The Old Grey Mare

Every so often, I become very resentful of the fact that I am no longer twenty-two years old. When you’re young, your body generally works like it’s supposed to. Nothing pops, creaks, aches or leaks. You recover from exertion pretty quickly. And you sure as hell don’t make an “Oy…urumph” sound when you get up from a chair. As I get older, I find that every little thing that goes wrong is cause for alarm. Every headache is a tumor, and a patch of dry skin on my arm causes me to fear that my elbow is going to fall off at any time. It’s exhausting.

When you’re young, you can get away with a great deal of injustices to your body. Then, I could get by on three hours of sleep, shake it off, eat a granola bar, and get on with my day. Now, I’ve become so concerned with preserving the health I have left that I will read any magazine article with a headline that contains the words “anti-aging,” “youth enhancing,” or “saggy ass.” I try to wade through the plethora of information designed to enhance health. Every so often, for example, I try to quit drinking coffee. Coffee dehydrates the skin, they say. Exhausts the adrenal glands. Quit or die! In vulnerable moments, I fall prey to those über-health nuts who insist coffee is evil. I don’t know why I listen. I love my coffee. It is a happy, rainbow/unicorn/fuzzy ducky thing that has me in its claw-covered talons. The last time I quit, I lasted three days. It was a valiant effort, but three days of grumpiness, generalized weepiness, and feeling like I couldn’t even lift my hands over my head was enough. Sure, good health was my motivation, but the lack of caffeine made me feel so awful that I usually wound up sitting on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night eating saltines. Or toast. Or leftover…whatever.  So I’m still drinking coffee. It’s really a non-negotiable. Even the terrible coffee that is present in every office in which I’ve ever worked – I’ll choke it down.

Speaking of which, there should be a tiny little place in hell for the person who takes the last cup of coffee from the pot and walks away without making more. I once seriously considered going to Human Resources and suggesting surveillance cameras for the coffee maker. That way we could identify the culprit(s), and while I knew there was really no way to enforce this miscarriage of justice, if we knew who they were we could have walked by their desks during the course of the day and FROWNED at them. Apparently I get more passive-aggressive when I’m mildly dehydrated and adrenally depleted.

That better not be the last cup, friend-o.

For a few months in the early 1990s, I was a vegan. It didn’t go well. Now, I believe that a vegan diet can be incredibly healthy and that we all, collectively, could do with a little less animal products being shoved into our craws, but I was a Bad Vegan. I basically lived on large quantities of brown rice, butter beans, soy burgers and celery. I was tired, cranky, and due to the fact I apparently have an intolerance to soy, not a hell of a lot of fun to be around. But I thought I was being “healthy,” and, godammit, I was willing to suffer. I sat at restaurants, sipping my herbal tea in the most sanctimonious manner possible, all the while digging my nails into my hands to keep myself from diving face first into the basket of warm bread and butter the waitress just brought. I also bought into the ultra-low-fat diet for a while. Fat free dressing, fat free cheese, no oil, no butter, no joy. I was super-cranky, my skin got really, really dry and I swear I creaked when I walked. It got to the point where a friend offered me $50 to “just eat a fucking avocado already.”

I’m long-since done with the strict regimes. It’s tough on anyone to be so rigid, but especially tough when you’re a compulsive/emotional eater. You try to be “good,” but the moment someone looks at you sideways you run home and shove the first thing you can find into your mouth to push down whatever feelings have started to bubble up. Health doesn’t even enter the picture when you’re inhaling stale Cheezy-Do’s. Wouldn’t it be nice if we craved “healthy” food when we’re upset? I wish I reached for broccoli when I’m stressed, or Swiss chard when I’m upset, or quinoa when I’m lonely. Nope, it’s got to be mashed potatoes or baked ziti, and preferably in large quantities. I do have a fair amount of self-awareness when I’m food-medicating, and often I have starch-induced visions of Richard Simmons in his sparkly shorts, grapevining his way over to me and wagging his finger in disapproval to the tune of “On Broadway.” Once in a while it’s the mental picture of Gwyneth Paltrow writing a blog about how a shot of organic wheatgrass grown at the foot of a mossy hill in a small village in Switzerland and costs $120 an ounce is guaranteed to kill the urge to eat the leftover boiled garlic potatoes. Emotional issues aside, I seem to have been born without an “off” switch that says, “Put down the food shovel, please.” I’m convinced that the only reason I don’t weigh 600 pounds is that I don’t eat fast food, and that it’s a good thing I don’t live in a big house, because there are some days I feel like one of those fish that will grow to the size of their environment if you keep feeding them. However, I’ve started working on the mindset that the emotional issues that go along with compulsive eating are just as toxic as the mustard pretzel logs, so I know I need to find a different way to cope. It’s a process.

I have a growing obsession with what goes on my face as well as in my face. I’m a beauty products junkie, scouring women’s magazines for the Next Big Thing. The cosmetics section of the drug store is like my personal Field of Dreams, each bottle and tube with its own set of promises, large and small.

“This will make me younger!”

“This will make me taller!”

“This will make me blond and gentile!”

They rarely come through. I would soak in a tub of marinara sauce if I thought it would give me back the skin I had when I was eighteen. Even I, however, have my limits. I recently read about – get this – a bird poop facial. That’s right, somewhere in the world, women are willing to subject their faces to a mask of nightingale doody. It is, of course, wildly expensive. Look, I’m not against trying weird things in the name of beauty. I once gave myself an egg white facial. I put mayonnaise in my hair when I was thirteen, because I read it was a “natural conditioner.” I want to look youthful, but I draw the line at putting something on my face that makes me go, “Awww, man, gross!” when I see it on the windshield of my car.

Why are there so many pictures with women putting fruit on their eye?

I realize that aging is a natural process. We all deal with it. My ninety-nine-year-old grandmother once said, “I don’t mind getting older. Consider the alternative.” She has two master’s degrees and a PhD; I should probably listen to her. But I’m still in the phase where I’m trying to fight the good fight. I stopped getting carded about eight years ago. The first time it happened, I tried to force my I.D. on the cashier; he kept resisting, as if to say, “I believe you, lady!” Plus, the sign now says, “You need to have been born before this date in 1991 to buy alcohol.” In 1991, I was already old enough to buy alcohol. Reading this sign makes me feel like I need to buy alcohol. On the other hand, alcohol dehydrates the skin, making you look older. This in turn makes me feel depressed, prompting the need to buy some wine. It’s kind of a boozy vicious circle.

That’s gotta sting.

I’m also beginning to succumb to the theory that the fountain of youth can be found in a BHA-free water bottle at the gym. I’m resisting with every fiber of my being, but I’m being drowned out by the sound of weights clanging and the mental image of Madonna’s braided rope arms. I once voluntarily walked up and down seven flights of stairs without stopping, to get one of those ubiquitous office exercise breaks. It was not a well thought out plan. I survived, but when I got back to the seventh floor I was pretty sure my lungs were going to pop out of my chest and wave “Hi” to me from the floor. I knew the only way it was going to get easier was if I did it every day, but I was not able to convince my body of this fact. But I’m working on getting some more exercise; in fact, I think it’s becoming a true necessity. I need it, basically, because my body parts are no longer stationed exactly where they used to be. I mean, they’re all still in the same general ZIP Code, but they don’t seem to be as eager to be there. I was shopping at Ikea the other day, and I got the distinct feeling that someone was directly behind me. I even heard a slight, “flap, flap” sound. I kept glancing behind me until I realized that no one was following me – it was MY OWN ASS.

Fine, fine. I’ll get back on the elliptical. But those endorphins better kick in or next time I’ll be on the treadmill with a glass of chardonnay.

I heard someone once say, “Age is all relative.” That’s true, unless you’re really old. The relativity comes into play when you’re around those who are much younger and obviously don’t deserve it. Recently, I was in line at Starbucks, standing behind some girls who really tested this theory. One of them was pulling the, “Oh, I can’t believe I’m so old!” crap. Apparently she had just had a birthday, and was having a bit of an existential crisis.

“I can’t BELIEVE I’m twenty four!” she exclaimed. “Wow! That seems so old! Boy, I’m really getting up there!”

Yes, you are aging quite rapidly.

She has no idea how close she came to being smacked in the face with my purse. I could have gotten away with it, too – she was wearing those stupid high heel flip-flops, and even at my age I could have outrun her. I haven’t quite settled into a groove yet, though, and I’m still ever so slightly resentful of those twenty four-year-olds, with their stupid shoes and chocolate croissants. I don’t even want the croissants, but something about them just makes me want to…oh, I don’t know…SMACK THOSE BITCHES DOWN! Oh, I’m sorry, was that me? I have some repressed anger. I’m working on it. Hand me the non-fat latté, please.

But it’s really a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Despite their enviable abs and lack of cellulite, I’m not sure I’d want to go back to my early twenties. On one hand, I feel like I know a hell of a lot more now than I did then; I’m able to have a wider perspective on things and I am much less willing to suffer fools gladly (and even less willing to date them). I would like to believe that I’m like a fine wine (or whine), improving with age. But still, there are days when all it takes is one chicky tottering around on her mega-platform heels (which totally look like hooves, by the way), with her fake tan, short skirt and tight neck to bring me right back to feeling like Miss Daisy without the cute hats and wise chauffeur. But I take solace in the fact that all of those young twenty-somethings who have around zero body fat, smoke, go to tanning salons, and drink a lot will soon be in for a big surprise. In my forties, I’ll have decent skin. In their forties, they’ll look like leather handbags.

You know, sometimes it’s the little, petty things that make life worth living.

In order to get organized and plan my needed youth-retaining regime, I have recently subscribed to a health magazine. I figure this way I’ll have all the things that I should be doing in one publication, for easy reference. Apparently, I need to do yoga, exfoliate, moisturize, eat fruit, but not too much fruit, find the right sports bra, massage my scalp, have regular, awesome sex, meditate, cook whole grains, grow my own vegetables, volunteer, make facial masks from yogurt and honey, sleep eight hours, work my quads, detox, use just the right amount of olive oil, strengthen my core, drink six barrels of water, and get the perfect eyebrow arch. Sounds simple enough. I’ll start tomorrow. And then I’ll be too tired to worry about my wrinkly knees. Or get anything else done, really, but at least I’ll look fabulous.

Just kidding.

In all honestly, I’m trying. I am. But I will say I have stopped forcing myself to drink buckets and buckets of water. They say that it helps kill the appetite. Uh, they LIE. All that happens is that I always have to pee and I make a sloshing sound when I walk. I don’t want to build my liver an above-ground swimming pool, thank you very much. And running to the restroom does not count as aerobic conditioning. I checked.

Getting older doesn’t just happen on the outside. It happens on the inside, too. I asked my Dad what he found to be the toughest thing about getting older.

“Change,” he said.

I didn’t understand. Of course we’re all changing.

“No,” he replied. “Routines. You become more conservative with your behavior. As you get older, the idea of change becomes a little scary.”

All of a sudden, I totally understood.

When you’re younger, you can take risks, because you’re immortal and have all the time in the world to recover. As you get older, the stakes get higher and you know it will take longer to bounce back. Your life is more stable, and there’s a sense of security in that. You know what you know, and the idea of anything changing your current reality is scary. I get it. I’m seeing it in my own life, too. I think twice before making plans. I don’t buy the impractical shoes. I don’t stay out late very often. Major life decisions are becoming fewer and fewer because they might change the status quo. But isn’t that when we really get old? Forget the crow’s feet, forget the grey hair – it’s when we refuse to change that we’re really in trouble. We must resist becoming overwhelmed by inertia. Change and grow, change and grow. One might feel that it’s too much; that we get to a certain age and think, “Well, that’s it. I’m done. I am who I am and this is my life.” That has a certain sly seductiveness, in a way, because it lets us off the hook, as if our journey is done. But it never really is, is it? As long as we’re here, we’re changing and growing. How we live our life determines how much we grow, and whether we can measure it in inches or miles. If youth is our goal, maybe that’s how we can hold on to it longer – by being willing to keep on risking, moving, and changing. Living. There’s an element to that which is also kind of scary, but as my Grandma said, consider the alternative. We can grasp at all the anti-aging creams and injectables we want, but the real fountain of youth is the ability to keep going. Shake things up. Stare into the abyss. And while I’m doing all that, maybe I’ll slap on some eye cream and do some lunges. Couldn’t hurt.

I’m also going to work on some sort of coffee-wine hybrid. I could make a fortune. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

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Party On

I’ve never been what you might call “The life of the party.” I’m not the worst person to invite – I don’t stand in corners shooting eye daggers at people or espousing the dangers of chewing gum – but I’m definitely not the pivot around which any social gathering rotates, and I can’t be talked into wearing a paper party hat. And party games? Yeah, I’m making a bee-line for the door.

Please don’t make me wear a paper hat.

But there are some positives. Crab cakes, for example. Always a nice touch. “Crab cakes,” I might think. “The host isn’t a tight-ass with the money. Oooh, baby quiche…” The trick here is to make friends with the cater waiters so you get them while they’re hot (the crab cakes, that is). If it’s buffet-style, you need to hover – unobtrusively – so that you can get the crab cakes fresh from the oven as the hostess puts them out, but not so closely that folks think you’re plotting to poison the artichoke dip. If the food has a toothpick in it, I take a pass. There is always concern with food on sticks. There are never any trashcans out, so I never know what to do with the toothpick. Put it in my purse? In the potted plant? Throw decorum to the wind and start picking the Gruyere out of my molars? (Once, I was at a party that was so boring, I seriously considered going around the room collecting the toothpicks so that I might build a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood cabin on the credenza.) Now, if you have both a drink and a small plate of food in your hands, unless you can score a chair you’re pretty much stuck posing in the corner. Waiting for a seat at a party is much like an airplane circling around the airport waiting for clearance to land. By the time you do, you’re cranky, tired, and ready to lick the inside of your mini-bag of pretzels. If you sit, though, you have to watch your drink, especially if you have a hyper-vigilant hostess who insists on cleaning up every fifteen seconds. Then you’ll have to get up for another drink, which, of course, means you will lose your seat and the whole process begins again. It’s Boozy Musical Chairs.

So “yay” for the drinks and tiny food. But there is one barrier to having a good time, as far as I’m concerned – small talk. Don’t get me wrong; I excel at the small talk. I can feign interest in a total stranger’s life, nod sincerely in the right places, and ask appropriate yet reasonably impersonal questions that allow the talker to think that I find him or her fascinating. For about three minutes. After that, little mental bells go off, like the ding-ding-ding signaling the end of a round in a boxing match, and I need to either excuse myself politely or fight the urge punch him/her in the head. (So far it hasn’t come to blows. SO FAR.)

How hard I want to punch him/her in the head will usually be based on what kind of party guest they are. Sometimes they’re the type that I call “The Best Buddy,” which means they’ll tell you their entire life story in the first thirty seconds of meeting. This is dicey, because while you don’t want to get stuck playing therapist, you also don’t want to be the person who, after the talker has tearfully described how their biology professor battled mightily but eventually succumbed to a fatal case of dishpan hands and died in their arms, just smiles brightly and says, “How sad. Oh, look! Crab cakes!”

The Best Buddy is rivaled by The Clam, who won’t give it up no matter how hard you try.

“Oh, you work in barnacle removal? How fascinating. Did you study that in college?”

“No.”

“OK…how do you know Jane?”

“Work.”

“Have you worked together a long time?”

“Yes.”

“Do you enjoy your work?”

“Eh.”

And so on. But these two types don’t hold a candle to that most notorious of party guests – “The Boring Person Who Thinks They’re God’s Gift.” These people will seek out the weak members of the herd, isolate them, and lull them into a semi-trance with their narcissistic drone:

“So of course I chose the blue one oh do you like Lil’Wayne I had front row tickets a gift from a client so I took this really hot guy/girl from accounting and we had a super dinner first I had the flounder and told the most HI-larious joke and he/she said it was just hilarious I should do stand up comedy how does it go two cows walk into a bar no wait it’s a couple of goats love your dress/slacks I wonder if I can get them in my size it’s so hard to find things that fit me because I’m in such great shape hey do you like polka music I know this place it’s off the beaten path we could check it out oh look crab cakes…”

And they always find me. Every time.

A good skill to develop is the “Nod and Pass.” As soon as you can, smile, nod approvingly, find another sucker in the room and pass the Buddy/Clam/God’s Gift off to them. You have to act like you’re doing both of them a favor so the transition goes smoothly and you can get the hell out of there. Much like Bridget Jones tried to do, introduce people with interesting tidbits to get the conversation going:

“Oh, here’s someone you just have to meet…Nigel Tappernose, meet Hilary Boomschlaken. Nigel, Hilary is a horse-loving, Twilight-reading stick in the mud with a propensity for random cursing and overindulging in peach schnapps. Hilary, Nigel is a gum-snapping, nutjob mama’s boy with abandonment issues and breath that could knock over a cow. “

Or something like that.

The problem is that I’m just not interested in most people. (I don’t consider it conceit on my part; I assume that people, in general, have no particular interest in me, either.) I try, but I have no interest whatsoever in hearing about trips to The Wisconsin Dells, grandchildren, recent surgeries, or home repairs. And I also don’t want to hear about how everything will kill you these days; I just want to enjoy a diet cola without worrying that it will cause me to break out in purple scales, thank you very much. And for the love of all that is holy, I don’t want to be lectured to about how I need to find someone quickly because I’m no spring chicken. Yes, I’m fine being single; no, I’m not gay; no, I haven’t joined that dating site; and yes, you should just mind your own business even though you’re “just trying to be helpful.”

Yeah, Marge. Where’s the bar?

Considering my general dislike for attending parties, one might think that when it came to hosting parties, my attitude would take a 180° turn and I’d turn into a Martha Stewart disciple. One might think that, but one would be very, very wrong. Martha Stewart makes me feel highly inadequate. I really think that her magazine is the equivalent of 1950s housewife porn. Homemade centerpieces made from shoelaces! Antique curtains repurposed into wrapping paper! Bronzing baby shoes in your kitchen and turning them into charming wall sconces! It’s all very exhausting. And Real Simple magazine makes me feel incredibly inadequate. (“But it’s supposed to be Real Simple! I can’t do it! What the fuck is wrong with me?”) On one of the very rare occasions that I actually threw a party, I found myself lying on my kitchen floor about twenty minutes before people were supposed to arrive, frantically scrubbing the underside of the refrigerator door with an old toothbrush. My friend Sophie stood over me with a glass of wine and a dour look on her face.

“What on earth are you doing? No one is going to look there!”

“Someone could look there!” I exclaimed. “Martha says no detail should be overlooked!”

“I think she was talking about silverware.” Sophie said, handing me a glass of water.

Taking the drink, I looked up at her from my position under the door. “Do you have a straw?”

Sophie turned to walk away. “I’m finding you a Xanax.”

I also tend to get a bit over-involved about the food. (Some might use the word, “crazed,” but to each his own.) At this party, I wanted to do a nice vegetable tray, with the vegetables cut in unique and interesting shapes, perhaps reminiscent of Monet’s “Water Lilies.” (You know, as you do.) After a stare-down with the food processor and the realization that I had no idea how to turn a stack of celery sticks into a lily pad, I decided to just arrange them according to carbohydrate count. (P.S. Nobody noticed.) To add to the drama, when someone asked me later where I bought the dip that I spent fifteen minutes carefully blending and seasoning, it almost ended in tears.

Clutching Martha Stewart’s latest issue under one arm, I did a final mental inventory to make sure nothing had been overlooked.

“What’s left?” I said. “I’ve got drinks, dips, hot apps, cold apps, veggie tray, crackers…I know I’ve forgotten something! I just know it!”

“Did you put out plates?” Sophie asked.

“Oh, good Lord – plates! How could I forget plates? This whole thing is going to suck.”

“I think you need to calm down,” Sophie said, pulling Martha from under my arm.

“I’m sorry,” I replied, placing my hands on my forehead. “It must be the stress of entertaining.”

DING! The oven timer announced itself.

“Cocktail!” I yelled, and headed for the bar.

“What’s that ‘ding’ for?”

“I have no idea!”

And a good time was had by all.

Now, I don’t throw parties anymore, as one might imagine, but I’ve recently discovered the freezer section of Costco where they have all different kinds of pre-made appetizers in really big bags, so I may have to lift my self-imposed party embargo and have some folks over. Otherwise, that’s a lot of mini Spanikopita to handle all on my own. (I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it might take a while.)

I just know the party invites are going start ROLLING in after this.

Gypsies, Pants and Sleeves (with apologies to Cher)

I’ve been thinking about outfits lately. Not mine, necessarily, but the fashion choices of the world at large. A typical mall walk will produce some cringe-worthy looks, but I think it’s particularly interesting when it happens to famous people. Maybe it’s jealousy, maybe it’s insecurity, but I would guess that many of us secretly love it when celebrities’ ensembles figuratively crash and burn. The word “schadenfreude” means “to take pleasure in the misfortune of others.” Doesn’t quite apply to fashion, though. I think we need to make up a word that describes the secret delight that comes from watching how the mighty have fallen hemlines.

How about “schadenfrock?”

Yes, schadenfrock. To take pleasure in the baffling, wackadoodle fashion choices of others.

To be fair, fashion can be confusing. One moment it’s A-line mini skirts; the next minute it’s maxi-dresses and gladiator sandals. It’s almost enough to send one running to the home shopping channel to buy coordinating, bedazzled mock turtleneck/knit pant ensembles (of which I may or may not have three.) It can be tough out there. And while I’m no fashionista, I have been reading Vogue since I was a kid so I at least have a basic idea of who the major designers are and how to add accessories to change a look from day to night, which apparently is very important because God forbid one should wear their daytime earrings after 6:00 PM.

We all seem to have an opinion on fashion. For some, it’s “Eh, it’s clean and kind of matches;” to others, “I worship at the altar of Project Runway.” The majority of us fall somewhere in between, but I would hazard a guess that most of us – at least the female most of us – feel a secret glee when others make bad choices. Especially when it comes to celebrities, when we figuratively poke each other in the ribs and whisper, “Isn’t that dreadful?”  I love to look at the pretty dresses, but secretly I live for the “Worst Dressed” lists. Weird necklines, tops that don’t fit, spatula-applied makeup, ill-advised sequins, bad hair extensions – all are met with a rousing chorus of, “Was her stylist high?”

It’s really getting out of hand for some celebrities. As my friend Nadine remarked, “It’s like they’re trying to sartorially out-weird each other.” For example, Nikki Minaj once showed up at an awards show wearing what looked like pink and white sausages on her hair-do, silver origami on her bust, a plush-toy purse, an art-deco SARS mask and what appeared to be a tourniquet on her leg. (She’s since toned it down a bit, disappointingly.) Katy Perry appeared at the same show wearing what I’m reasonably certain was a wedge of cheddar on her head. I think Lady Gaga once wore the kid from “Stranger Things” as a poncho. (He’s fine.) Now, I know these outfits border on being less fashion and more costume, but I still would have liked to have been in the production meeting that produced these ideas. (“I want you to embody space unicorn chic. With a touch of ennui.”)  I also know that they have a little more leeway at this event than at others – what wouldn’t fly at the top movie award show is perfectly acceptable at the Awards For Films On That Channel That Used to Play Videos But Now Not So Much. But still, I can’t help but think that somehow, somewhere, the 1980’s versions of Cher, Boy George and Cyndi Lauper are looking at these outfit choices and thinking, “You know, it’s really all a bit much…”

Unless you’re Cher. Then totally be Cher. She could wear a space unicorn and OWN IT.

Mere mortals are vulnerable to bad choices as well. We see it every day. Most women, at one time or another, have greeted a friend fresh from the salon with a rousing, “You look great!” only to think to themselves, “Oh my good Lord, what DID she do?” and follow up with a tiny, slightly guilty, silent chuckle. Everyone has their opinions about what looks good, but I’m going to make a declarative statement: Leggings. They are a clear and present danger, and they must be stopped. The only women on whom these look good are the ones who are six feet tall and weigh about three pounds. But sadly, it’s never those women who I see wearing them. It’s usually women who, bless their hearts, are trying to not wear sweatpants everywhere but really don’t have the asses to truly pull off this look. They either pair it with a t-shirt that is too short, spotlighting the offending area, or try to balance it with a too-oversized top that makes them look like they’re wearing a dress and their legs are really, really cold. (Full disclosure: I count myself among those who should not be wearing butt-spotlighting pants. If I could get away with wearing a sandwich board to hide that area, I totally would.)  Leggings are the cousin to the stirrup pant, which was popular during my college years. All those did was give you cankles. And if they were even a smidge too short you spent your whole day hiking them up. Not attractive. I also take issues with low-rise jeans, which tend to show more of the underpanties than I want to see, and so-called “skinny jeans,” which are, sadly, often worn by folks who are anything but.

Now, there is a solution to the tight trouser situation. Our grandmothers called them “girdles” or “foundation garments,” but most of us know them by their new, monosyllabic modern moniker: Spanx. (Let us all bow our head in thanks.) While Spanx might be a necessity, and definitely help one’s figure, they should, quite frankly, be classified as a torture device. They hold in the fat in the tush area, but the concept of displacement is quite clear and you know that the fat has to go somewhere. Sure, your bottom half looks great but your top half might look like you play offensive tackle for the Bears. I’ve even heard of women doubling up on their Spanx, but I wouldn’t dare try that because I’d be afraid that if I sat down I’d be in danger of farting out of my nose.

There’s something to be said for dressing one’s age. I know some people find a look that they like and lock into it for the next thirty years. (It’s worked for The Queen.) But some try to walk that fine edge between hip and, “Oh, honey, no.” I used to work with a middle-aged woman who wore jeans that had big crowns on the back pockets. Crowns, like cartoon royalty would wear. I’m trying to get behind the thought process that went into purchasing, much less wearing, pants with crowns on the butt. Most women of a certain age try to downplay that area. She practically pointed it out to you. I guess that takes a certain level of moxy. But really, why crowns? Does she think, perhaps, that her ass rules? That she is the Empress of Heineytown?

Or the Tsarina of Tuchasville. I haven’t decided which one I like better.

By the way, she was the kind of person who, if you almost bumped into her and then said, “Excuse me,” didn’t even acknowledge your existence. She just kept on walking. That’s a rather high-falutin’ attitude. Perhaps her ass went to her head.

So, all in all, fashion is a game. Sometimes it’s a game of risk, and sometimes it’s a highly planned operation. We all want to look our best, and some of us try a little harder than others. But I would wager that even the most fashion-challenged of us remember a time when we looked really, really good. For me, I’m still proud of the dress I wore to my senior prom – pink lace, dropped waist, tea length and so, so pretty. But we also remember the bad looks too – I once had an unfortunate run-in with a pair of palazzo pants, as well as an experiment with the “smoky eye” that went horribly awry. Most days, though, I stick to a few rules: No orange and black together, even on Halloween. (It makes me look like a five foot seven inch candy corn.)  No sweaters with ducks on them. (Except those three bought on HSN after a touch too much chardonnay.) Avoid the muffin top at all costs. Other than that, I try to relax about it. Life’s too short for tight pants.

And remember – if you wear cheese on your head, you’re asking for a little schadenfrock.

Food, And How Not To Do It

First of all, what in the everloving fuck is this?

Pea and mayo pizza?

I’m all for pushing the culinary envelope but there are just some things you don’t mess with. Even people who like pineapple on pizza (you know who you are; don’t identify yourselves) look at this and think we must join forces to stop it. I don’t think it’s evil, per se, but Peter H. Corn this is bordering on sandwich territory, and a crap one at that, and as far as I’m concerned it should not be taking the name of Pizza in vain.

So, don’t do this.

People are weird about their food. And not just food –  food placement. Some people will not eat unless their plate looks perfect, their food arranged like a clock, with protein at 6:00, starch at 2:00, and vegetables at 10:00. OK, I kind of get it, but they’ve made no arrangements for condiments. Where do they go? 4:37? 9:22? And does Daylight Savings Time factor into this at all? I envision this person moving everything on their plate exactly once inch to the left every autumn. And what if, God forbid, the gravy on the 6:00 chicken seeps over to the 10:00 asparagus tips? Do you hit the snooze button? Eating with this person would make me very tense, as they frantically scraped the sauce back to 7:30.  Can you imagine being at a dinner party with someone like that? While the Clock Guy is wondering what to do with an extra starchy vegetable (2:00? 10:00? WHERE THE HELL DOES IT GO?), you could have another person arranging everything on the plate alphabetically.

By the way, can you imagine Clock Guy teaching his kid to drive? “Hands at Vegetables and Starch, Johnny.”

How about this dream meal?  I don’t know what’s going on here, but it looks like the Mom and Dad mushroom brought the little mushrooms to see what happens when you don’t look both ways before crossing the street.

Even worse, though, is the person who plays a little fast and loose with their food hang-ups, as certain food might touch other food, but ONLY under certain circumstances. The meat loaf may touch the mashed potatoes, but the peas or carrots cannot be touching the meatloaf. Peas and carrots may touch the mashed potatoes, however, but only if the mashed potatoes don’t have gravy. This particular quirk involves a set of variables that would trip up Archimedes, and would definitely bring the dinner conversation to a halt if she has to whip out a protractor just to get through dessert.

This is a charmer. Because if you’re going to have shashlik, you really want it to be caucasian.

 

 

Despite my snarkiness, I’m pretty open to trying new things. However, years ago I worked with a woman whose food repertoire was pretty much established by age nine. If she hadn’t eaten it before that age, she wasn’t having any of it. Once, our team went out to lunch at a Thai restaurant, just to see if we could get her to push her boundaries. While the rest of us enjoyed our curry noodles and chicken satay, the poor girl tried to order a hamburger. The waitress looked at her like she was nuts, and we tried to placate her with a bowl of chicken broth with vegetables. I’m sure she went home that night and wept over a fluffernutter sandwich.

Ok, what is this? Dessert? Mayonnaise Jell-o mold? I’m just going to name it “Scary Clown Eyeball.”  I won’t eat anything that creeps me out.

And it is watching you.

Look, we all have our food issues. I’ll eat smoked oysters right out of the can, standing over a sink with a copy of Us Weekly on the counter. I’m not proud. We, collectively, and perhaps me, specifically, are overly obsessed with what is on our plate these days. Discussions, articles, and news pieces abound, often delivered with a level of salaciousness normally reserved for stories of sexual perversity. Oh, my God, carbs! Oh, for Heaven’s sake, sodium! Oh, my stars, trans fat! Even the government is getting into the act, with New York’s ban on sodas larger than sixteen ounces. (If you want thirty-two ounces, though, you just have to buy two sixteen-ounce containers. This means that they really don’t give a flying fig about how much sugar you ingest; they’re just going to make you work for it.) I’m currently trying to give up sugar. It’sgoingfinethankyouit’sokohmygodIhateeveryoneright now.

This just makes no sense. It’s not a dessert, and who in the hell would serve this as an entree? I don’t even understand the thought process here.

“You know what these bananas need? HAM.”

“Oh, GOD, yes. And put a Goddamn cream sauce on it. I hate food!”

And it comes with a side of grapes. If I was served this I’d probably just start throwing the grapes at people until I was asked to leave. Fucking banana ham.

One food thing I struggle with is the idea of finishing everything on my plate. I have no idea where this came from. My mother never forced me to finish everything, so it’s not some sort of latent guilt trip. My grandmother was big on the Clean Plate Club, and once, years ago, pulled the “starving children in China” routine on me. My mother wasn’t having any of it.

“Finish your meal,” Grandma implored me. “You’re so lucky, living here in America with all that we have. Think of the starving children who would love to have your dinner.”

Mom wasn’t moved. “Mail it to them,” she replied.

I have a theory about guilt. Put two Jewish mothers in a room, and they kind of cancel each other out.

Here’s another vintage recipe picture I found. It’s a put-your-meal-in-gelatin, all-in-one deal. Is that fish with the skin on for the bottom layer? And again with peas? I’m going to assume the top layer is some sort of carrot schmear.

I don’t know what the yellow stuff is. Maybe it’s the antidote.

Everyone and their orthodontist has a cookbook. Gwyneth Paltrow has one, too, and it includes something called “Duck Ragu.” DUCK RAGU. Not only does this recipe call for roasting an entire duck, it also calls for four slices of duck bacon. What the hell is duck bacon? I kind of get the feeling that Gwyneth is messing with us. Even if you manage to procure such a thing, what on earth would you do with the rest of it?

“Hey kids, come downstairs! It’s time for scrambled eggs and duck bacon!”

“Would you like some duck bacon bits on your salad?”

“How about a duck bacon cheeseburger?”

I don’t think it would catch on.

It looks like Mother Bread has come to identify the bodies.

 

 

I don’t cook much, either. I tend to get a bit over-involved. I had a brief foray into vegan cooking in the mid 90s, which led to The Great Bean Ball Disaster of 1994. (Not to be confused with the Neil Balle Incident of 1996.) I had some people over once, and I wanted to do a nice vegetable tray, with the vegetables cut in unique and interesting shapes, perhaps reminiscent of Monet’s “Water Lilies.” (You know, as you do.) After a stare-down with the food processor and the realization that I had no idea how to turn a stack of celery sticks into a lily pad, I decided to just arrange them according to carbohydrate count. (P.S. Nobody noticed.) To add to the drama, when someone asked me later where I bought the dip that I spent fifteen minutes carefully blending and seasoning, it almost ended in tears. Costco, people. Just buy a damn tray.

I don’t know what the fuck is going on here.

 

It just looks like sadness.

I think I will stick to a Crock Pot. Dump it, forget about it. Then…soup! And I can eat the soup while watching people who actually know what they’re doing create flambes and souffles and fricassees and any other meals ending the “es” sound. And create homemade BBQ sauce for their Tex-Mex Asian Fusion Haggis Tacos. And something for dessert that includes ganache. I just like saying “ganache.”

Say it with me. Ganache. Ganache. Ganache.

It’s gone a bit weird now, hasn’t it? Ganache.

As I enter this next phase of my life, I think I’m going to set some kitchen goals for myself. More vegetables. Simpler recipes. Basically, creating meals that don’t put a look of fear on my Dad’s face when I announce, “I found a new recipe!”

That means I am never looking at another Martha Stewart magazine again. I can’t deal with the feelings of inadequacy that come from not being able to fold my napkins into interesting shapes, have cute hanging paper decorations that look like chrysanthemums and are made out of recycled Christmas wrap, make a quick (and easy) fondue, or MacGyver a chocolate fountain out of an umbrella and leftover M&Ms. (P.S. I never have leftover M&Ms.) And I’m never, ever, ever making Gwyneth Paltrow’s Duck Ragu recipe. It’s just beyond me. And this is coming from someone who once tried to make tofu nut loaf.

Yes, tofu nut loaf…let’s just say that it did not end well. I’ve mentally repressed the specifics; I do know that the meal ended with antacids, which may be why I shudder slightly whenever I see a TUMS commercial.

That being said, I’m thinking about doing something with kale. You’ve been warned.

Ganache.

Money, Money (Monologue #1)

(Lights up on LIZ, mid-30s.)

LIZ

So let me just say, that, all things considered, yes, I am responsible with my money. Like maybe not Jeff Bezos-level responsible, but I heard he once bought four paintings of dudes on horses pointing northward, so maybe that’s not the best example. He did get free shipping through Prime, though. We weren’t poor growing up, but you know, my dad knew how to pinch a penny. But I’m not stingy. Not at all. You know, I recently discovered this thing called “Cos-Play.” Totally on accident –  it was laundry day and I had to wear my Princess Leia costume to the Laundromat and this lady told me about a convention at the Hilton. It’s not for kids, and most people are pretty much normal except for the whole dress-up-on-weekends thing, although some people are really (rolls eyes) OH BROTHER, you just know they still live in their parent’s basements, but the Hilton has a really great breakfast buffet, so you know…Oh, this? (Points to her vest) This fur trimmed breast plate? Totally great deal, plus I can use the edges to slice cheese, so, you know, double bonus…I’m getting my money’s worth, that’s for sure. I’m thinking of wearing it everywhere now, even to work. I’m sorry if Rick from accounting might find it “unprofessional” but I’m a Creative and it’s empowering and you need to be empowered when your team wont get their reports in on time and you have to take your frustrations out on the toaster oven or even, yes, sorry, Rick from accounting. It’s important to have things in your life to focus on instead of your job 24/7. I mean, I’m not married and I don’t have any kids, but I’m optimistic and I don’t need a man in my life to validate my existence. I have a gym membership – I don’t go but I do think seriously about it every day – and I just signed up for a “Pot Roast of the Month” club, so yeah, I’ve got that going for me. And I’m currently sponsoring a child from Somalia, so I use my money philanthropically, although I haven’t heard from Inan since the last military coup so maybe I should be concerned. And I did win a pool at work that took bets on how many Cheeze-Its Dave could stuff into his mouth – sixty three, by the way – so maybe I should be looking into an IRA or a CD or a DVR or something like that…so yeah, I pay my bills, put some in savings, and keep way too much in checking so if I want to buy Wonder Woman underwear online after my solo wine and cheese night, I feel perfectly justified.

So, I guess to answer your original question (looks at nametag), BRANDON…yes, even though they’re not on sale, I will take TWO dozen assorted donuts to go. And a skim milk. Keep the change.

 

BLACKOUT

Lucid Feline Woman

I’ve written…a song? A poem? An ode? I don’t know. We can call it a sonnet so I can feel all fancy but I fear the purists would object.

If anyone wants to set it to music, feel free. It’s not something I can manage on a thirty-five year old clarinet.

Ahem…

 

Cat food, cheese and chardonnay

There in my cart co-mingle

People look me up and down

And say, “You must be single.”

 

Crazy cat, cat lady

They think it’s so sad to see

But based on what I see in them

I weep for humanity

 

I go to any party

And within ten minutes flat

You’ll find me in the kitchen

Talking to their cat

 

Crazy cat, cat lady

Too bad I’m not a wife?

Don’t feel bad for me, I’ve got my friends

And an active inner life

 

I don’t think cats are weird

Birds I think are worse

And at least I won’t scrounge for birdseed

At the bottom of my purse

 

I can have nice things

Sleep in ‘til noon

I have my independence

I take my own honeymoon

 

Crazy cat, cat lady

They think it’s so sad to see

But based on what I see in them

I weep for humanity

 

You may think I’m crazy

But this much I know is true

You can kiss my ass, I like my cat

Much more than I like you.

Maybe, Baby

The first time I held my niece Sarah, she pooped on me. I would have thought that it was kind of cute but her brother Henry did the same thing to me when he was an infant so I can’t help feeling that they’ve been coached.

Obviously, I don’t have kids. Don’t get me wrong – I think having children can be a wonderful thing. It’s just never held any interest for me. When I was a little girl, my friends would talk about how many kids they’d have someday, and what they’d name them, and I’d think, “We’re in the second grade. I can’t deal with that. Let me learn long division first and then we’ll discuss.” I dreamed about having good friends, a nice house, or maybe talking to Johnny Carson, but the idea of kids just wasn’t on the agenda.

Consequently, I’m not all that comfortable around babies. I think they’re adorable, but they make me a little nervous. They stare at you with those little eyes, like they know you haven’t called your mother recently, and frankly, they’re a tad disappointed in you. And they’re always a little sticky. Fresh out of the bath, smelling like powder, and…a little sticky. At some point I get the inevitable question: “Do you want to hold her?” If I’m not related, I usually decline. But with my niece and nephew, I had to give it a go. And it’s unbelievably awkward, which is weird because I know how to hold things, generally. But one little nine-pound baby, and I feel like I have two right hands and I just know that I’m doing it wrong. I’m positive that if I shift my weight one tiny bit to the right the baby will go springing out of my hands, making me feel like a nervous student on Day Two of a “How to Juggle Chainsaws” home-study course. So when I first held Henry I was as stiff as a board, and he gave me a look that said, “You have got to be kidding me.”

I know, I know. It’s just a baby. I need to get over myself and get comfortable with it. Or maybe people need to stop handing me their children. I don’t really like to pick up my cat, either.

Look, babies are adorable. I unabashedly love baby feet. I like picking out baby clothes. But I do not enjoy discussing the actual babies at length, much less the birthing stories. And it’s a tough situation, because most new mothers do. Not really having much to contribute to the inevitable conversation, I’m forced to continually stifle my inner monologue:

“And then the pains started shooting through my whole body…”

Please stop.

“Then they had to CUT (insert very personal body part here)…”

I don’t want to.

“There was blood and goo everywhere…”

For the love of Mike.

“I was afraid I was going to poop!”

We’ve just met.

“Breast pump…”

No.

“The first time I used a rectal thermometer…”

I’m begging you.

“He spit up all over me. And I couldn’t figure out why it was green…”

Is he an alien? Just a theory.

“You want to hold him?”

Sigh.

And these exchanges always, always happen with women I don’t know very well. Why? Are they trying to get me to see what I’m missing? If so, rock on and message received. My actual friends don’t do this. My childless status is probably a bit of a relief to them, and I like to think that they know that they can call me at any time and I will never start the conversation with the words, “Can I call you back? I just got peed on.” A big problem here is that due to my lack of comfort around the wee ones, I tend to talk to them as if they were tiny adults. The first time I met my friend Isabelle’s baby, I actually tried to shake hands.

“Um, how do you do?” I said, stiffly. “Um, he appears to be leaking.”

“Oh, sorry about that. He’s teething. Here,” she said, handing me the baby. “Let me go get a bib.”

So there I stood, holding little Aaron in front of me like a bag of flour. Face to face, I felt the need to fill the awkward silence.

“So, how do you like the Sox this year?”

It doesn’t help when parents dress their children like tiny adults. Isabelle had a baby-sized corduroy jacket hanging in Aaron’s closet, and honest to God it actually had elbow patches on it. Give him a little briefcase and he’d be my Uncle Saul.

“It’s adorable,” I told her. “But where’s he going to wear it? Court?”

It doesn’t get easier when they get a little older. My nephew Henry is at the stage where he’s very opinionated and bossy, which I guess comes with the territory, but it’s a little off-putting taking orders from a four-year-old. The first time I went to David’s house to see Sarah after they brought her home from the hospital, Henry was very protective, like a bouncer at an exclusive club.

“You can’t touch the baby,” he insisted. “Only I can touch the baby.”

“Well,” I replied, sweetly, “Your daddy says I can touch her. It’s OK.”

“But I say just me.”

We seemed to be at an impasse.

“Maybe later, then,” I offered.

“NO.”

I jokingly threw up my hands. “OK, then!”

“Don’t worry,” David said. “Just wait until he’s busy with his toy parking garage. You can play with Sarah then.”

“As long as you’re sure it’s OK,” I replied. “I don’t want to get put on report or anything.” I paused for a moment. “Wait – Henry has a toy parking garage?”

“Yeah,” he said, “It makes five car horn sounds and has two different sirens. We haven’t slept in weeks.” He hung his head. “My mother-in-law bought it. I think she secretly hates me.”

One thing I have learned, by watching the parents around me, is that the parenting never stops. Even at my age, my Mom worries when I’m alone, and is convinced I’m not dressing warmly enough in winter. My Dad still checks on my car, and offers the odd bit of life advice. When David was four, for example, he wanted to be a fire truck. Not a fireman – an actual fire truck. Now, every so often, Dad will call him and ask how his former career plans are progressing.

“So, are you a fire truck yet?”

“No, Dad, not yet.”

“That’s all right, son. It’s all about setting goals.”

I have a feeling I’ll never be a “natural” with babies. And I’m totally fine with this. Rather than feeling like I’m missing something, I prefer to look at the childless life as its own kind of adventure, filled with sleeping seven or eight hours in a row, clothes free of spit-up, and the option of white furniture. It also gives me the chance to be the beloved aunt, the bearer of finger paint and fruit roll-ups. When Henry and Sarah get older, I will show up wearing sequined sneakers and a matching hat, and whisk them away to the zoo, where I will make up stuff about the animals. Then, when they’re tired and cranky, I will hand them back to their parents.

And then I’ll go home and most likely spill something on my white furniture, but I won’t tell them about that.