Here She Is…

I’ve decided that I would like to be the next Miss America.

I am not kidding. I think I’d be great. Yes, I’m too old. I have no discernable talent. I am not perky, dedicated to public service, or particularly graceful. But I still think this could work. My current beef with the pageant is that the promoters insist that it’s not beauty pageant; it’s a “scholarship” pageant. Who are they trying to kid? If it were truly a “scholarship” pageant, the contestants wouldn’t be uniformly beautiful. They’d look like the occupants of the campus library on a Friday night. For me to win, though, there would have to be some serious revamping. There’d be no bathing suits, no helmet hair, and no plasticized smiles. It would have to become a true representation of the “average” woman in the U.S. today. Some would argue that it should not represent the norm; it should celebrate the “ideal” woman. I say that if they want to keep this thing afloat, they need to stir the pot a bit. They need, in a word, me.

Here I am. Miss Unusual America.

Doing a little digging, I found that back in the day, the pageant was originally seen as a symbol of the U.S., with Miss America often being referred to as the “female equivalent” of the President. (I’ll save the political rant and the need for a “female equivilent” for another day. Stay tuned.) But this is an interesting concept, Because I’m telling you, I think under the best of circumstances the presidency could be a two-person job. For example, the President could send me, as Miss America, to deal with the Congress, with all the bickering, petty politics, and selfishness. I was a middle school teacher – I can handle that sort of behavior. Set expectations with the Senators and Representatives. Let them know what the rules and guidelines are. And make sure they know that there will be consequences for bad behavior.

“Senator, you shot down the bill to help extend veteran’s benefits. Is this appropriate behavior for the government?”

“But he started it!”

“Senator, stop poking the gentleman from Massachusetts.”

“I didn’t do anything!”

“Precisely. You will be given a twenty minute detention after today’s session and will lose several points in your next polling.”

“Aww, man…”

Consistency is key, with Republicans, Democrats, and seventh graders.

(Again, saving the uber-specific political rant for another day. Moving on…)

As for the nuts and bolts of the competition, there are a few areas in which Miss America must be judged in order to win the crown. The first is a personal interview, where the candidate must be well spoken, articulate, polite and confident. Not surprisingly, this part is not televised. Too bad, because I think this could be my strongest area:

Host: Miss Old Illinois, what do you think is our greatest issue in this country?

Pageant Me: OK, listen up. First of all, I’d tell everyone in the Republican Party to just relax already about the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, ” and let LGBTQ people serve as well, for Pete’s sake.  Gay people have always bravely served in the military – this is not new. There will not be a sudden surge in gay enlistment. There will be no formation of the 77th Airborne Liza Brigade. Although if there were an uptick of gay enlistment, I think that would be awesome. Send these fellows in anywhere, surprise the hell out of the enemy with a chorus of, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” and if the opposing troops won’t retreat, they would be met with a withering glare and firm “Bitch, please.” They’d have the enemy running for the hills. (AUDIENCE GASPS) Oh, really? This bothers you? An entire generation of kids is wasting brain cells on violent video games and overdosing on Fritos, and you all clench over a stereotypical gay joke?

Host (beginning to sweat): What are your personal goals?

Pageant Me: I would someday like to pull off wearing skinny jeans and a beret. I would like to invent a chocolate cake that does not induce feelings of guilt and an immediate increase in fat cells. I would like to convince the USDA to classify wine as a fruit. I hope to convince the world (and myself) that wearing pajamas all day is cool and not, as my friend Sophie classifies it, “sadthetic.” And, most of all, I’d like to persuade Nathan Fillion that those hot Hollywood starlets are passé and that he really needs to date a middle-aged woman with saddlebags, an overdeveloped sense of snark, and a killer lasagna recipe. (Looks at host) I think the word you’re looking for is, “Anyway…”

Perfect 10s all around. Nailed it!

Next up is the talent competition, which for many years has played fast and loose with the word talent. In the past, many contestants overplayed the piano or violin, while some juggled, did fast sketching, or even ventriloquism. There have been firewalkers, tractor drivers, and the ubiquitous baton twirlers. Some sang loudly with dramatic pageant arm gestures, garbled arias, or delivered a maudlin torch song with a huge smile, because, as my friend Nadine said, “Miss America is not allowed to be sad.” No more. Let’s bring this area into the real world, too. How about a Spelling Bee? Bargain Shopping? Expensive Footwear Justification? Those would be interesting.   But what is my particular talent, you may ask? I can look at a photo of a man and with less than three bits of general information, tell you why he’s still single.

“Mama’s Boy.”

“Napoleon complex.”

“Mansplains. Everything.”

“Overcompensation for…shortcomings.”

“Bad breath.”

“Orders for a woman in a restaurant.”

“Calls women babes.”

“Continually tells women they’re overreacting.”

“Needy.”

“Handsy.”

“Thinks he’s an artiste.”

“Career goal is to be on Jersey Shore.”

Is on Jersey Shore.”

I can hold a violin while doing this, if it makes the judges more comfortable.

The next part of the competition is where they walk across the stage in a bathing suit and high heels. This is where I might have to take a pass. I won’t wear a suit in sunlight, much less a spotlight. And it’s not just an embarrassment issue; it’s really a logic issue. I mean, who wears a bikini (oh yeah, they can wear two-pieces now) and high heels? Since the main arena for bathing suits is generally near water and not in an actual arena, it’s really a matter of safety. You could slip and twist an ankle. See? I’m looking out for my fellow Misses. Doesn’t that show depth and higher-order thinking skills? Now, if it’s a real problem, I’ll don the suit, but I’ll wear it like most women my age wear it – completely covered with a knee-length t-shirt. Or with a sarong that starts under the armpits, reaches the knees, and is made of something that won’t stain if you get margaritas or Pop-Tarts on it.

On to Evening Wear. Now, my typical evening wear is flannel pants and a “Mystic Warlords of Ka’a” t-shirt, so I’m thinking I might have to bump it up a notch. Contestants in my new version of the pageant would be judged on poise, confidence, and who complains the least about how their double-Spanx is cutting into their waistline. I walk best in high heels if I’m carrying a cocktail and a plate of mini-quiche, so I’d see if I could work that in somehow. To make it more relevant, they could also judge things real people generally do while wearing fancy garb. We don’t just sashay, pivot, smile, sashay. We make small talk. We pretend to be glad to see someone. We eat cocktail franks. We sit through boring speeches. We fake smiles. We politely excuse ourselves to the ladies’ room to tug at our strapless bras. The pageant could tie-in this part with the “onstage question” they pose to all of the finalists, which is topical, completely random, and for which they have no prep time. I could handle this much better than the Miss Teen U.S.A. contestant from a few years back who couldn’t give a coherent answer to why one-fifth of Americans can’t find the U.S. on a map. My answer?

“They’re idiots.”

Done.

I really think we can get the Miss America pageant to be popular again. It just needs to be relevant. Right now, saying Miss America represents women in this country is like saying reality television represents…reality. There’s a real disconnect. Miss America should be outstanding, but not so incredibly removed from the rest of us that she ceases to become real. These things that they’re currently judged on in the pageant are not really life skills. We want our Miss America to be a representation of the best in all women. And that does not involve walking across a stage in high heels and a bikini. That’s why I think I’d make a good Miss America (or, in my case, Ms. America, thank you). I’ve survived in the real world. I have life experience. I’ve burned pot roasts. And I’ve raised a glass of wine, both figuratively and literally, with some amazing, brilliant, kick-ass women who I feel privileged to call my friends.

Plus, I’d love any excuse to wear a tiara on a regular basis. And if I added a cape and some awesome boots to the ensemble, I’m pretty sure I could take over the world. Who’s with me?

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Stupid Cupid or, Raindrops on Roses are just Soggy

In a few days, it will be Valentine’s Day. The day of love, roses, candy, hearts, nausea, bitterness and regret.

I do like the candy, though.

I don’t do well with this day. I tend to ignore it with every fiber of my being, the emotional equivilent of putting my fingers in my ears and singing, “LALALALALALALALA!” I always manage to be single on this day of days, and as a disinterested bystander, I can only say this: The Whole Day Sucks.

This is not a new sentiment. There are countless others who have covered this idea, from writers of great note, to comedians, to meme-creators. But it is hard to be on the outside looking in, like some huge commercial pastry-shop where so many of us have collectively pressed our noses against the metaphorical glass.

Whew, that’s an image.

I don’t do well with…feelings. At all. I get squirmy at the mere mention of affection, and I swear to G-d when someone tries to hug me I try to slink away like a slinky slinkerton. (Insert better simile here.)

Awkward.

I do not come from a huggy family. We’re not cold, it’s just that we’re not overly physically affectionate. We’re more of a “Hello, how do you do?” kind of family, so that’s what I know. My nephew gave me a hug around the waist last time I visited, and I looked at my brother and was like, “What is it doing?” I’m glad he felt comfortable enough to make the effort, but I would have been fine with a smile and perhaps a hearty salute.

Valentine’s Day is just so aggressive, with the red hearts and chubby armed toddlers floating around. I worked with a woman once whose husband took his romantical duties VERY seriously. I don’t know if he had been threatened at some point, but every hour or so the gifts kept arriving. Think Phyllis from “The Office” and you’ll be about on point. First, the flowers. Ok, no prob. Common enough. Then, candy. All right, I’m ok with that, she’ll probably share. Then, more flowers. Then a bear with a heart sewn on. Then chocolate strawberries. Then a robe. Then a necklace. Then a goat with a hat. (Ok, I may be making that one up.) By five o’clock she looked like the accessory department at Macy’s. She had two interns help her move the stuff to her car.

I did have a working theory that she sent all this stuff to herself, but I kept that on the DL. Besides, if true, she’s effing brilliant.

It’s just weird to have one day of the year (I’m ignoring Sweetest Day, which I’m pretty sure is not a real thing) to get over the top LOVE stuff. It’s so artificial, and it seems like it’s really for the benefit of other people in one’s life.

“LOOK HOW G-DDAMN HAPPY WE ARE! I GIVE YOU FOLIAGE AND SUGAR! IN A VASE! WE ARE G-DDAMN HAPPY! YES! IT IS TRUE!”

Just be nice to each other and don’t forget your anniversary. I think that’s enough.

I do like the sweets part, though. That I can get behind. I bought a coconut cake for my recent birthday (yes, my birthday is Valentine’s Day adjacent. Yay!) I don’t have an “off button” for cake.

My Dad: Isn’t that your third piece of cake today?

Me: Not in a row.

My Dad: Don’t you think you’ve had enough of the cake?

Me: I understand the words you’re saying, but not in context.

Reason #243 Why My Family Is Not Surprised I’m Still Single.

I also am not a fan of what people call “relationships.” I’m too old to be awkwardly adorable; I’m just old and awkward. I can handle dealing with people for about an hour, then I start thinking, “Why are you still here?” I have friends and whatnot (you know if you’re in the “whatnot” category) who still seem intent on interacting with me after that arbitrary time limit, which usually just leaves me thinking, “How on earth do you still have things you want to tell me? Even I’M done with me now.” I desperately need my quiet/alone/plotting world domination time. Even if it’s just a few hours to walk around humming the Gilligan’s Island theme, I need it and I think the world needs me to have it too. I’m pretty insufferable, in general, but I’m highly aware of it and try to limit my influence accordingly.

I just never figured out how to interact with people without feeling like I have six arms and a horn. The problem is, I can fake it, sort of. I can do small talk, and people think because I have a theater background, I’m extroverted extrovert. But in my head I’m like, “Is this the face for being interested? Am I doing it? Now? How about now?” But I know this only extends so far, because people seem to instinctively not attempt to get too close to me. Personally, yes, which is only sometimes fine, but also physically, which I am ever-so glad for. If someone gets too close an alarm goes off in my head – “Personal bubble! Personal bubble!” It’s fine (well, mostly fine) if I know someone fairly well, but strangers seem the most guilty of this. Instant Intimacy (trademark pending) is not my bag, and if  happen to meet a hugger upon introduction I’m done for the day. I appreciate the sentiment but I can’t muster the enthusiasm.

Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often.

I have some Love Theories. There really isn’t a cracked pot for every lid. I think true love happens, but not as often as people think it does. And it doesn’t happen for everyone. I’m not sure overt expressions of star-spangled lovey-dovey is emotionally healthy, and it doesn’t make it any better to throw caramel chews at it. Love is special, rare, and comes in many forms but none of them have anything to do with winged babies with armory. Wouldn’t it be better to save the Big Romantic Gestures for when they’re unexpected, not when it’s been collectively decided you SHOULD?

Like I’ve said, I’ve got no boxer in this fight. I’m a bystander. Maybe we should all take a collective breath and take time to appreciate those around us that we don’t completely hate. That would be nice.

“Hey. You. You irritate me less than other people. Even though it’s the middle of April, here’s a piece of chocolate. And some post-its. I noticed you were out.”

That I could get behind. I need post-its. Also, paper clips. Viva l’amour!

When Did I Become Obsolete?

Really, when was it? One minute I’m trying to decode REM lyrics, the next minute I’m trying to figure out why in the hell kids today have to play their music so damn loud. Bands I listened to in my youth are now featured on oldies stations. TV shows have decided that “Seriously riiight?” is a legitimate punch line. And the ladies on The Golden Girls look much younger than they used to.

They look fun.

Take Justin Bieber. (I’m not kidding. Take him.) I suppose I get the appeal. He’s cute. He’s perfectly harmless. He can kind of sing if you have the Auto-Tune turned up high enough. However, he’s turned into this THING that keeps showing up in US Weekly, frolicking on the beach and living a much grander lifestyle than most of us can ever hope for. He has a line of nail polish, for Pete’s sake. But I’m concerned because the boy can barely string a sentence together without uttering the word “Yo.” Take a recent interview I saw on the TV:

Random Reporter: So Justin, tell us about your new autobiography.

Justin: Yeroeks thswel blurgel swot shvwlfogh. Yo.

Or something like that. I tuned out pretty quickly.

By the way, he’s like, nine years old and wrote an autobiography a few YEARS AGO. Is it a pamphlet? A paragraph written on the back of an index card? What insights could he possibly have?

This kid looks like he has it all figured out.

I read a blurb from it. He does a lot of “reach for your dreams” crap, and it contains other pearls about not listening to “haters,” and never saying never (which, I hesitate to point out, he did at least twice in that one sentence). All nice sentiments, but not very meaningful coming from someone who struggled for about six seconds before becoming famous. But at least he kind of works for it. He purports to have a skill. Explain Kim Kardashian to me. Her talent is literally her ass. I mean, I have a generous sized one as well, but you don’t see Entertainment Tonight following me around. (And I’ve worked for mine, man. A lot of couch-sitting had to be performed.)

So yeah, music. I will say that I used to teach middle school, and not one student I asked actually liked Justin Bieber. (To be fair, the school was 95% Hispanic and African-American, so I’m thinking that maybe his appeal doesn’t translate.) The kids liked music with suggestive lyrics and a bass line that would make your pacemaker (literal or figurative) explode. On a few occasions they asked me what kind of music I liked.

“Well,” I said. “I like a lot of things.”

“Like what?”

Knowing they probably wouldn’t know any of the artists, I tried to go to the obvious.

“I’ve liked U2 for a long time.”

Shoulders were collectively shrugged.

“Ummm, how about The Beatles?”

Nothing. But I knew that was a bit of a stretch.

I was going to try to press on and find someone they had heard of, but I knew it was a losing battle. (They thought Duran Duran was a boxer.)

This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. I was doing some clinical observations a couple of years ago at a local high school, as part of my teacher certification program. The teacher was showing Cool Hand Luke. Afterwards, he talked about the movie a bit. He asked if anyone knew who the lead actor was. No one raised a hand. He said, “It’s an actor named Paul Newman.” The class was silent for a moment, and then someone said, “You mean the guy from the salad dressing?” The teacher paused, and he and I momentarily locked eyes. “Yes,” he sighed. “The guy from the salad dressing.”

Yes. Yes, I know.

I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.

In addition to music, the current vernacular has also changed radically, and I’m not able to hold on. “Yo” has become ubiquitous, and it seems to be a word that means absolutely nothing. Formerly an attention-getter (“Yo, I’m talking to you…”), it is now almost a punctuation mark. Case in point: a promo for a new adventure-reality show. Two people on a boat. One exclaims, “We’re in the ocean! We’re surrounded by water, yo!” (Apparently, “yo” can also be used to point out the obvious.)

I fought against it for a while, but as long as no one’s saying to me, “You’re on fire, yo,” I think I’m going swim with the tide. Besides, if you reverse the letters you’ve got “oy,” of which I’m very fond.

I actually like some of the new music today, but I’m rather selective. I will say that there are some recent songs I’m very glad are played out. I’m glad, for example, that the reign of Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” is long over, because after the first listening it made me want to stuff olives or erasers or my elbows into my ears just to make it stop. And there are other “artists” that I just don’t get –  Lil’ Wayne makes me a lil’ nervous, for example, and I’m sorry, but that Ke$ha girl looks like she needs a bath. It’s not just on the radio, though. It’s everywhere. Once a student of mine was singing the chorus to a Rhianna song, which pretty much consisted of repeating the same two lines over and over again about popping one’s bubble.

Good Lord.

This is what the young people listen to these days. So little creative imagery. So few interesting melodies. Just thump, thump, thump (or pop, pop, pop, as the case may be). I’m not saying my teen heyday of the ‘80s was exactly a musical renaissance (hello, Culture Club) but at least it didn’t all sound the same. There’s so much good older stuff out there. I really just want to walk up to a kid one of these days and say, “Led Zeppelin. ‘Black Dog.’ It will change your life.”

Some days I’m I know grasping at straws to stay relevant. Has everything always been geared for the young, or am I just noticing it now that I’m no longer minty-fresh? Fashion is impossible, most movies are banal, and if I see one more ad for osteoporosis featuring a woman who looks five years younger than I am, I’m going to cry.

So what’s the answer? I don’t want to be one of those women who clings madly to her teen years, strapping herself into skinny jeans that are, quite frankly, no longer quite so skinny, and maintaining the same teased “do” that she had in 1989. But I’m also not ready to hang out with the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” lady. (Although we’ve met. She’s very nice.) How do we find our own relevance in a society that seems ready to put us on a dusty shelf after age forty?

Like looking into a mirror. Actually, I should be so lucky.

Maybe I’ll have to dig a little deeper into Justin Bieber’s book. He may be on to something. I will never say never, yo. I will not dislike haters, yo. I will reach for the constellations, yo. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, yo. Be your own sunshine, yo. (Or something like that.)

Yo, indeed, Mr. Bieber. Yo, indeed.

Oy.

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.

Commercial Fatigue

Just saw an ad that promised to remedy “fatigued skin.” What the hell is fatigued skin?

“Gee, Stan, I’d love to go out with you but my dermis is pooped ”

“I’m sorry I’m late. My skin overslept.”

“My skin is so fatigued. I need another cup of coffee…poured over my head.”

What’s next? Trite hair? Jejeune fingernails? Exasperated eyelashes?

Idiot Mittens

There are some people who make my face twitch. People who I just can’t stand, for any concrete reason. They come from all walks of life – city, suburbs, Fox News (sorry, easy joke from the obvious liberal). I’m reminded of a kid I used to work with who fell into this category. Not only was he particularly irritating, he was generally clueless in a way that really made me fear for his overall well-being. We had a conversation once that left me mind-boggled. It featured me, the co-worker whose desk was next to mine, and Irritating Guy:

Guy Who Sits Next to Me: Hey, is the Heritage Festival this weekend?

Me: Yup. If you go, you should stop by my booth. I’ll be there Saturday and Sunday.

Irritating Guy (IG)(interrupting conversation): Why do you have a booth? Are you working there?

Me: Yes, my theater company has a booth.

IG:  You have a theater company?

Me: I’m part of it.

IG: What do you guys…do?

Me: (Pause) What does a theater do?

IG: Yeah.

Me: Ummmm….plays?

IG: Oh. So why do you call it a Company?

Me: (Flummoxed) Because it’s a group of people…

IG: (Blank stare)

Me: It’s a business.

IG: Oh. What kind of plays do you do?

Me: Well, we just did “Hamlet”…

IG: Shakespeare.

Me: Riiight…we did “The Glass Menagerie” last year.

IG: The what?

Me: Glass Menagerie? Tennessee Williams?

IG: (Blank stare)

Me: Tennessee Williams? Ever heard of him?

IG: Nope.

Me: Really? One of the preeminent playwrights of the 20th century?

IG: (Blank stare. Picks up a pen to write the name down.) T.S?

Me:  TENNESSEE. (Pause) Look him up. (Pause) Really? You never…really?

At that point I just smiled benignly at him, sighed and went back to my desk where I immediately emailed my mother. We had just had a conversation about incorrect punctuation, mostly regarding my major grammatical pet peeve — inappropriate use of the apostrophe — so I figured she was the best person with whom to share this item. (She’s an English teacher.) I wrote for several paragraphs, going on about how this guy had never heard of Tennessee Williams, the state of public education, and should I be surprised that he hasn’t heard of him, what are they teaching kids today, boy I won’t let that happen when I’m an English teacher, yadda yadda yadda. Her response?

“He’s an idiot.”

My mother has a gift for nutshelling things.