Saturday, December 19, 2009

My life as a romantic comedy

It wasn't very sporting of the recycling men to come two hours earlier than they ever have yesterday. Our bottles and cans were out, but alas, not the paper. It took me a few minutes to absorb the fact that the recycling truck was actually in front of our house at 6:45am and by the time I found a pair of shoes and rushed out of the house, they were gone. What with all the packages arriving and the fact that trash day will be delayed for Christmas next week, the paper/cardboard situation in our house is dire.

So yesterday when I left work, it was snowing. It was a long, slippery walk to the bus stop and a long wet wait for the bus. As I stood on the sidewalk, getting covered with snow, I heard a muttered exclamation and suddenly a man thrust his umbrella over my head--a handsome man, a quite handsome and acceptable man, a handsome, man who gallantly shares umbrellas with snow-covered ladies in distress. Wasn't I JUST YESTERDAY writing about the romance of the bus? It developed we were headed for the same neighborhood and we rode the same bus downtown and then he escorted me, under his umbrella, as far as Spudnuts, where our paths diverged and he went home to his girlfriend and I to my husband. It was like something that would happen in a movie starring Jennifer Aniston and Jude Law.

If my life were a romantic comedy, the moments under the umbrella would be the opening scene and we would both be single, of course. The chase after the recycling men would happen the next morning, only as I stood forlornly at the end of the driveway, charmingly disheveled and holding an overflowing bin of cardboard, Umbrella Man would just happen to drive by in a Smart Car. He would stop and I would blurt out an embarrassing comment, something like, "I guess YOU don't have to compensate for anything," but then his large fluffy golden retriever would jump out of the car and knock me down, thus obliterating any awkwardness, and later, I'd tell the story to my wacky sidekick friend and she would box me about the shoulders and scream, "How could you have said that?" Meanwhile, Umbrella Man would tell the same story to his wacky sidekick who would say, "Duuuude." "Compensating for what?"

Umbrella Man would offer to take me and my recyclables to the drop off center, and since in my Romantic Comedy life, things like getting to work on time (or, for that matter, how to fit two adults, a fluffy golden retriever and a large bin into a Smart Car) are of little significance, so off we'd go and I would be saved from a dire paper/cardboard situation.

In my Romantic Comedy life I'd still be a nurse, although one who apparently collects a paycheck without ever having to show up for work. There might be a short scene in which I prance about in scrubs doing media-nursey things like putting a bandaid in the knee of an adorable toddler and fending off the advances of a cloddish doctor. Umbrella Man would appear with a minor gash in his forehead--perhaps he too got knocked down by the fluffy golden retriever, or the fruitcake his grandma mailed him fell off the top of the fridge and hit him in the head--so I tenderly bandage the cut while the doctor comes in and acts like an ass and when he leaves, I say something like, "God, what a tool." I think that my past history in this life includes a bad breakup with a doctor.

Umbrella Man suggests we go out for a drink and it's conveniently the end of my shift, so we leave together without me ever having to give report or check on my other patients or anything. The rest of the movie would be fabulous outfits and ridiculous scrapes involving dogs and Smart Cars and city buses, and maybe an oaf of a doctor trying to derail our True Romance while our wacky sidekick friends try to help, but only hinder, or perhaps try to hinder but only help. In the end love would win and the last scene would be us walking home together past the spot where formerly our paths diverged.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tales of the bus


Charlottesville people with an empty afternoon and a desire for a mild adventure could do worse than take a ride on the number 3 bus through Belmont. Chances are, it will take you through parts of the city you never knew existed and, as the bus drags itself, gasping, up the steep hills, around the tight corners and through the trailer parks of the Hogwaller before plunging down the big hill into Belmont proper, you feel a little like you're on an amusement park ride--especially if you sit in the elevated section at the back of the bus.

I noticed that the Charlottesville Transit Service website has a poetry contest listed. Isn't that so completely in character for Charlottesville? For a moment I felt inspired to write a poem about the number 3 bus and its pootling little route, but then I noticed the deadline expired November 30--and it had already been extended for an extra month. What? No rush of C'ville citizens submitting poetry about the romance of the bus?


Mr. McP, as I have ranted before, is taking DARE at school right now. It's taught by the guidance counseler, who in the grand tradition of guidance counselors everywhere, is completely off her rocker. The other day, the teacher rewarded the class with candy canes. According the Mr. McP, one child refused a candy cane. Here is his description of the conversation that ensued.

Child: No thanks, I don't want a candy cane.
DARE teacher: Oh, come on, you earned it! Take one.
Child: No, I'm really not supposed to eat candy.
DARE teacher: You can have one, it's OK.
Child: No, really, I can't.
DARE teacher: This is just between you and the candy cane.

Um, mixed messages much? What if you crossed out candy cane and inserted, I don't know, CRACK?


We noticed this sign, posted on neighbor Beehive's lawn.

Awesome. Totally awesome. This is why I don't ever want to live in a neighborhood with a Homeowner's Association. But I am disappointed that my photograph cuts out most of the tiny American flag she stuck into the top of the sign.

Speaking of Beehive, she called my house the other day and spoke to Mad Scientist. She told him that she saw a man sitting in a parked car, and that this was suspicious and that she had called the police. She was "concerned," you see, because this man may have been a pedophile and since I let Mr. McP walk all the way home from the bus by himself--he will be 11 in February-- she felt it her duty to let me know about the danger he was exposed to. She meant well, but the sting in her concern was the implication that I am a bad mother for letting my ten year old son walk half a block home from the bus stop with no supervision.  When I was ten, I was babysitting my younger siblings and cooking the family dinner with no adult help.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Their tongues were sharper than the chorizo

Isn't it curious how people who don't have children always know best how to raise them? I went to a party the other night, where these two women ganged up on me to such an extent that I was tempted to fake a headache and go home.

I was going to write out my theory about why these women don't like me, but it is a tedious tale. Suffice it to say that despite what you may have heard in the popular media, it is possible to be Catholic and accepting of homosexuals. Anyway, my theory was validated when one of the women made a snipe about how I probably "make" Jon go to mass, (which I don't).

I had hardly got my coat off before it started: One of the women started a discussion of the deficiencies of the people from ""upstate." (New York) She once had to wait in a hospital waiting room in Albany and there were toothless people! And once she drove across New York State and the poverty was UNBELIEVABLE. And there are reputed to be upstate people who are politically CONSERVATIVE, if you can believe it. So unlike Manhattan. (I am from "upstate.")

Then we talked about nursing, in which the one woman, a nurse, explained to her partner about how her patients are "sick as shit" but by the time they get to the floor, well, I mean, really, floor nursing? Ew. What's the point of even caring for someone who is only acutely ill rather than critically ill? (I am a floor nurse.)

Next came the requisite "How are the kids?" And so we got onto the topic of Mad Scientist and his college plans. I mentioned that University of Virginia is his first choice and that Mad had said he'd prefer to live at home if he goes there. They started moaning about how will he ever grow up, he simply has to move out, no college-bound child should live with his parents, he NEEDS to get away from me. One of the women looked at me earnestly and said, "You really need to talk to him." Well, thank you, kind ladies, thank you very much indeed for being so sure in your knowledge of the needs of a boy YOU HAVE NEVER MET, and for not hesitating to share your opinions with me. I realize that "going away" to college and living in the dorms are the social norm, but plenty of kids commute to college from home and somehow manage to become independent, productive adults. If Mad Scientist chooses to move out, then he is welcome to do so, but I am not about to kick him out of the house against his will. Not at age 17, anyway.

That was the point at which I contemplated playing hooky from the party, but there didn't seem to be a way to make a graceful exit without appearing to be petulant, so I drank more wine and sought a different conversation.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mama's singin' you to sleep With a moonshine lullaby

When Mad Scientist told me he was going to make moonshine at home, I realized I had two options:
1. Freak out and forbid it.
2. Allow it, with the knowledge that he would probably not be successful.

I usually choose the path of least resistance, so I went with option number two. While not encouraging the moonshine hobby, I voiced only the mildest of objections: (But how will you build a still? Where will we put it? Isn't it illegal? Do you promise not to blow up the house? If you're not planning to drink it, what will you do with it?)

One morning I got up to get ready for work and discovered the kitchen counters, and indeed most flat surfaces were mysteriously sticky. The sink was cluttered with sticky measuring cups and spoons, there were circular stains on the stovetop and the whole kitchen had an aura of feverish activity only recently abandoned, though it was 5:30am. I knew that Mad Scientist was responsible for the mess but did not connect it with the moonshine business until I got home from work that night and he revealed assorted recycled containers--including plastic milk jugs which he claimed he'd "sterilized"-- filled to the brim with homemade "mash" that he had filed away in the drawer of a filing cabinet in his bedroom--the original contents of which he had transferred to his backpack (and probably the space under his bed and who knows where else--they were Jon's papers he relocated, not his own.) The room had an unpleasant yeasty smell, and Mr. McP, who shares the room with Mad Scientist complained vociferously.

There followed several very uncomfortable days. The yeasty smell pervaded the upstairs, and the rest of the house as Mad Scientist moved the containers about, trying to find the ideal warm spot for his mash to ferment. You never knew where you'd encounter the reeking jugs--wrapped in towels and stacked on the dresser in the bathroom, resting on the heating ducts in the living room, in the sink, which was plugged and filled part way with hot water. There were dribbles of spilled mash everywhere and Mr. McP refused to sleep in his room because of the smell.

And still I didn't get mad. No, I didn't get mad until I realized that he had used almost an entire 1-pound package of SAF instant yeast for his mash. Instant yeast is about three times stronger than regular baking yeast. I have to order it specially. The amount he used was probably a six month supply for me, and I bake a lot. By a conservative estimate, Mad Scientist used enough yeast, in his mash, to bake 75 pizzas.

Then he started asking me to buy him materials with which to make a still. I didn't recall, in not specifically forbidding the moonshine, to agreeing to buy my son a still. I was trying to be all Zen Mom about the whole thing so I told him to put the items on his Christmas list. My last drop of Zen dried up when the Christmas list specified a six-gallon kettle and twenty feet of copper tubing. Twenty feet of copper tubing?! This is a 1600 sq foot house with two adults, three teen-agers, one admitedly slim ten year old--but he comes with fencing equipment-- and three pets. George-the-bunny took up our last remaining spare square inches of living space. We do not have room for twenty feet of sunbeams delivered personally by the Angel Gabriel, let alone twenty feet of illegal still tubing. Suddenly, I wasn't Zen Mom. I was Mom-Whose-Mug-Shot-is-Displayed-on-the-Evening-News.

Meanwhile, Mad Scientist would step away from the computer, where he was shopping for the best buys in Still Supplies and I would find on it unsettling pictures of grimy home stoves holding enormous makeshift stills--the one Mad seemed to favor involved a pot lid that was held down with a load of bricks. I was so worried about space, tidiness and legality, it didn't even occur to me to wonder why the bricks were necessary, but clearly things blowing up is a potential hazard of the home lickker making biznes.

But Zen prevailed. Mad Scientist could not find a satisfactory connector or fitting that he needed, and announced abruptly that he was abandoning the whole project. Well not quite abandoning. There was still all that mash, which he said he would like to taste. I knew I had two options:
1. Freak out and force him to flush the whole mess down the toilet.
2. Say nothing because one sip would be disgusting enough to prompt him to throw it away on his own.

He did drink wine while we were in Italy. It is just expected there that kids his age will drink with dinner, so would a taste of poorly-fermented and probably non-alcoholic sugar, yeast & water really hurt him other than to make him puke, an outcome he deserved anyway after subjecting us all to the smell?

I went with number two. The outcome? I am proven right again.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Drug pusher, North Face hater

Mr. McP's timing, interviewing me about my job for a DARE project, a few minutes after I got home from a frustrating day at work, could have been better. You are familiar with DARE, no? The bullshit, proven-ineffective-by-research-so-why-are-we-still-teaching-it-in-the-schools anti-drug education program?
Here's how the interview went:

Mr. McP: What do you do at your job?
Me: I push narcotics.

I made sure he spelled "narcotics" correctly.  The DARE people can bit me. And it's true, I do push narcotics, push as in IV push.

Why does everybody--everybody--wear a North Face jacket? Am I missing something? To me, they are dull and devoid of style. I want no part of them. Do they offer super-warmth? Superpowers? Even the homeless woman in front of me in line at the post office today was wearing a North Face jacket.

I know I am being offensive, but just indulge me today.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Donuts for sissies

If you apply yourself, you can really get a lot of Christmas shopping done in one day. I guess my problem up to now is that I have never applied myself, so to speak, in the realm of Christmas shopping, so that even when I start my shopping early, I am still one of those people buying gifts at the last minute. I applied myself so much yesterday that I had to stop and give my credit card a rest. It's not that the little plastic rectangle needed the rest, but I'm sure that the credit card elves, who watch over my purchases and call me at home when my spending breaks out of its usual patterns, appreciated it.

I shun the mall and try to shop at locally owned boutiques, or online. That's so elitist, I know, but Charlottesville has a craptastic mall. The stores are the usual suspects, but their merchandise is pared down, probably because so many people here are elitist boutique shoppers like me, so the guys in corporate see that nothing is selling in their stores here and stock them accordingly with last year's rejects or whatever. Shopping at Charlottesville's "Fashion Square Mall"--I can hardly write the name without wincing--is like being transported to the Ukraine for the day, only with gangfights in the common areas.

I went to one boutique that stocks lovely things imported from France: Provencal table linens, pottery, these sweet French guinea hens I have been coveting for years and other fun stuff.

I saw one thing there, a golf ball wine stopper, perfect for my mother-in-law who likes golf, and wine. A bottle stopper is a small thing and I thought it would be a good gift garnish--you know, the little extra gift you tape to the outside of the package, only it cost $32. Even my inner elitist was shocked. Come on, people. It's a golf ball glued to a cork.

My inner elitist turns a blind eye to my use of Amazon as my go-to site for just about everything. Google any random thing you'd like to buy: SHOE STORAGE SYSTEM, CRAMPON BAG, RANDOM ORBIT SANDER, BRA BALL, MAXIMUM THE HORMONE, HEADSTONE DECORATIONS, COFFIN CASE, PANTIES FOR SISSIES, RIDICULOUS SEXUAL MISADVENTURES, and Amazon will have a product for you.

I'm sorry, but it has just come to my attention that our local yellow pages has two headings for doughnuts: "DONUTS" and "DOUGHNUTS." Really? Not only that, the one business listed under DOUGHNUTS spells its product "donuts." There is a different business listed under DONUTS. The two headings are not cross referenced, so people who want doughnuts are directed to one business and people who want donuts are directed to a completely different one. We usually buy "doughnuts" from a place called Spudnuts, which isn't even listed in the yellow pages, but it is closed on Sundays, so we will have to buy some "donuts."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Rant of the day

As of yesterday, smoking is banned in all Virginia restaurants, a law that puts us into cultural alignment with much of the rest of the US. It always amused me to see the shocked reaction of my family, who visit from New York and Florida, to the sight of people smoking in restaurants here in Charlottesville. Most restaurants had already instituted their own smoking bans anyway, but there were a few holdouts.

I'm ambivalent about the ban, actually. I don't smoke and I agree that restaurant employees deserve a healthy work environment as much as anyone, but Jon smokes, as do several of his friends, and when we go out I'm usually relieved if it's to a place that allows smoking because otherwise our evenings out are punctuated by annoying smoking breaks.

I'm sure there are people who can relate to this scenario: you are out with a group of friends and someone suggests going out for a cigarette and suddenly most of your party has left the restaurant, and you are stranded, sometimes alone, but usually with the least congenial member of the group. You sit there pensively peeling the label off your beer bottle, watching your smoking friends laughing it up outside. They're having such a great time that often their cigarettes are long consumed before they bother to come back inside. Oh sure, you can go outside with them, but then your table is abandoned and the waitstaff think you've all gone, or else it's freezing or raining or whatever.

This behavior is RUDE. It's also unchivalrous. I'm especially annoyed that my own husband is one of the worst offenders. With the smoking ban in effect, there will be ever more of us non-smoking wallflowers, while all the real partying will happen outside the bar.

Q: But who even smokes anymore, anyway?
A: Lots of people, believe me.

That said, the smell of cigarette smoke doesn't usually bother me too much, or so I thought. A few weeks ago, I was walking down the street and a woman walking in front of me lit up a cigarette and as the smell of it reached me, I was overcome with rage. It surprised me because I have never reacted this way to smoke before, but I was unhappy about other things and the smoke was the last straw. I wanted to catch up to her and demand that she put her cigarette out. "How dare you," I wanted to say. "How dare you just walk down the street, heedless of the smoke you are blowing back at me?" I didn't confront the woman--I'm not very big on confrontation--but maybe my rage was displaced and the real smoker I wanted to say "How dare you," to is Jon for leaving me socially stranded, again and again.