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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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.

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?

It’s a Little Chilly Here

It’s a bit nippy outside here in the Chicago area. As in, “Go outside for more than a minute and the cold will nip your nose clear off of your face.” I’m not going to make any great observations on the weather; it’s f**king cold. There’s really nowhere else to go with that. Except that during Saturday errands, as the snow really started coming down, I saw a lady walk out of the grocery store with one item. It’s like she thought, “Oh goodness, we’re going to have the coldest temperatures in 17 years – I need PITA CHIPS!”

Also, I’m wearing one of those blanket-with-sleeves things. Because sexy. And I do think they’re the most ridiculous, cheesy things in the world, and I want one in the leopard print.

I’m supposed to be working on my new book, but I’m having a bit of a focus issue. My mind keeps binging around, less like  a pinball game and more  like the first level of a game of “Pong,” admittedly. Still, I’ve had some random bits to chew on:

  • I’ve noticed that with microwave popcorn, there’s about 1.5 seconds that separates “gee, that smells good” and “ew, f**k!” I’m like a safecracker, trying to listen for just the right pattern of pops, before declaring, “Got it!” and totally impressing the hell out of George Clooney’s charming con man/thief movie character. Usually, though, I get momentarily distracted, miss the window, and wind up with the F**k Smell. I think that’s why popcorn comes three to a box.
  • Note to the makers of Stouffer’s frozen foods: Take it down a notch. You don’t need capital letters to write “REVOLUTIONARY GRILLING TRAY” in the cooking directions. You didn’t win the war of independence against the British, you figured out how to brown the crust of my microwave sandwich. Thank you.
  • One of my sixth-grade computer tech students thinks that the “www” in a web address stands for “welcome welcome welcome.” And two of his friends do too, because they copied off his paper. I have just recently removed my palm from my forehead.

Ok, enough for now. I am going to make myself a cup of tea and attempt to write some fiction. Although my cat has her doubts:

"I think it's time you got off Facebook, please."

“I think it’s time you got off Facebook, please.”