Phobophobia

We all have things that we’re afraid of, large and small. Sometimes it’s a real phobia, like a fear of heights, and sometimes the scale is a bit smaller, like being afraid of having something stuck in your teeth. For many of us, dealing with fears is necessary to get through the day. As long as it’s not paralyzing, a bit of fear might be a good thing – it can push us to keep going, to do what we need to do. And, like driving past a graveyard, we can enjoy that sense of “Whew!” when it’s over.

A lot of people are afraid of insects. I’ve seen grown men scream and dance like little girls when they get within two feet of a moth. In general, I’m not worried about bugs. I spent too many years at summer camp to be terribly put off by them. Even spiders don’t freak me out, as long as they’re not tarantulas. But I’m not an arachnid warrior, exactly. I have no problem killing one, but as I’m running with said spider mashed up in a paper towel on the way to the bathroom to flush it down the toilet, I do have a tendency to make an “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” sound. I’m not proud of it. Sometimes I pretend it’s a battle cry, which doesn’t make me feel more empowered, but it’s really a case of “him or me,” and sometimes a little “whoop” of self-support is in order.

It’s easy to freak out though, even if you think you’re cool with the bugs. Once I got stuck in traffic behind a 1972 Ford Ugly that needed a new muffler. I entertained myself by watching the cicadas dance around in the air as if they had collectively decided to ignore the cicada choreographer’s instructions, switching back and forth from Swan Lake to the can-can number in Moulin Rouge at random intervals. This was all well and fine until one of them dive-bombed my car. I actually ducked. OK, I didn’t duck, I just flinched a little bit, which is still kind of stupid because it bounced off the windshield and didn’t even get close to my breathing space. But still, I flinched. On some level, for just a split second, I must have thought, “It could have a drill or a saw or an etching tool of some sort and it will get through the windshield and hijack my car! Oh wait! Never mind! It’s a cicada!”

Like I said, not exactly badass behavior.

I think so many people are afraid of bugs because they really don’t know anything about them. Did you know that a female ladybug, for example, will lay over 1,000 eggs in her lifetime? (They never write, they never call.) During hibernation, they feed on their body fat. (This is important because it’s so hard to lose all that egg-weight.) The Jungle Nymph Stick is one of the heaviest insects. In Malaysia they are often kept by people who feed them guava leaves and use the droppings to make tea. (I prefer Lemon Zinger, but whatever.) And a cockroach can change directions up to twenty five times in a second. (Probably because he wouldn’t stop and ask the guy at the gas station how to get there.) So insects are actually kind of interesting, but in all honesty, I’d like to keep this knowledge theoretical. I really don’t want some entomologic Wild Kingdom in my living room.

Insects aside, there are a lot of other things to be nervous about. Like clowns. I never understood the appeal. Ever. Even as a kid I wouldn’t get near one, and a few years ago at a street carnival I actually made my friends cross the street because I saw one coming at us. Although for me, it’s not a fear, exactly, so much as an aversion. I don’t like people dressed in animal costumes, either. But fear of clowns has it’s own designation – Coulrophobia. I can understand why someone would fear them. They paint their faces into some sort of primary color-based death mask, have oversized feet, and are full-force committed to making you laugh with horns, squirty flowers, seltzer, and buckets of confetti. That’s a lot of pressure. And despite all this, they used to be a staple of children’s birthday parties. But I’ve never met an adult who loves clowns. Never. I’m starting to form a theory that their appearance at parties was either A) A large-scale psychological experiment meant to freak out people for years to come, B) The clown union had way too much power, or C) Parents were deliberately trying to give their kids nightmares for the rest of their lives. (“Go to sleep, Johnny, or Chunkles will come and EAT YOUR FACE!”) OK, so maybe I do have Coulrophobia. Just a little.

I don’t have a problem with other performers with painted faces; just clowns. (Although to be very honest, people dressed in full-on animal/mascot costumes freak me out too.) But I’d like to state for the record that I have no issues with mimes. Now, some people get oddly aggressive when you mention mimes, and it’s generally people who have never actually been in the presence of one. And they always go right to the “I’m stuck in a box” bit, which I now think has become the international symbol for “mime.”  “If he’s miming being in the box,” a friend once exclaimed, “Why can’t he just mime having a box cutter and get the hell out of the damn box?” I figure that if a mime is stuck in a box he’s a bad mime and deserves to be there. I once went to a performance by the famous mime, Marcel Marceau, and he held an audience spellbound for two hours without saying a word. Or being stuck in a box. That’s some good mime right there. The only weird part was attending a master class he gave the next day, and hearing him speak. It was much like, I imagine, watching Henry Kissinger dance the Merengue. You know that it’s possible, but it just seemed like the oddest possible thing he could be doing.

Also, heights. Not a fan. Clear-sided elevators give me the fits, and I can’t get past about the third or fourth rung of a ladder. But considering my propensity for being particularly high strung, that’s pretty much it for the phobias. I do have many fears that seem to come and go in passing, though, depending on my mood and what I’ve watched on television recently. I used to watch ER, with its disease/disaster of the week, and think, “Oh, good. Something new to be afraid of.” (See also: hanger stuck up a nose; and helicopters, having one’s arm chopped off.) I’m afraid of flying, but only during take-off and landing, and the rest of the time I only fear airport food. I’m afraid of bears, but I live in the suburbs, so really, what are the odds? I do fear being hit by a driver who is texting or gabbing on the phone, and that plays into my fear of dumbasses in general.

But the rest of the time I think I’m just dealing with concerns, really. When cooking for others, I always worry that there won’t be enough food, so I prepare too much and then grumble when there’s leftovers. (Hovering over the food table and tensely pointing at the Lemon Bundt Cake always puts people in an eating mode, correct?) I need to check the stove every time I leave the house. Doesn’t matter if I haven’t used the stove in three days; there could be water simmering that will evaporate and burn down the house the moment I put the keys in the ignition. I’ve also been known to check my car several times after parking to make sure the doors are locked. True, the only things that someone breaking into the car would find is a travel coffee mug, an old grocery list, and a copy of Bossypants that I can’t seem to remember to remove from the back seat, but some thieves are highly specialized so you just never know.  (Maybe one could be a hard-core Tina Fey fan.) I also used to scan the obituaries, not to be morbid, but to reassure myself – because as long as the people were much older than me, I figured I was doing all right.

Note: Some people feel that obituaries would be more interesting if they told you how the people died, but I think that would only be true if it read something like, “Details are sketchy, but the death appears to have involved a watermelon, a pair of lederhosen and a spatula…” That would be interesting.

Of course, there are the Really Big Concerns, like violence, illness and death by any number of ways. But I have found that I can’t live in fear of those things on a daily basis – it’s too overwhelming. Some days just backing out of the driveway can be a supremely brave act, so we just need to put those other fears to the side to get through the day.

I’ve even gone so far as to come up with names for my all-new phobias. They may apply only to me, but sometimes it’s all right to put a label on things.  For example, there’s “Heineyophobia,” which is “The fear that yes, your ass does look big in those jeans.” And let’s not forget “Snobbygoopphobia,” which is “The fear that somehow, somewhere, Gwyneth Paltrow is judging you.” And my favorite, “Oopsadorkaphobia,” which I think is “The fear that, after asking someone how they are, and they respond and ask you how you are, you say ‘fine’ and then ask them how they are again.”

Even more prevalent than my fears, though, are the Things I Don’t Understand. I’m not talking about calculus or nuclear fusion; I’m talking about mild, run-of-the-mill things that just make me go, “Enh?” I continue to be frustrated when Size-2 actresses like Salma Hayek and Halle Berry are described euphemistically as “curvy.” I don’t understand some people’s refusal to learn and/or use basic grammar and spelling. The rampant misuse of the apostrophe is staggering, and I’m thinking of getting a letter-writing campaign going to teach everyone, collectively, the difference between “your” and “you’re.” There are even problems with food. The menu board for the café I pass on the way to the gym once featured “Belgium Waffles” as their breakfast special. I resisted the urge to march in there and correct them, because they probably don’t care, and they would most likely miss the humor in me ordering the “France Toast” instead. Or the “Sweden Pancakes.” Or even a piece of “Germany Chocolate Cake.” And while it’s probably not the end of the world, and I know it’s VERY old news, this last thing may very well be one of the harbingers of the imminent decline of American civilization. Forget the economy, folks, we have something scarier to worry about:

I found out that “musicians” Pete Wentz and Ashley Simpson named their child Bronx Mowgli.

Can we all just admit these two are a couple of nim-nuts, and pass some sort of unofficial law outlawing celebrities from naming their offspring in such a fashion? Like at some point, they should just be forced to use names like “Child of Idiot #1” or “My Parents Think They’re Creative?”

And I’m sorry, but “Bronx” sounds like some guy’s prison nickname. Things are not boding well for this child. But at least the Simpson-Wentz’s didn’t try to get cutesy with it, like spelling it “Bronxxx” or with a silent “Q” or something.

It’s fascinating, though. The study of our social inadequacies never gets old. Even limited to the celebrity pool, there’s a never-ending source of material. Most of the time it’s amusing; sometimes it’s just mind-boggling. We all say stupid things from time to time, but most of us are not being quoted by US Weekly. And we haven’t volunteered to have reality-show cameras follow us around 24/7, catching our every word and misstep. And thank goodness. I really believe that the phenomenon of reality television has elevated stupidity to an art form. There are girls weeping loudly over losing the “man of their dreams” who they just met twelve hours before in front of an entire camera crew. Young people living on the shore of New Jersey glamorize drunken debauchery, tanning, and hair products, maneuvering them into actual career choices. Education doesn’t even enter into it.

So, yes, I fear the stupid people. I fear that being called “intellectual” has become an insult. I fear that rationality is giving way to ignorance. I fear that Kim Kardashian’s tush is threatening to take over the world, or at very least the television. I’m afraid to eat fettuccini in public. I am terribly afraid that our nation’s youth thinks that “IDK” and “LOL” are actual words. I fear that if yet another version of Real Housewives hits the airwaves we are all doomed. And I’m really, truly afraid that if I put one more book on my IKEA bookshelf it will come crashing down because while putting it together I couldn’t figure out where the last flurfinghugen was supposed to go.

It can get tiring, but let’s face it all head on. Let’s start on a small scale, and work our way up. Wear skinny jeans and horizontal stripes. Drink milk three days past its Sell-By date. Embrace the fact that you’re turning into your mother. Personally, I figure that as long as I don’t run into a clown on an escalator, I’ll get through just fine.

And just for the record, I didn’t realize cicadas could fly. I thought they just lounged around and ate wood or leaves or Cheetos or whatever. They don’t seem to fly with much purpose or sense of destination, but if you stare at them long enough, it’s almost like a little bug ballet. They apparently urinate, too, so wear a hat if you’re suddenly afraid of cicada pee.

As we all should be, really. That’s just good sense.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Joel McHale Is Terrifying

Ok, not really. It’s not like he has tentacles or body spikes (at least not that I could see). But I was able to sort-of meet him at his local book signing, and, judging by my reaction, he’s a bloody alarming fellow. (This is ALL ME, folks. My weirdness. For the record, Joel really couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious and welcoming to the fans who came to the book signing.)

I do not do well with famous people. While my experiences have been limited, it generally involves me rehearsing in my head something to say, not saying it, and being completely out-of-the-moment.

A number of years ago, I went to see Eddie Izzard in concert. He is, and was, brilliant, and would come out after the show and meet and take a photo with anyone who wanted one. I was with some friends, and we were one of the first people in line, and I just knew that if I could just come up with a winning line, he’d instantly see how fabulous I was and we’d be best friends. Should I talk about his movie work? Previous comedy shows? Make a bon mot about the state of European politics? (Never mind that all of this would have to be accomplished in less than 90 seconds. Details!) “No” on all those points. When my big moment came, what did I spew forth?

“How do you stand in these high heel boots? My feet are killing me!”

My friend Patti shot me a look, asked him about Shakespeare, and we took the picture.

Went to a book signing last spring with Nick Offerman, from “Parks & Recreation.” (Well, not WITH him. He was the featured author. It’s not like we hung out beforehand and went to Build-A-Bear.) He spoke first in front of the group, then we lined up for autographs in our newly-purchased books. He and I actually know some people in common through the Chicago theater community, so I had an “in.” But all that came out at the crucial moment was some sort of incoherent sentence about being a fellow thespian.

Well, fuck me.

He grunted, signed the book, and said “Thank you for coming.” I moved along, feeling very dopey, until I realized he probably didn’t actually hear a word I said. I felt slightly better.

Last Wednesday, I spotted Dr. Ian Smith, celebrity diet doctor, at my local Whole Foods. He was there promoting his new line of healthy popcorn. Nobody had really discovered him in the store yet, so I sauntered over.

“Excuse me,” I said gently, “Are you Dr. Ian Smith?”

He smiled shyly and said, “Yes, I am.”

“What a thrill. I’m an admirer of yours, and I’ve read a few of your books.”

So far, so good, right?

“Well, this is my new popcorn, mentioned in the books…” he began.

All of a sudden, I felt like I was The Woman Who Wouldn’t Leave, and I panicked. Would he see the box holding the pizza slice in my cart? Did I have obvious wax buildup coming out of my ear? WAS I BLOCKING THE WAY OF SOMEONE MUCH MORE POPCORN-WORTHY?

“Ha Ha, Ok, BYE!”

I smiled, pushed my card forward, and got the hell outta Dodge. I did manage to put together a much more coherent Tweet about the encounter, which Dr. Ian was very kind to respond to. I also can’t believe there was food involved and I totally missed the opportunity.

So, yeah. McHale. He’s got a new book out, “Thanks For The Money.” It’s got a green cover and pages in it, as well as words and illustrations. So, book. He spoke to a crowd of about 200 at the Naperville Marriott, and everyone had a good time. Then, we lined up to get our books signed and a picture. I tried not to plan conversation in my head pre-encounter, because, as I’ve mentioned, it tends to go slightly on the diagonal. I was actually more concerned with my purse. More specifically, the size of my purse and it’s proportion to my hips. I’m kinda pushing maximum density these days with my weight (that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post. Or seven.) so I was literally standing in line in Ballroom B of the Marriott, holding my wallet-sized bag, thinking, “Purse on? Purse off? Hold it under my arm?” and wondering how much bigger the stupid thing would make my hips look.

Then, it was my turn. (PS I held the purse like a clutch.) Joel asked my name, and gave me a hug, which surprised the hell out of me, and was kind of awkward as I’ve never actually mastered hugging. (WHERE DO THE ARMS GO???) Then he asked where I was from, and what I did in said town.

“I’m a writer,” I responded.

So far, so good. And I’m not sweating much.

“What do you write?”

“I wrote a book of essays, and I recently finished a novel.”

“What’s it called?”

Wow, he’s listening? Cool.

“Girls Who Wear Glasses. It’s kind of a rom-com.”

“How’s it doing?”

“Well, I’m shopping it around. It’s being considered by an indie publishing house.”

This is when things took a turn.

I turned to the nice lady from the bookstore.

“So maybe I’ll be having a book signing, too!”

Shit.

“Just kidding!” I paused. “And I’ve taken classes at Second City!”

“You’ve gone up there to study?”

“I have…” It sounded more question than statement, as I hit the word “have” with just a little too much emphasis, then paused like I was going to add more but couldn’t quite manage.

Then it was time to pose for the picture. The sun was at just the wrong angle, so I had to awkwardly switch to his left side. He’s really quite handsome, more so in person, and I was very aware that my chin was blushing (yes, that’s a thing) and my purse felt even smaller in my hands, thereby widening my hips exponentially.

Click.

I knew I had to move on and let others have their turn. I turned and said, “I hope we get to work together professionally some day.”

“It’s will cost a lot of money,” he joked.

“Well, for you.” It was not the witticism I hoped for. I was going for dry wit; I think I landed in something snark-adjacent. My heart was pounding a little more than the situation probably called for.

Save it, save it, save it…

I looked up at him, smiled (I think) and said, “Thank you for doing this. I really enjoyed it.” I think he said “You’re welcome,” but I was pretty much checked out at that point.

Then I walked away. And let out a breath for the first time in about three minutes.

I do hope I figure this sort of thing out, because I’m getting to the point where I’m actually afraid of meeting another famous person. Like the next time I’ll just stand there holding my shoe in my hands or something. Or speak in some weird accent. It’s probably a lack of confidence in myself that causes all this, because I have dork episodes with “regular” people too. But with people I admire, it’s like I somehow want to stand out, to appear like I belong in some pseudo-rarified air. I think I want them to think, “I’d want to be friends with her,” and not, “Oh dear, she dropped her unusually small purse.”

Well, maybe next time. Unless I somehow run into Benedict Cumberbatch. In that case, all bets are off. I’d probably just stand there, humming.

And maybe he’d hum too. Stranger things, you know.

Brush With Greatness

This evening I went to see David Sedaris perform at a local college. It was excellent, and I enjoyed it immensely. Beforehand, he was in the lobby signing books, and I managed to be second in line. Before I handed him my well-worn copy of “When You Are Engulfed In Flames,” I handed him a copy of MY book, as a “thank you for being such a big influence on my writing.”

Or at least I think that’s what I said.

I wanted so badly to be witty and charming, but I think I was closer to being that woman who talks too fast and laughs too loud. When I wasn’t babbling incoherently, that is.

BUT…

He has a copy of my book. He’s seen the cover. Whether he actually reads it is another story, but hey, sometimes you have to take a chance. If nothing else, it’s motivated me to start writing again, an activity I’ve sadly neglected recently.

Plus, I’ve got a cool autograph in the book…

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Sexy, Schmexy

Ok, so the interweb pretty much blew up (in a matter of speaking) over Miley Cyrus’ recent performance on the VMAs.

Here’s my one and only statement on the matter:

Miley Cyrus does not shock me with her recent behavior. She looks ridiculous. It’s like she’s trying SO HARD to be edgy and hip and putting the fact that she has a functioning vagina out there that it all just winds up looking stupid and trashy. The collective response to the whole thing was not, as I’m assuming she had hoped, “Wow, Miley’s an adult artist now!” but more like a very big, “Hrmphythsgh?” followed by a lot of squinting, brow furrowing and head tilting.

And she needs to just keep her damn tongue in her mouth. That’s not sexy. It makes her look like a cow.

I know she’s trying to look mature, but I’ve checked with my friends, who are all grown-ass women, and none of them do this. None. (Unless they have chocolate sauce in the corner of their mouth.)

Besides, I’m concerned that her chiropractic bills from all that twerking will be astronomical.

Goop, Schmoop

I seem to have a growing irritation with all things Gwyneth Paltrow. I think she’s a decent enough actress — that isn’t my issue. I think it’s her declarative statements about how she’s just a normal gal, and her recent self-positioning as a “lifestyle guru” that have me a bit irked. (She also considers herself a nice Jewish girl, and while I appreciate the shout-out, when your mother is the ultimate shiksa goddess you really can’t claim to be of the tribe. Well, I guess you can, but we don’t have to claim her back.)

One day I decided to visit her website, just to see if it was as “out there” as I had heard. Turns out that it’s full of super down-to-earth, helpful hints. For example, do you find yourself wondering what to wear this season? Gwyneth has it in the bag:

“The ubiquitous sailor stripe is not going anywhere.”

Well, thank G-d.

“Big bold stripes in jarring colors are the way to go, and the really daring will wear stripes with other stripes, patterns and lots of color.”

I don’t really think I want to look like a circus clown on speed, thank you very much.

“P.S., get on this trend right away, because NEXT season is all about the polka dot!”

You know, I think I’ll ride this current trend out. That’s a lot of pressure.  I need to rest up for the polka dot, which apparently will be the entire focal point of our collective existence.

“Worn by day, the long skirt—whether full or pleated—is completely at ease anywhere. I like to see this silhouette paired with flats; the juxtaposition of the two make it a more casual and languid look. Wear with an oversized blazer, a belted cardigan or even a bomber jacket to complete the look.”

First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever looked languid in my life. I wouldn’t know where to begin. Also, you need to weigh about three pounds to pull off this look. The rest of us would look like bag ladies.

“The Best Accessory: A smile! Just remember, you are never fully dressed without a smile!”

This is not helpful. I think if I were smiling while wearing a long skirt, oversized blazer with jarring colors and big stripes, I’d be committed.

By the way, in another area of her site, she also offers a nice gift suggestion: a $52.50 flyswatter. (I am not making that up.)

I think if she just owned up to the fact that she has had an extremely privileged life and basically has had her career handed to her, I wouldn’t be as annoyed. But no, she is trying to be an Everywoman, who has worked so hard to earn everything she has, and true, while she is married to a rock star and is besties with Madonna, she really understands what the rest of us need to live our best lives.

I speak only for myself, but I can’t take advice from this woman. I am single, eat compulsively, I have a cat who yells at me,  and I have days where I’m just grateful my socks match and I haven’t spilled coffee down my front.

I should write my own lifestyle guide. It would be about a paragraph long, and would contain pearls such as:

  • This season is all about clean clothes. Do your laundry occasionally. Stripes? Paisley pashminas? Feh. Just try not to look homeless.
  • Please microwave your leftover veggie burger before eating it standing over the sink. It is not a burgsicle. While you are waiting, pour some wine in your coffee mug, but let it breathe. Or just blow on it. It’s a $8 bottle of pinot from Trader Joe’s, for Pete’s sake.
  • Need a last minute gift? Forget the French boutiques. Try rifling through your closet for that pen set someone gave you two years ago, throw it in a gift bag, and hope to G-d the recipient isn’t the person who originally gave it to you.

I think it would be a best seller. At least my Mom would buy it.