed Old Navy pantalones and tank top, I headed east. The class started at 5:45. At about 5:30, K told me very matter-of-factly that this particular type of yoga – EarthRise yoga – involved elements of martial arts. A feeling much like the one I get before dentist appointments came over me.

“You mean like, ‘Wax-on-wax-off’ martial arts?” I asked nervously.

“Don’t worry. It’s unlikely you’ll have to smash your head into a block of wood,” he told me reassuringly.

I imagined that at some point in the next hour, smashing my head into a block of wood might seem merciful.  But first I had to figure out which side of the yoga mat was supposed to face up. I prayed I would guess correctly, and called upon my intimate knowledge of Dr. Scholl’s shoe inserts, whose material sort of reminded me of the mat’s. Luck was on my side.

Then we sat (in the back, which I felt was safer), as one after another toned, Lululemon-clad girls piled into the room and began to stretch. It seemed unwise for me to expend any energy before the class even started, lest I use it all up. Furthermore, I didn’t know any official stretches, beyond the type that accompanies a yawn.  But staring into space made me look creepy, so I compromised by sitting Indian-style on the mat and then bending my head down to my knees.

As I was wondering about the impact of that position on my intracranial pressure and the germ population on the borrowed yoga mat, K commented that most of the other attendees had brought personal water bottles with them. I looked up and saw that the nearest water fountain was about three miles away in the corner of the studio. Getting to it would require me to walk across several rows of experienced yoga-doers, all of whom would then know that I was too thirsty and too clumsy to hold the Crane pose.

Just then I heard the ceiling fans shut off.  Crappy McCrapperstein: was this one of those “hot” Bikram yoga classes I’d heard about?! Fabulous. They were going to twist my torso into a pretzel, smash my head into a piece of mahogany and then smoke me out.

Enter the instructor, who is actually the creator of  EarthRise yoga. He was covered in tattoos and, on first glance, rather menacing-looking. I watched as he showed off some of the newly inked masterpieces he’d just acquired on his wrists. And I couldn’t tell for sure, but from where I sat, it looked like one of them said, “R.I.P. Traci.”

A very heavy woman came and put her mat down next to mine.  I’m really not saying that to be cruel – she was, empirically, “in charge,” as K said later. But she was also an inspiration – I figured that if she could do it, I could too.

And I have to say that it felt great once we got started. The instructor was not at all scary and in fact, very helpful.  It was challenging, but do-able, and my muscles were thrilled to be in use.  This wasn’t a beginner’s class, so most people knew the poses already. I was at a slight disadvantage because I had to survey the crowd and then try to copy whatever they were doing, which meant that by the time I got into one position, I was supposed to be on the next already. But some of the poses – or asanas, as I learned they were called in the yoga realm – were easy for me (as I assume they would be for anyone).  I was quite proud of my performance on Upward-Facing Dog, Downward-Facing Dog, Pigeon and Chair.  Others made my legs shake and underscored the sad reality that I’m not nearly as flexible as I thought I was, and not even remotely balanced. I almost toppled over onto K a few times.

But it was a fascinating experience, and I was in awe of what some of the people in the class were able to do with their bodies.  I loved the soft, soothing music in the background, the breathing and the fact that I didn’t have to worry about accidentally scoring for the opposing team or missing a ball that was thrown directly at me. If I screwed up, it was just my own spine that would pay the price. It was the first time I had ever engaged in anything physical and not felt like a complete moron. I could actually do this again!

Wow. Yoga could change my life! This could be the start of a new, healthier me! After 36.5 years of trying, I might actually find inner peace.  As I rolled from an “Up Dog” to a “Down Dog,” I marveled at how well I’d held up. Sure, I was out of breath and sweating in parts of my body I didn’t know I had, but the class was almost over, I was still conscious and I had overcome my phobia.

“OKAY!,” the instructor said. “Great warm-up!”

My Soul-Mat, Part 2