Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tsunami of coffee

I graduated eons ago, but I am still in touch with R, my favorite professor.  When fortune brings us to the same city, we always meet to catch up.  I eagerly anticipate these occasions because something insane always happens. 

A couple years back, my husband had a conference near our alma mater, so I tagged along to see R and a few other people I still know in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  R and I arranged to meet at the old department and then grab a bite. At the appointed time, I arrived at her office.  We hugged -- it was great to see her.

Yet she looked bedraggled.  Her hair was a wild mop, and her face sagged with exhaustion.

"I'm pooped," she sighed.  "I was conned into serving on this committee, and there is so much to do.  I was up all night working, then I taught all morning, and now the committee meets in a hour.  I don't have time for a real lunch, can we just go to the cafe next door?  I desperately need caffeine."

"No problem," I said.  "Did you really not sleep again?"  R frequently neglects to sleep when she is stressed.

"Not a wink," she replied.  "Don't worry, I'm used to it."

At the cafe, I ordered a bowl of soup and a biscuit.  I paid, collected my food, and selected a nice table for us.  Several minutes passed - no R.  She was still waiting at the counter while Cafe Girl prepared her extra large latte

I caught a glimpse of this process:  A young woman steamed several pints of milk, which she then added to an enormous paper tub of violently hot coffee.  She struggled to heave the beverage from the coffee machine to the pick-up counter.

The last thing I saw was R thanking Cafe Girl and picking up her latte.  Then I looked down at my soup.

A split second later, I looked up again to find R clutching the empty paper tub.  She was apologizing to three frat boys at a nearby table.  Coffee streamed from their hair and clothing.  They were surrounded by a lake of latte, which was now lapping across the floor of the cafe.

There was also a lot of coffee on my table.  By some miracle, not a single drop had landed on me or my food.  It was amazing, like when a hurricane or tornado destroys one house while leaving the place next door untouched.

Cafe Girl appeared with a mop and bucket.  She began swabbing at Lake Latte.  Again and again, coffee poured out of the mop into the bucket.

R was mortified.  "I'm so sorry!" she stammered.  "Oh my God!  I blew it!  I really, really blew it!"  Cafe Girl nodded in agreement.

I tried to comfort R:  "It's okay, I'm sure this happens all the time.  Actually, it's kind of funny."

But R could not be consoled.  She insisted on leaving the cafe immediately.  So we did.  R had not consumed a single drop of coffee.

Outside, R was still untethered.  "I gotta go, I'm late!" she wailed. "Let's do dinner - maybe tomorrow?  We can go to this special place I know by the highway, Chili's - I'll pick you up."  She began running away from me.

"Email me!" I yelled at her receding figure.  She never emailed.

Since that day, we have met many times, but we have never revisited what happened at the cafe.  Nor did we ever go to Chili's.  I'm cool with that.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The sound and the furry: Susan's new cat

E and I adopted a Himalayan cat from a local shelter:

She is a nut, but we love her.  Lots of chirping as she follows us from room to room.  She sits like a person:

She is freakishly inbred.  She has stumpy legs, curly whiskers, and a kink in her tail.  Her insanely puffy pelt requires daily brushing.  We considered naming her Gmo (as in Genetically Modified Organism), but we decided on Luna.

More Himalayan cats for your amusement/edification:

And don't forget Mr. Jinx, the most compelling character in the movie, Meet the Parents:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A hair-raising tale

My good friend, P, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Her prognosis is excellent, thank goodness.  But at one point, the doctors thought she might need chemotherapy - which meant she would lose her hair.

So, when I visited her in D.C., P asked me to go to the wig shop with her.  Who am I to refuse adventure?  Off to the wig shop we went.

The wig shop was unlike any other place I have visited.  It was filled, floor to ceiling, with disembodied heads, all wearing intense eye makeup and sporting lush coifs of every imaginable color, texture, and style.

The store was staffed by an elderly Asian woman.  She was friendly and welcoming, but her English was very rough - so we were all struggling to communicate.  She kept waving a xeroxed newspaper article at us and yelling "Hillary Clinton!"  Eventually, P and I came to understand that Wig Lady had made Hillary's hair extensions for Bill's inauguration in 1993.  We were suitably impressed.

Then Wig Lady challenged us to guess if her own hair was real or fake.  P later confided to me that it was obviously fake, but of course we both said it looked real.  With a triumphant smile, Wig Lady announced that it was a wig!  She explained that the medication for her rheumatoid arthritis had caused all her hair to fall out.  She waved her hands as proof - they were twisted and misshapen, the fingers barely able to move.  Functionally, they were more like flippers or paws. 

After this sobering exchange, P and I proceeded to browse the decapitated heads in the store.  We were looking for something similar to P's natural hair, which is auburn and wavy.  Wig Lady plucked a wig from the shelf.  "This your wig," she sternly informed P. 

Wig Lady brought P to a mirror and began jamming the wig on her head.  Since Wig Lady's hands didn't work so well, P had to hold the front of the wig while Wig Lady used her flippers to maneuver the rest of it over P's head.  Several tufts of P's hair were yanked out in this awkward process.  P was very brave - she winced and yelped, but she didn't cry at all. 

P and I studied the wig atop her head.  It actually looked great, very natural.  "I like it," I said.  "Me too," P agreed, "but let's see what else she's got."

P removed the wig, and we resumed browsing.  Wig Lady looked alarmed.  "This your wig!" she insisted, pointing to the one P had just removed. "This wig best."

"It's a very nice wig," P replied, "but I'd like to look around a little more, please."

"No, no, this your wig!"

P looked at me in frustration.  "My friend likes that wig very much," I told Wig Lady, "but it's a big decision, so she needs to see some other wigs before she can know for sure."  Wig Lady sighed and nodded.

P pointed to a different wig:  "What about this one?"  Wig Lady shook her head vigorously.  "Why not?" asked P.

"Your face very big," Wig Lady explained.  She waved her flippers in huge circles to emphasize the monstrous scale of P's face:  "SOOOOOOO big!!!" 

P turned to me, her eyes welling with tears:  "Is she calling me fat?"

"Uh, I think she means that this wig is not right for your head.  Don't get upset, just keep looking."

P selected another wig, which Wig Lady also rejected:  "No, will not look right!"  But this time, P insisted on trying it on.  P and I studied her reflection in the mirror.

"Well," I began, "it's not bad.  But I like the first one better."

Yes," agreed P, "this one looks fake."

Wig Lady beamed with the satisfaction of being right:  "This wig no good on you.  Look wiggy!"

We resumed our search.  P asked if she could try on a blond wig, just for fun, but Wig Lady shot her down.

We moved to the back of the store, where the wigs suddenly became more modish and varied.  Wig Lady became alarmed:  "No, no!  Those wigs for Blacks!"

Who knew we would find Jim Crow in a wig shop?  "It's ok," P told her, "I'm just looking around."  P and I made a silent pact with our eyes:  Let's just find a wig and get the hell out of here. 

P tried a few more wigs on, but Wig Lady had called it:  The first one was the right one.  She was bossy and strange and probably racist, but, when it came to matching heads with wigs, Wig Lady was a pro.  P put a deposit down to hold the wig until she got the final word about chemo. 

We left the store completely exhausted.  We were too tired to eat dinner, so we just went back to P's place and fell asleep.

The next week, P learned that she would not, after all, need chemotherapy.  Great news!  But now what to do about the wig?  P contemplated returning to the store to retrieve her deposit.  In the end, she just couldn't face Wig Lady again.

I like to imagine that Wig Lady sold P's wig to Hillary Clinton, and the wig is now traveling the globe on Hill Force One.  Why not?  Stranger things have happened. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Night of the oranges

My dear husband E cuts a fine figure, but his parents constantly struggle with food and weight issues.  It's a battle they've been waging for as long as I've known them.  Amazingly, E's mom lost 60 pounds when she joined Weight Watchers many years ago.  She even became a Weight Watchers instructor, so now she helps other people learn how to make healthy choices. 

But maintaining one's figure is a battle that never ends.  When the Atkins Diet was all the rage five or six years ago, Mom decided to give it a try.  E's father was conscripted to try the new diet, as well.  Since E's brother was still living at home but NOT participating in the diet, some non-Atkins-approved food remained in the house, but it was segregated to one cabinet for consumption only by E's brother

The first few weeks of Atkins, everyone says, are the hardest.  You are allowed absolutely no carbohydrates. No chips, crackers, cookies, or cake.  No pasta, no bread, no potatoes.  No fruits.  No beans!  Even some vegetables, like carrots, are forbidden. 

It was hell.  Mom longed for a cookie.  With dead eyes, Dad gobbled eggs and bacon by the plateload.  Yet, despite their considerable suffering, Mom lost only two pounds, and Dad almost nothing.

One day, Mom discovered that Dad's giant squirt bottle of hot sauce, with which he doused every meal, was not, as he had repeatedly assured her, Atkins-compatible.  Reading the label, she found that it was loaded with sugar, salt, and other Atkins evils.  Mom confronted Dad, who denied lying about the contents of the sauce.  To help him avoid temptation, Mom threw the hot sauce out. 

A few nights later, Mom awoke at 3 AM.  She turned over and found herself alone in the bed.  Where was Dad?  She got up and went downstairs, where a faint light glowed from the kitchen.

She entered the kitchen to find her husband devouring oranges, which he had stolen out of the cabinet reserved for E's brother.  Dad had eaten six and was working on another.  There were peels everywhere.

Dad looked up from his nocturnal scavenging to see Mom standing there, mad as a wet hen.  He froze.  Still clutching his orange, he offered a guilty smile.

That was the end of Atkins.  The next day, they went back to Weight Watchers, which is much more sensible anyway.  Within moderation, you can eat anything -- the food guide even includes calorie counts for squirrel, armadillo, and opossum.

So Dad got his squirt bottle back, and they never spoke of the oranges again.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Please stop helping

Walking down Lexington Avenue, I saw a blind man - evident from his white cane - trying to hail a taxi.  He was on the sidewalk, arm in the air, but no cabs were stopping for him.

I offered to help, and he eagerly accepted.  I flagged a cab, brought him safely to it, and asked if there was anything else I could do.  He sweetly declined, and we parted ways.

Feeling pleased with myself, I resumed walking.  Immediately, a truck began honking at me.  I looked at the driver, who shouted: "Hey, do you know that guy?  Is he your friend?"

"No," I replied, "why do you ask?"

"Well, he just whacked his head getting into that cab!"

I whirled around to behold a terrible scene:  The blind guy clutched his forehead, face twisted in anguish.  The cabbie stood next to him, immobilized with fear and horror.

Meanwhile, traffic was speeding by.  The blind man's cane had fallen into the street, and now it was being repeatedly run over by cars.

It was horrible.

So what did I do?

I fled.  I just spun around and got the hell out there. 

A few months later, while job hunting, I came across an opening at an organization serving the blind.  I decided not to apply.  I think I've done enough, don't you?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Don't mess with crazy

E and I went to his parents' place in Philly for Thanksgiving.  We offered to come down early and cook an apple crisp.  Everyone loves a warm crisp right out of the oven, right?  Plus, if we brought all the ingredients with us, E's mom wouldn't need to shop or worry about a thing.  How could we go wrong?

On Thanksgiving day, after many hours of furious chopping, cooking, basting, and panicking, E's mom announced that the kitchen was ours.  E peeled and sliced the apples while I made the topping.  After triple-checking with E's mom to confirm the availability of the oven, we began cooking the crisp.  We set the timer and retired to the living room to catch up with E's relatives.

E's mom immediately asked what was happening with the crisp.  E patiently explained that the crisp was in the oven, and we would take care of everything - she need not worry about it at all. 

While the crisp baked, E and I mingled with a series of oddly shaped relatives.  After a while, I realized that the oven timer had not sounded, nor could I smell the scent of cooking apples.  I elbowed E:  "Hey, why can't I smell the crisp? Something's wrong, let's go check."

We entered the kitchen to find E's mother and her sister.  The crisp was sitting on the stovetop, pale and raw.  "That's not done yet," I said.  E's mom scowled as I turned the oven back on and placed the crisp inside.  "Don't worry, Mom," said E.  "We'll handle this, you just go enjoy yourself."  He steered her and her sister back into the living room.  We set the timer again and rejoined the festivities.

Half an hour later, I realized the timer had, yet again, failed to go off.  Unable to find E, I returned to the kitchen alone.  Once more, I found E's mother and her sister - and the crisp out of the oven.  It was still undercooked, but now it also had a big dent in the top.  "What happened?" I asked.

"It's done, I stuck a fork it in!" she replied.  I took the fork and prodded an apple.  Rock hard.

"This isn't done yet," I explained.  "The apples will be nice and soft when it's ready.  Please, I have made this recipe a hundred times.  I really do know what to do."

"It is done!" E's mom barked.  "It needed to come out - see?"  She grabbed a nearby knife and plunged it into the center of the crisp.  The delicate crust collapsed under the force of the stabbing.  E's aunt silently backed out of the kitchen. 

I turned the oven back on, placed the crisp inside, and set the timer.  "Please do not touch this," I said sternly, as if speaking to a naughty child.  "I will wait here until it is done."

Suddenly E appeared.  E's mother stomped out of the kitchen. "What's going on?" asked E.

"Your mother took the crisp out of the oven again, and when I challenged her, she stabbed it with a knife."

"What?  That didn't happen.  I'm sure there is another explanation."

"I was here, I saw it happen."

"That's crazy!  Why would she stab a pie?"

I burst into tears.  "I'm not lying!"

E looked confused.  "Let's just go back out there and pretend this didn't happen."

"I'm not leaving this kitchen until the crisp is done.  How is it supposed to cook when she keeps messing with it?"

"Ok, so we'll stay here.  Don't worry, everything will be fine."

"Everything is not fine.  Your crazy mother is sabotaging our dessert!"

"The crisp will be delicious, stop worrying."

He was wrong:  The crisp never recovered from Mom's savage attacks. The apples were unevenly cooked.  The crust was smashed, and it never achieved the beautiful, golden color that comes from unmolested baking. 

Many Thanksgivings have since passed, and we have never brought another dish to contribute.  That seems to suit E's mother just fine.  E and I now laugh about the bludgeoned crisp, but we learned an important lesson:  Don't tangle with crazy.  Just go with it, and nobody's pie gets hurt.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Susan’s great escape

My husband E is blogging for me today:
Susan and I used to shop at this crazy-crowded market, FailWay, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  Anyone who’s been there has experienced the narrow aisles, the slow walkers with dead eyes, the pushing and shoving – in short, the usual New York shopping experience.
So there we were, going in after work when the place was stuffed with yuppies.  And yes, these were our people - we too trolled the aisles in search of organic dark chocolate, vegan ravioli, and extra virgin lotus root oil.  Then we got on the back of this tremendously long line.  People, I kid you not, the line snaked around the whole store.  It was reminiscent of the Soviet Union.  Yes, it was the “express line,” but this line made a mockery of the very meaning and essence of the phrase.

As usual, I was resigned to our fate, but Susan hates lines.  She said, “Stay here, I’ll be back” and then disappeared into the throng of shoppers.  Where she went, I had no idea.  She couldn’t possibly find a better line - after all, we were in “express,” and the store was jammed. 
After a minute, Susan reappeared and announced, very loudly, “Come on, honey, this line is for suckers!”
What?  I looked around at my fellow line-prisoners.  They heard Susan as well, but none of us could understand what she meant.  Everyone gaped as Susan grabbed my sleeve and dragged me to the other side of the store.  And there it was, something only Susan could locate at the far corner of a crowded FailWay, like a divining rod sensing a drop of water in the desert.  Something that should not exist in Manhattan at 6pm – a check-out with no line at all!  
How was it possible?  How did Susan find this gem that was seemingly invisible to all other mortals in the store?  I have no idea, but we were out of that store in no time, and we never looked back.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Existential crisis

On the bus, my husband overheard a woman on her cellphone:

"I don't know, I feel so lost and confused.  Sometimes I wonder -- does God really want me to be an accountant?"

Good grief!  What kind of God would want that?!  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Susan's moment of glory

Once upon a time, in the 1980s, there was a kid named Susan.  She was goofy-looking and a total spaz.  Also, she was tiny for her 10 years:  Grown-ups often mistook her for a first grader.  She stunk at sports and was always picked last, or nearly last, for every team at recess.  

One day at school, Susan's class was playing softball.  Susan and her nerdy pals, banished to far right field, were ignoring the game.  They stood in a circle, gossiping and telling jokes to pass the time.

It was Charlie's turn at bat.  Charlie was an oversized meathead who always hit a home run and then performed an elaborate victory dance.  Time for Susan's team to take one up the ass! 

Susan heard the crack of the bat.  With one eye, she followed the ball as it sailed high across the field, arcing into the sky.  It disappeared into the glare of the sun.

Then Susan saw the ball falling above her.  Paralyzed with fear, she watched it grow larger and larger.  At the last possible moment, she extended a single, bare hand.  (Mitts were in short supply, so only good players received them.)  The ball thudded into her palm. 

For several moments, the class stared in silent disbelief.  Then Susan's team exploded into cheers.  Charlie was out! Susan grinned uncontrollably, clutching the ball like a prize.  Her heart swelled with the pure joy of sports-related social acceptance.   

Ecstatic, Susan hurled the ball toward the pitcher.  It flew high up in the air, like the bird of happiness in her heart.  Then it thudded back to earth, not three feet away from her dorky clogs. 

After that, Susan was still picked last, or nearly last, for team sports.  But she never forgot that glorious moment of triumph.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Squeaky wheel

In last month's post, my husband explained my strategy for securing a good hotel room.  Unfortunately, things can still go awry and threaten to ruin your hotel experience.  You should never be afraid to point out problems to the hotel staff - usually, they will welcome honest feedback and strive to put things right.  But, sadly, there are hotels that just aren't run well, and all your helpful criticisms may come to naught.

In these cases, you might want to write a follow-up letter to the hotel, explaining what went wrong and why you are entitled to your money back.  Below is one such letter that I wrote (which resulted in a refund) - feel free to use it as a template:
To:  The Management at the Hotel FancyPants
From:  Susan
In re: Appalling Recent Visit
Last week, I stayed at the Hotel FancyPants. I travel frequently and usually have very pleasant experiences. However, a number of problems during this stay prompted me to write this letter.

The first offense occurred upon my arrival. As I entered the lobby of the hotel, I was confronted by a life-size statue of Marilyn Monroe, with her dress lifted up to expose her underpants. The statue is so tasteless and ghastly that I was hardly able to continue to the front desk.
Why does the Hotel FancyPants, an otherwise respectable establishment, possess this tawdry item?  Why is it so prominently displayed in the lobby, where patrons are forced to see it each time they enter or leave the hotel?  Besides being of questionable artistic merit, the statue trivializes the objectification of women. Research documents how images like these perpetuate a climate of insensitivity toward sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of misogyny. I would urge whoever is responsible for this objectionable d├ęcor to reconsider how this choice of “art” affects patrons, women and girls, and society as a whole.
The second problem occurred during check-in. I had reserved a king-size bed, but I was given a room with two double beds.  The explanation I received was that the reservation system can take requests for bed sizes, but it cannot guarantee such requests. Given the state of technology today, it should be possible for the Hotel FancyPants to accurately inform customers about the kinds of beds that are available.  More, the hotel should not promise amenities it cannot deliver. I am appalled that the management of the Hotel FancyPants operates in such a disorganized and discourteous fashion.

I was also upset by the hotel’s failure to provide advertised services, as when I attempted to utilize the complimentary shoe-shine service. As instructed, I placed my shoes in a bag and hung them outside my door. In the morning, I discovered that my shoes had not been shined as promised. Instead, they had remained outside my door all night, where they were vulnerable to theft. 

I also encountered problems at the FancyPants Bar & Grill. I was told upon check-in that the hotel's bar offers $3 martinis. I was even given a flyer announcing “Rail Brand Martini’s [sic] are always $3” and a calendar advertising “$3 House Martinis and Live Jazz beginning @ 6:30 pm."  These enticements, however, proved false:  When two colleagues and I met at the bar that evening, we were charged $9 per martini, and our waitress informed us that the $3 martinis are available from 5 pm to 8 pm only.  I am shocked that the FancyPants establishment would be so brazen in its deceptive marketing practices. To make matters worse, the glass I received had lipstick on it from a previous patron.
I am seldom moved to write letters of complaint, but the problems I experienced reveal an alarming state of disarray and mismanagement.  The result is a hotel teetering on the precipice of total chaos. 
In light of my disappointing experience, I am requesting a full refund from the Hotel FancyPants and the FancyPants Bar & Grill. Enclosed you will find receipts totaling $194.22. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require further information.
Sincerely,  Susan