Color Me Christmas

“Shay!  Wow, you’re doing a lot of last minute shopping.” My daughter’s teacher said with a smile as she eyed my full basket at the mall.

“Oh, I finished shopping for everyone else.  Those are for me.” I said, before I realized I had forgotten to send in a teacher gift for this teacher.

I quickly grabbed a blouse off the rack to change the subject.

“This is nice. Don’t you think?” I asked holding it up.

“For you?” she asked.

“It’s not really me, is it?” I agreed putting back the crop top, then spotted an adorable sweater with puppies playing in the snow.  Or were they baby seals?

“What do you think of this?” I asked.

“I like the one next to it, without the bears.” She said, taking it off the rack.

“Bears? Oh, those are bears, aren’t they?”

“I hope my husband bought this one for me. I gave him so many hints, but he never seems to pick up on them.” She laughed.

“You should do what I do.” I said.  “I buy gifts for myself, wrap them and put them under the tree and on Christmas Day everyone is surprised to see what I got!”

“That’s, uh…” She stammered.

“Brilliant! I know, right?” I said, agreeing with her unspoken assessment.  “I wish I had thought of it when we first got married, it would have saved us both a lot of stress.”

“Which one of these do you like better, the green or the blue?” I asked holding up two sweaters.

“How many gifts do you generally buy for yourself?” she asked hesitantly.

“Just one from each family member.” I said disappointed.  “Oh, wait, this can be from Simon!” I said, realizing I had found a loophole.

“Simon?  Isn’t that your little dog?” she asked.

“No, Simon is the big one, the little one is – oh, good point –  one can be from the big dog, and one from the little dog!” I said excitedly adding both to my shopping cart.

“Well, that’s it for me.” I said with a satisfied smile.

Mrs. What’s Her Name looked at my overflowing shopping basket and rushed to get ahead of me at the check-out,  tossing an unconvincing “Merry Christmas” over her shoulder.

In my defense, department store baskets are way smaller than grocery carts.

Surefire Cure for Depression and Wedgies

Jim realized too late that shooting his wife with a paintball gun, while curing her case of the blahs, created more problems than it solved.

“I feel so useless and unmotivated.”  I was telling a friend of mine recently.  She asked to remain anonymous because she didn’t think she was “giving good advice.”  Or more likely, she didn’t want anyone to know she’s my friend (or relative – hint hint).

“You’re not suicidal, are you?” she asked concerned.

“I don’t have the motivation to be suicidal.” I said.  “I’m stuck at motivating factors; like being fat, ugly, untalented, boring-”

“You’re not any of those things.” She said, cutting me off.

“You’re just saying that because you’re my friend.  But, no, I’m not suicidal or depressed.  I’m just… blah. And these jeans are giving me a wedgie!” I protested, then realized I was wearing my daughter’s jeans.

“I don’t feel passionate about anything.” I said switching into my jeans and writing an “M” on the pocket of hers with a sharpie so I could tell them apart next time.  “I’m not one of those people that can make hateful signs and get arrested for a cause.  I can’t summit Everest, or run a marathon.  I can’t even wash the entire roof of my car.”

“Is that why there’s a gritty line down the center?  Even on the hood?” She asked perplexed.

“I have short arms!” I whined.  “Oh, why can’t my success at digital cribbage be reflected in my success in life?”

“You have an amazing knack for detecting natural gas leaks.”  She said encouragingly.

“So?  How does that reflect in having a successful life?”

“Otherwise, you’d be dead, right?” She said, trying to spin it.

It didn’t help.

“How am I going to survive being an empty nester?” I continued to moan.

“You’re not an empty nester.” She pointed out.

“Yes, but I will be in two years!”

“You know what you need?” she asked, perhaps rhetorically.

“Shock therapy?” I asked dreading the thought.  Although if it would help, I wondered if I could get a home kit for ongoing treatment.

“You need a project.” She said, interrupting my shocking daydream.

She was right.  I’m a project person.  I admit it.  I have to be productive.  I see something that needs to be done and I figure a way to do it; even if I don’t know how, have the right tools, or a license to drive a bus full of retirees to Disneyland.  But I didn’t have a project at the moment.  There were no fires to put out, or airs to put on.  The days of Room Mom were over and Doom Mom was left.

Before I could get any further into my pitty-party, my “friend” returned dragging a huge trash bag.

“I appreciate the support.” I said.  “But if I was gonna suffocate myself with a plastic bag I’d use an empty one.”

“It’s my laundry.” She said.  “I’ll pick it up tomorrow.”

“I’m not doing your laundry.” I said indignantly.

She stood there staring at me blankly for several moments then suddenly covered her face and began to sob.

“My washing machine is broken and I don’t have the money to get it fixed until my next pay check because I bought those expensive shoes you said looked silly.” She cried.

I rushed to comfort her, wracking my brain to remember what shoes she was talking about. I try never to discourage people from buying things I don’t think look good, because every person has their own opinion of what is attractive and what is – oh, yeah, I remember now, those shoes were hideous!  I just said “silly” to be nice.

“I’m sorry.  I’m happy to do your laundry.  And, I’ll loan you the money to get your washer fixed.” I said grabbing my wallet.

“It’s okay.  I’ll just put it on my credit card for now.” She said suddenly free of tears and was out the door before I could count the dollar bill in my wallet.

Well, at least I had cheered her up, I thought, as I hauled the bag of laundry to the utility room.  I realized after all the laundry was washed, folded, a loose button resewn and everything spritzed with a little Fabreeze, she had just done this to pull me out of my funk.  And, it had worked!

I felt useful, energized and proud of a job well done.  Well, mostly well done.  I guess she had never washed those red shorts before because the color bled onto all the shirts that had any white in them and were now accented with a lovely shade of pink.

SUPPORT GROUP

“I’m going to start my own support group.” I announced to my friend Evette at a coffee shop recently.

“There’s already support groups for Alzheimer caregivers.” She offered.

“This isn’t about my dad.” I said.

“Oh, a support group for writers that aren’t successful?”

“What’s that suppose to mean?”  I asked annoyed.

“Nothing.  I just thought, since you have a lot of writing you keep in a drawer, or something… you know, since you don’t really…  What was the question again?” She asked into her latte.

“Success means different things to different people!  I’m not defined by someone else’s view of success.” I said as haughtily as I could without sounding defensive.

“Okay, okay!  You don’t have to be so defensive.” She said.

“I’m not!” I shot back.

“You were talking about starting a support group.” She said, gently steering the conversation back to my initial point.

That’s the thing about Evette, you can admire her wisdom and resent it at the same time.  Or maybe that’s just me.  I have a knack for conflicting emotions.  Which could be pre-schizophrenia, but that’s another blog altogether.  (See what I did there?)

“Right.” I said, getting back to my idea.  “I want to start a support group for people with physical pain to be able to express their discomfort without judgment.”

“Sounds interesting.” She said encouragingly.

“I mean, I’ve got scar tissue from a ruptured ectopic, two c-sections, a kidney donation and a two part hysterectomy.”

Evette looked at me questioningly on the two part hysterectomy, but didn’t interrupt.

“I have scar tissue upon scar tissue!  My abdomen sometimes is a burning cauldron of pain.” I said with dramatic woe.

“And you want to be able to vent about it rather than someone telling you how to fix it?” she asked.

“Yes!” I said relieved she understood.  “I am so sick of everyone offering their advice and saying-”

“You should-”

“Exactly!” I said, thinking she was mocking those people.  “You should cut out dairy” I said imitating an annoying person. “You should cut out gluten. Whatever that is.  Or, you should exercise six days a week and do a coffee enema.  I don’t even drink coffee, why would I-”

“So, this support group…” Evette said, cutting me off.

“It’s a place where people can talk without fear of someone telling them to eat a hand full of chia seeds and get over it.   What is chia anyway?”

Evette started to say something, but I plunged on.

“And what’s that other new vegetable?  Queen, quin-”

Again Evette tried to interject.

“Quinoa!” I said, remembering the mystery word.  “You know, I don’t think these are real foods.  Where were they a hundred years ago? I think-”

“Shay!” Evette shouted, causing me to throw myself to the ground and roll.

When I looked up at her, she had that beautifully arched questioning/reprimanding eyebrow thing going on.

“What?  You yelled like I was on fire or something.” I said, sheepishly getting back in my chair.

Thankfully we were in the back of the coffee shop and no one noticed.  Although the security camera caught it all I’m sure.

“I’ll be your support group.” She said with what almost sounded like a laugh.

“Really?” I said touched by the support.

“Yeah.  You make me feel good about myself.” She said without making eye contact.

I’m not sure she meant it as a compliment, but I decided to accept it as one.  Life’s too short to believe the worst, especially in yourself.

Analyzing Conversation with a Latte Chaser

Old drawing of "Taddeo's Hallucination" of a man napping, putting rocks in a bag, and carrying them over his shoulder.
Carrying rocks all day cured Frederico’s insomnia, but ruptured his L-4 vertebrae, causing him to wake frequently shrieking with pain.

“Ouch.” the woman beside me involuntarily moaned as she waited for her latte at Starbucks.

“Are you okay?” I asked concerned because she had actually mumbled the complaint three or four times while she stood in line.

“I’ve got this pain in my side that’s radiating into my hip.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did you do something to it?” I asked.

“No. It just came out of nowhere. I hope it’s not a tumor or something.”

Okay, now this is where society has changed the dynamic of conversation. In this day and age of analyzing everything everyone says, natural conversations have become decidedly unnatural.

For example, do I try to be supportive and say “I’m sure it’s nothing.” or is that considered insensitive and dismissive of a serious concern she may have? Or do I say “You should have that checked out to be sure it’s nothing serious.” and risk increasing her anxiety?

Instead, I asked questioned to lead her to her own diagnosis and prognosis. A little trick I learned from my parents when I was a teenager; which mostly ended with me on restriction. But I digress.

“When did it start?” I asked, a touch of concern, devoid of anxiety.

“Last night.”

“Before dinner or after dinner?” I continued.

“Before dinner. No, after dinner. Before dinner we moved our old sofa to the curb for a charity pick up and then we went out to dinner.”

Hello! It doesn’t take a pocket scientist to realize the pain in her side is a pulled muscle!

“You moved a sofa?” I said letting the evidence/accusation linger.

“Yeah, I just said that.” She said, annoyed as if I hadn’t been paying attention.

Clearly she was going to need the facts rolled out like a ball of yard by a playful cat. Me-ow!

“That sofa must have been heavy.” I said, trying to sound impressed.

“Yes, it was.”

Instead of picking up on the facts she was laying out, she seemed to be getting defensive; or frightened. It was hard to tell if her preoccupation with taking napkins out of the dispenser was normal or not. For the record, I would say 2-4 is normal. Eighteen is suspect.

“Did you have any help? Did you have a dolly? How could you have carried something so heavy?” I continued with my cross examination.

“My husband and I… just carried it out.” she said and I sensed a bit of hesitation.

Was the truth finally beginning to hit, causing her embarrassment; like going out in public before you realize you still have on your footie pajamas?

“You could have hurt yourself.” I said, snapping my fingers and pointing to her hip. Which, in retrospect, probably was kind of weird.

The woman’s latte was delivered and without so much as a “sorry I took all the napkins,” she turned away to join her friend at a table.

On my way out I heard her friend saying, to what was obviously Marie’s pain revelation, “It’s probably nothing.”

Nothing? Really? Some people can be so insensitive! It could be a tumor for all she knew!

Annoying Social Group – Sisters or Snakes

Sigmund Freud analyzing a man with a very flat head. He tells him his mother never loved him because she hit him with a frying pan.I recently got together with a group of women to just hang out.  That’s never really been my style, but my husband thinks I need to have a social life that involves grown-ups, face to face, blah, blah, blah.

“I never really hung out with girls much.” I said.  “I mostly hung out with guys.  Much less drama, you know.”

It occurred to me, that might sound insulting so I quickly tried to explain.

“I mean I like them, I just don’t –  See, to me girls are – I mean, were, like snakes.  I think snakes are fascinating and I like to interact with them sometimes, but I wouldn’t want one around all the time.  Uh, but that was a long time ago. Now I LOVE hanging out with snakes – uh, girls – women.”

I could see I was making things worse, so I poured myself some coffee, which I don’t even drink, just to get out of further elaboration.

“I agree with Shay.” Evette said.

Evette’s one of my friends I like to hang out with because she doesn’t play games, no drama, no backstabbing.  She’s more likely to stab you right to your face.  Wait, that sounded horrible. She tells things like they are. She doesn’t lie to your face then talk about you behind your back.  At least I don’t think she does.

“Women can be psycho.  My ex-sister-in-law was crazy.” Evette added.

“The one that went to jail for hit and run?” I asked.

“That’s the one.” She said.

“Oh, my gosh.  Was she driving drunk?” asked one of the women in the group that looked like a 1950’s librarian.

“She wasn’t driving. She just punched a guy in a restaurant and ran off.” Evette explained.

“For no reason?” someone else asked.

“There has to be a reason.” The librarian stated frowning.

“Maybe she knew him.”

“Nope.” Evette said.

“Maybe he cut in line or bumped into her.” Someone else offered.

“It could have been PMS. I’ll hit anyone when my hormones are off.” I said, perhaps a little too forcefully.

An uncomfortable hush fell over the group and I could tell from Evette’s expression that I had just gotten kicked out of another social group.

Suddenly everyone had somewhere to be and it was just me and Evette.

“That went okay.” I said lamely.

“That was not okay.  Why do you have to – “ she stopped before voicing that thing I did that was too

“You’re the one that brought up the hit and run.” I said defensively.

“I did that because I wanted to get kicked out of this group. I don’t want them to start asking me to join them and have to make a bunch of lame excuses for avoiding them.” She said.

“You…?  Well, maybe I did too.”

“Uh-huh.” Evette said finishing her coffee.  “I gotta go.”

“Okay. Hey, what about you’re girlfriends.  Maybe sometime I could join you-”

But Evette was already shaking her head as she headed to the door.

“What? I can behave.” I said chasing after her.

She continued to shake her head as she exited the diner.

“Why not?  Is it because I’m white?” I asked point blank.

Evette let out that beautiful, although in this case irritating, laugh. “It’s because you’re annoying.” She explained.

“No I’m not!  Am I? Really?  What do I do that’s so annoying?” I asked as she got in her car.  “Name one thing!”

She started the car. I stepped back, but raised my voice so she could hear me through the window.

“One thing!  You can’t name one thing, can you?” I said smug in the knowledge it was an empty excuse and there wasn’t one thing actually annoying about me.

She paused and rolled down the windows just a crack.

“You don’t know how to let things go.” She said with the confidence of someone that had just laid down the winning hand in rummy. Then she drove off.

I love Evette, but she was wrong.   I was going to go home and write down every single non-annoying thing I do and present it to Evette.  And to the breakfast club for that matter!  That would show them just how wrong they are about me.

I had a strange feeling there was something I was missing, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was just hormones, I should probably stay away from people for a few hours.

Past Disasters and Confessions of Youth

Before electronic games and cable TV, we played make-believe, with or without actual toys.  I climbed trees and played Pocahontas. I made bows and arrows out of tree branches from our Christmas tree whittled with mom’s kitchen knives.  By Christmas Day our tree looked like Charlie Brown’s and the knives couldn’t cut butter; but sacrifices have to be made for creativity, right?

Most of my real toys were hand me downs anyway.  I can only recall one toy that I got new, a knock-off Barbie.

She was  4’2” in Barbie height and had a pull string voice box that was supposed to sound cheery: “Come over to my house and play.”  Unfortunately, it was broken from day one and sounded like a demon whose message was clearly: “come over so I can kill you.”

I didn’t have any Barbie clothes either.  I think she came in an outfit, but it got lost, so she was naked most of the time.  I tried to make a sarong out of Kleenex with limited success.  I also made a maxi pad bed with a tampon for the pillow.  Pretty resourceful for a kid who didn’t even know what that stuff was!

I inherited a lot of my ingenuity from my older siblings.  When my oldest brother realized he was the leader of a gang, (there were six kids which under loitering laws constitutes a gang), he would devise elaborate missions for us to undertake in our war games.  Sometimes it was fun, like the time we dug a “foxhole” in Grandmother’s back yard, which caved in on us when it started raining.

Other times it was NOT fun, like playing Army with him as  the General while the rest of us were Privates that had to scrub the floor with our toothbrushes.  No wonder I had cavities!

My mom will vouch for the most insane stunt.  One night our parents left us home with our housekeeper (the brief time we had one growing up). What most likely started as a food fight, became a full on floor party ,when we poured an entire pot of spaghetti sauce on the tile floor and went sliding in it!  Our housekeeper, who was a saint, cleaned up everything and by some miracle convinced our dad not to punish us for the incident.  Maybe he took pity on us because he knew what I’m now realizing:

While genius and insanity are separated by a fine line, creativity and insanity share a smudged line.

Fear the Fries and Other Lies – Or Are They?

Easter Bunny in overcoat with KGB on it, sets out eggs with antennas.
She thinks the Easter Bunny was an invention of the Cold War communists to hide bugging devices all over America.

“My mom is a conspiracy theorist.” My friend Kimberly was saying.

We were packing up her mom’s house to move her into a retirement home.  Having moved 10 times by the time I was 18, I knew a bit about packing.  What I didn’t know about was her mom’s obsession(s).  There were microscopes, lab specimen containers (empty, thankfully), scales and LOTS more.

“What kind of conspiracies?” I asked curiously.

“Every kind you can think of.” She said holding up one of the scales. “For one thing, she thinks the potato chip companies are shorting us on chips.  So she weighs each bag and logs it in one of those journals.”

There must have been hundreds of the journals lining the book cases.  A shiver ran up my spine as I looked at them.

“She thinks fast food places put drugs into the food to make people addicted to it so they’ll keep coming back.”

“I could go for some french fries now.” I said.  Then began to crave them the more I thought about it.  Could it be true?  Was I addicted? Why else would I crave something that tasted like over-salt fried cardboard?

“And I bet it’s heat activated, because once they’re cold, we lose the desire to consume.” I speculated aloud.

“That’s just what my mom thinks.” she laughed, not realizing the truth of the matter.

I desperately wanted to get into those journals to see the evidence she amassed, but didn’t want to seem nosy, so I grilled Kimberly instead.

“Do you think maybe sometimes she’s onto something?”

She gave me a  doubtful look.

“She thinks the Easter Bunny was an invention of the Cold War communists to hide bugging devices all over America.  She thinks the trash company is run by the mafia so they can dispose of bodies without suspicion.  And she thinks Congress has been replaced by aliens.”

Some of that sounded plausible.  All of it, actually.

“She even thinks you’re a secret assassin.” She laughed.

“I wish.” I said.  “I mean, it sounds more exciting than housewife or room mom.”

I decided to start packing the bookcase, with a plan to accidentally drop one or two of the journals open to see the contents inside.  But first I had to pack up three boxes of books on Lincoln.

“Let me guess, she thinks the Union was behind Lincoln’s assassination.” I teased.

“No, she’s convinced it was suicide.”

“What!  How in the world – are you Mrs. Sammon?” I said catching myself as Kimberly’s mom came up from the basement.

“I’m fine dear.” She said, setting down a bird cage and giving me a hug, which actually felt more like a pat down.  Had she always done that?

“What a pretty bird.  What kind is it?” I asked but she was done with me and headed back to the basement – probably a secret laboratory.

“Sherlock is a canary.” Kimberly said.  “His job is to detect if someone is piping poisonous gas into the house.” she said trying to sound mysterious.

“That’s-”

“Crazy.  I know.” Kimberly said, cutting me off.

I was actually going to say “brilliant” but decided to keep it to myself.

“What are you going to do with all her stuff?” I asked, still hoping to peek into the journals.

“Most of it is going with her to the retirement home.”

“How does she feel about moving into the retirement home?” I asked curiously,  since many people her mom’s age are against it.  Personally, I think three catered meals a day, a housekeeper and bingo sounds like heaven.

Kimberly closed the door to the basement to be sure her mom couldn’t hear us.

“She thinks she’s going there to find a North Korean spy.” She said with a wink and a smile.

Freakishly smart people aren’t as smart as less educated people – sometimes.

Albert Einstein in shorts and sandals.
When his swimsuit modeling career failed to launch, Einstein turned to science and math instead.

“Hi! Dr. Phillips, right?” I said recognizing a woman at the grocery self check-out. Growing up with a forgettable name, (and face for that matter) I’ve always been good with remembering other people’s names. I had met Dr. Phillips a couple of months ago at a local event.  She’s a prestigious forensics expert or something.

“Ever notice how really smart people have no common sense?” Dr. Phillips said, apparently in the middle of a conversation with herself.

“I think I read Einstein sometimes forgot to put on his pants. But that could have been fake news.” I said laughing, but inwardly cringing as she put a six pack of Dr. Pepper on top of her bread.

“I’m sure it’s true. Take my husband for instance. He’s a rocket scientist but he has no-” She was saying as she attempted to swipe her driver’s license through the credit card reader.

“That’s your driver’s lice-” I began, but she caught her mistake and began swiping the credit card, upside down at first, before flipping it right.

“So, Dave is really a rocket scientist?” I asked starting to scan my groceries at the next checkout. “I thought that was just a joke.”

“What’s funny about being a rocket scientist?” She asked seriously.

“Well, nothing if you are one. I just thought it was, you know, one of those kinds of jokes where you say you’re something you’re not.”

“That’s not how jokes work.” She said looking at me like I was a complete idiot. “There are rules of comedy. Just like there are rules of science. To laugh is to cry.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that somewhere.” I agreed.

“I read it in your blog.”

“Oh, you read my blog?” I asked, flattered.

“I was told it was going to be funny.” She responded irritably.

“My comedy writing is rather tragic.” I said hoping she would throw me a bone of encouragement.

“You should try ESL stories. Those don’t have to be good.” She suggested instead.

“What were you saying about your husband not having common sense?” I said innocently bringing her back to the original conversation.

“Must not have been important. I try only to remember useful information. Goodbye.” She said taking her receipt and pushing her empty cart towards the exit, her groceries still at the checkout.

I couldn’t believe it.  She didn’t remember what knuckle headed thing her husband had done, but she remembered something I’d written in a blog!  I walked out of the store encouraged that my education as a college drop out had gleaned me common sense and an ability to write memorable content. At least until I got to my car and realized I left my purse at the checkout.

Dad at school crossing with genius son that forgot his shirt, shoes and one sock.
Lord, couldn’t we trade some of that IQ for a little common sense?