Thursday, July 30, 2009

Yet another example of why my pops is the SH*T

Have I mentioned recently how Poppa Hamm is the coolest? Well, he is.

I was talking to him earlier tonight about my job search, how I can’t pay my rent, and so on. Then I mentioned how I was frustrated because I’d been asked to rewrite an article for my internship (you know, the article I had major writer’s block over)—because apparently, as all writers face from time to time, the editors thought it was way off the mark.

It’s upsetting to get that kind of feedback from an editor any time, but even more degrading when it was an article you wrote for FREE. So my first thought when I got the email to rewrite it was, “I have to prove that I’m not a bad writer! I have to write the shit out of this rewrite!”

But then I started actually trying to rewrite it. This mostly led to me increasing the premature frown wrinkle between my eyebrows as I frowned at the Word document that’s now really brightly colored from all the various editors’ track changes.

So my thoughts changed to, “Why am I doing this?” My internship is over. This company is not hiring me. Outwardly, I said, “Fuck it!” and pushed my Macbook away from me in a hissy fit. Then I remembered I was in a crowded coffee shop. (Of course I was at a coffee shop. And not Starbucks. White people point!)

That was about the time I decided to call my pops. After explaining the situation to him, I asked if he thought I should rewrite the story. His response?

“Al, sorry if this is too blunt, but: FUCK NO!”

Hee hee. I knew my tendency to say ‘fuck’ a lot had to come from somewhere.

Greg Hamm then proceeded to go on a rant about how if they wanted me to rewrite it, they could either pay me or do it themselves, and told me if I rewrote it for free he would disown me.

Sold. I’m not rewriting it.

My dad’s awesome.

You look at me!!!!

Because I needed a break from writing cover letters.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Favorite Redhead! A Tuesday Tribute

I know I usually do my tributes on Fridays, but today I’m too inspired to wait until Friday. So, ahem: First Tuesday tribute. This one goes out to Abby, aka Bridget Jones.

This morning (and by morning I of course mean at noon, when I woke up), I was dicking around on Facebook to further delay the inevitable bad mood that sets in when I start job searching online.

Anyway, I was thinking about some of my closest friends who, as of late, I’ve done a shitty job of keeping in touch with—namely, my friend Abby, who was my partner-in-crime my last couple of years in Bloomington. I admittedly am bad about calling many of my friends, feel crappy about it, then still don’t just pick up my damn phone and call them. I have no idea why I do this. I’d like to think I’m a pretty good friend in general, but in this aspect, I suck. This is a fact.

It had been awhile since I’d talked to Abby, and I was curious to see if I could get a quick update on what was going on with her by going the lazy, bad friend route—checking her Facebook page and her blog. And what did I find? In addition to realizing she and I are both in the midst of a financial crisis and probably should be bonding over it, I also found a pretty badass shout out to my blog! (Thanks, Abbs.)

I’m going to make you go to Abby’s blog to read the nice words she wrote—and not just to self-promote my blog more—but to get some traffic to her blog, which like her, is unapologetically honest, real, and funny. Of course there’s a hell of a lot more to my dear friend “Bridget” than these three traits, but these three are why, I think at least, we became close friends right off the bat that summer we worked at the Four Winds. (Maybe I shouldn’t bitch so much about waiting tables—it seems I make all my closest friends while doing it.)

If you’re around Abby and me for more than five minutes, you’ll learn the following pretty fast: A) We know every line in Clue, and we’re probably going to quote it, while laughing hysterically; B) The same thing goes for Bridget Jones’s Diary and Family Guy; and C) We’re both cat ladies, and we’re awesome.

Abby’s the kind of friend that’s rare to find—one that’s sat on a couch next to me and listened to me spill my guts about something stupid I’ve done the night before, and gives me advice without judging me, even when I judge myself. She’s the kind of friend that listens to this kind of shit when she has her own problems on her mind—but doesn’t tell me to shut up. She’s the kind of friend who remembers my mom’s birthday and gives me a handmade gift to let me know she cares. She’s the kind of friend who mails me handwritten letters, because sometimes an email just isn’t good enough.

I learn a lot from Abby. Although in her life, she’s gone through some incredibly difficult times, and too often, she hasn’t been given the love she deserves from people, she never stops caring about them. She’s good to people even when they haven’t done the same for her.

Basically, she’s one badass redhead.

Abby, since we can't go to Crazy Horse and make a spectacle of ourselves quoting this scene while we share a bottle of half-priced Oliver wine, I guess this will have to do:

Monday, July 27, 2009

I heart Janis.

I think if I could wail like Janis I'd feel a lot better about things.

"I have to find myself, you know what I mean?"

Writing, Slacking Off, and Erica Jong

What a slacker. I haven’t posted in over a week. Which also means I haven’t written anything, not one word, for over a week. I should be embarrassed when my friends introduce me to people as a writer. Yeah, a writer who not only isn’t getting published, isn’t actually writing anything.

But I have been reading. That, I can’t stop, even amidst my extreme laziness and pessimism about my “career.” So last week, after loaning Fear of Flying to a friend and talking about Erica Jong to anyone who will pretend to even halfway listen, I started rereading Ordinary Miracles, my favorite collection of hers.

It feels almost masturbatory that I like Erica Jong so much, because reading her writing is rather like listening to my own brain. It scares me. But she’s much braver with her writing than I could ever be. Basically, she’s my literary hero.

But nevermind that. I think I read this poem six times yesterday:

"What You Need to Be a Writer"

After the college
the eager
students gather.

They ask me
what you need
to be a writer

& I, feeling flippant,
I am wearing
an 18th century
& think
myself in love

& true grit.”

I even
believe it—

as I do
like an
for easy

designer dress,
sly smile
on my lips
& silver boots

they saw me
my eyes
like sponges,
my hand
with betrayal,

my fear
in the dark?

Suppose they saw
the fear
of never
the fear
of being
the money fear,
the fear fear,
the fear
of succumbing
to fear?

& then
there’s all
I did
not say:

to be
a writer
what you need

to say:

that burns
like a hot coal
in your gut

that pounds
like a pump
in your groin

& the courage
to live
like a wound

that never

Good inspiration for my lazy ass. So, long story short, sorry about my temporary leave of absence from blogging. After finishing my internship last week, minus the job offer I’d been setting myself up for the last three months, my ambition, ego, and optimism was pretty much shot to hell.

Hmm. That actually should have given me even more inspiration to write. Unfortunately it pretty much only gave me the inspiration to lie in my bed watching Netflix and eating Thai food.

I have high hopes for this week.

Monday’s job search tally:

Job applications sent today: 1
Replies from previous applications: 0

We’ll see how the rest of the night goes.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Patricia and Me: Still in the Honeymoon Stage

Today was the perfect day for me to brave the Chicago streets and take Patricia for a spin. 70 degrees and sunny on a Saturday, which means Logan Square is bustling with young hipsters, families, and me, awkwardly navigating my Schwinn Breeze and trying not to hit a car. Or a stroller. Or a pedestrian.

The 8-year-old version of myself would scoff at my bike riding skills. Jay and I used to cruise up and down the hills of Mill Road for hours in the summer, no helmets, neighbor dogs tearing after us, and I really don’t recall ever getting off my bike to find my leg muscles twitching. In my defense, Patricia’s front tire is a little flat. And I don’t exercise. Wait, I take that back: in the last two months, I think I did my Self “Bikini Ready Fast” workout twice. Each time, my entire body hurt for the rest of the week. That counts, right?

But anyway. Patricia and I had a nice little ride today. I think I’ll take her back out tomorrow, at least to air her up a bit. In the meantime, I need to figure out how to look less like a geek in my helmet. Any and all hipster credibility I get from Patricia’s sexiness is completely ruined by the terrified look I have on my face every time I hit an intersection. It's something like this:

(Yeah, I just took a picture of myself, wearing my bike helmet, while sitting at my kitchen table. You needed to see it to fully understand.)

My confidence was starting to grow mid-bike ride. Then I spotted an attractive guy coming my direction. Riding a red Schwinn. A RED SCHWINN! He smiled at me, I smiled back, and promptly lost control of Patricia and narrowly missed a parked car.

I avoided eye contact with my fellow cyclists after that incident.

I’m considering riding Patricia to work tomorrow morning. It’ll be a big step in our relationship. Just have to work up the courage first…

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More Magical Moments Waiting Tables

Part 1: Creepy Customers 1 and 2

Last night was a doozy. A real, effing doozy. I could begin by telling you that one of my customers got hit by a car, rolled off of it, then hopped up and continued running down the street after a tow truck, but that wouldn’t really be fair.

So let’s start at the beginning, with Creepy Customers 1 and 2.

I was inwardly groaning and outwardly rolling my eyes at Rachel when I realized it was my turn to wait on these two guys that walked in. As I hovered behind them with menus as they danced around the table trying to decide who would sit in the booth seat and who would take the chair, I knew I was going to be in for a treat. After what seemed like three hours, they sat down.

I began my spiel: “Hey guys, how you doing? Want something to drink?”

CC 1, looking at CC 2: “Well, hmm...what do you think? Are you having a beer? If you’re having a beer, I’m having a beer...”

CC 2, looking at me, then frantically back at the menu: “Umm...”

Me, fake smile plastered on my face: “I’ll just give you a minute.” *scurries away*

Back at the table...

CC 1: “What’s your name?” (As a general rule, when a middle-aged man I’m waiting on asks for my name, that means he’s going to say it every time I come to the table, every chance he can get. He’ll say it so many times I will want to punch him in the face at the sound of my own name.)

Me, fake smiles galore: “Alison.”

CC1: “Alison, tell us about your beer specials.”

Uggh. I hate when people make me do my job. I especially hate when they command that I do or tell them something.

I tell them some BS about our Skinny Dip beer special, knowing that unlike most tables, who will shrug and say, ok, I’ll take that, they’re going to ask me specific, annoying questions. Long story short, after a ridiculously long conversation where I have now forgotten everything I was supposed to be getting for my other customers, they take the damn beers.

Back at the table, CC1, who apparently does all the talking for his friend, delights me with a story about how they’re not too hungry, so they want to split the Cobb salad. We don’t have a Cobb salad.

Me: “So, you’d like to split the chicken chopped salad? What kind of dressing would you like?”

CC 1, chuckling: “Oh, Alison, that’s right, the CHOPPED salad. Hmm… Alison, why don’t you tell us about your salad dressings, Alison, AlisonAlisonAlisonAlison?”


Wait, I just screamed, err, said that in my mind. I told them the dressings.

After another debate, CC 2 decides he wants to try two of the dressings! How magical! I tell them no problem, and ignore them until I deliver their salads. When I bring them their unimpressive salads, they act like I’ve just given them a golden ticket. I’ve never seen two grown men so damn excited over a salad. CC 1 actually said, “Oh, Alison, this is perfect. This is so wonderful of you, Alison. This looks fantastic, Alison.”

Uh huh.

Just when I think I’m done with these goofballs, I hear it: my fucking name.

“Excuse me, Alison?” (May I just say CC 1 said this when I was across the patio, talking to another table.)

I nod at him in acknowledgement and attempt to take the rest of my other customer’s order.


Sweet Jesus. I get back over to this table, fighting the urge to scream, “WHAT?!” and smile at CC 1. CC 2 is staring into his salad.

CC 1 stands up—STANDS UP! Where the hell am I?! —-and gets uncomfortably close to my face. “Alison, you’re not going to believe this. You are going to write about this in your journal tonight. In your journal! My friend here … he wants… *chuckles* … he wants to try your ranch AND blue cheese!”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I fight back all normal human reaction to this interaction, and simply say, “Sure, no problem!” and sprint from the table as quickly as possible.

Then, I’m not sure if it was cause they were getting full, or what, but their weirdness calmed down a bit. That was pretty much it for that fun experience.

But then the night got even weirder.

Part 2: Car Crashes, Rumple Minze, and Angry Hippies

So around the time I’m delivering the ranch and blue cheese to CC 2, I get a new table. Three people—two guys and one girl—just having some beers. Seems harmless, although the one white hippie with dreads smells like he just came out of a dumpster. They’re drinking, having a good time, talking to Rachel at length about her tattoos or something, then next thing I know I come back to the table and smelly hippie looks murderous.

“Everything okay, guys?”

Smelly hippie proceeds to tell me that they just found out a friend of theirs died. Automatically, I assume they want their check so they can get the hell out of there, but no, they want to take shots of Rumple Minze in his memory. Because I feel horribly uncomfortable and sorry for them at the same time, I offer to give them the shots on the house.

Smelly hippie argues that he doesn’t want free shots, he just wants me to take one with them. I tell him thanks, but no thanks, partially because the thought of Rumple Minze at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday makes me want to die, partially because the thought of Rumple Minze at any time makes me want to die.

I come back with the shots. “I’m really sorry about your friend. These are on us.”

Smelly’s response: “I cannot believe you’re not going to take a shot with us in honor of our friend. That’s messed up.”

Take your free shot, you fucking smelly ass, is what I’m thinking, but I’m a little afraid that this is one dreadlocked white man who is not a peace-loving individual. Luckily his friends thanked me at that moment so I could run away.

A few minutes later, someone in the bar screams, I hear tires squealing, and see him sprinting out of the bar, dreadlocks flying, beer gut bouncing. Everyone in the bar starts yelling that some dude got hit by a car.

I missed the actual car crash. But it turns out that the woman at my table—yeah, not a dude, people—saw her car getting towed from across the street and started sprinting after the tow truck, getting body slammed by a car in the process.

So what did she do? She jumped up and continued to run after the tow truck. I’ll spare you the rest of the silliness that followed, but let’s just say when my customer returned, minus his friend who had just run into oncoming traffic (the third person just disappeared around this time), he was pretty unhappy about being stuck with the bill. So unhappy, in fact, that it led him to tell me to “be careful walking to my car tonight.”

Of course I immediately determined that I was about to get raped and/or murdered by this dude tonight, so I ran to my manager and told him what happened. Apparently when Mike went outside to talk to him he apologized, said he didn’t mean anything by it, shook his hand and said, “I’m Crash, by the way.”

That was my Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Looks like I just scored another white people point!

Stuff White People Like finally updated with a new post, Where the Wild Things Are, furthering the evidence that I am the ultimate white person. (Please read my Love in the Time of Cholera post for your proof.)

From #127 Where the Wild Things Are:
"It is a guarantee that whenever it is announced that a popular book is being turned into a movie, white people will get upset. This is partly due to their fear that something they love will be made accessible to more people and thus enjoyed by more people which immediately decreases the amount of joy a white person can feel towards the original property. Yes, it’s complicated.

The other problem is that these announcements create a ticking time bomb where by a white person must read the book in ADVANCE of the release of the movie. This is done partly so that they can engage in the popular activity of complaining about how the movie failed to capture the essence of the book. But more importantly, once a book has been made into a movie, a white person can no longer read that book. To have read the book after the movie is one of the great crimes in white culture, and under no circumstances should you ever admit to doing this. Literally dozens of white friendships have imploded when it was revealed that someone read Fight Club after 1999."
Another point they should have mentioned: Under no circumstances should you buy the edition of the book with the movie cover. This automatically results in scorn from other white people, who will assume you are committing the great crime of reading the book after you've seen the movie. The only time this is acceptable is when you are me, and you buy the copy of Atonement with James McAvoy on the cover, because James McAvoy is hot. The white people points I lose by this admission are immediately balanced out by the fact that I recently have vowed to learn Spanish and always answer "poquito" when asked if I hablo Espanol (see #115 Promising to Learn a New Language for details).

You'll find more evidence about my high score in white people points here. But do I lose white people points for liking Miracle Whip and Kool-Aid?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Writer's Block

Maybe you’re thinking, I wonder what Al’s up to today? I’m sure you were. What else could you possibly be thinking about on a Friday afternoon?

Here’s your answer.

I have been staring at a Word document for two and a half hours, typing and retyping a paragraph. Every now and again I take a break to finish some exciting fact checking changes. But now I’ve finished all of my fact checking assignments and have nothing to do, except write this article. All I need to do is write 600 damn words about the top three cities for job hunting and relocating, based on some Forbes’ study. (In case you’re dying to know, those three cities are apparently Madison, D.C., and Boston. Not Chicago? Go figure!)

This article is killing me. I’ve had the assignment for two weeks. I was thrilled to get an actual writing assignment at my internship. So what do I do? I put it off until the last minute—it’s due on Monday—and then I completely lose the ability to write a complete sentence. Kind of sad and ironic that I’m still somehow able to write this blog post, huh.

Writer’s block is like a hangover that you still can’t shake by dinner time, even though you’ve tried drinking a giant bloody mary, taking a nap, and eating greasy food. Writer’s block is like when I found out Amber Hibbert was the valedictorian, and I had to accept 2nd place in our silent academic battle that had started in 4th grade. Writer’s block is like finding out the guy I like is a Republican. Basically it’s everything that is evil in life. Or, it’s a really sweet album by PB and J.

My inability to write was making me so crazy that I walked to Jewel in the rain and left with a one pound bag of strawberry Twizzlers. Now all I have is a stomach ache, wet feet, and a blank Word document.

I have two hours left to write this. Then I have to leave here, don an apron, and try not to spill beer all over myself. Wish me luck in both endeavors.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Big One Year Anniversary

It’s almost that time: On July 13, I will officially have been a Chicago resident for one year. And...I still don’t have a job! Well, technically, I have two—indentured editorial servant/fact checking slave and bitter, clumsy, eye-rolling server of beer (and other various food and beverages).

So let me rephrase that statement. I still don’t have the job I want. You know, the one that pays more than $4.85 (or nothing) an hour. The one where I don’t get asked what my favorite pizza topping is. But it’ll happen sooner or later. RIGHT? RIGHT?

Anyway. Now is probably the time when I should reflect on the last year and encourage myself by how much I’ve “grown” and such.

Hmm. Well...

Flashback to July 2008. After four hours of driving my jam packed little Neon across the most boring stretch of highway in the United States, I arrived at the much anticipated 46B exit. I promptly turned the wrong way and drove 15 minutes in the wrong direction down Diversey. My dad arrived at my apartment in the U-Haul as I was making this little journey and was clearly freaked that I was MIA. (Luckily I had a whole moving crew to prevent the major freak out that would have occurred had it only been Dad and me. Debbie, Jay, and his friend Stu were there to help maintain.)

By the time I finally found Fletcher street, I was drenched in sweat (no A/C on an insanely hot day coupled with nervous Alison=sweat) and terrified that I had permanently traumatized Layla and Mufasa, based on their incessant meowing and panting from the cat carrier in the back seat.

I finally parked my car—poorly, and in a tow zone—and ran to meet Jose, the building manager who was going to give me my keys. When he handed over the key chain with my seven keys, I almost burst into tears. What the hell was I doing? Why do I need seven keys? Why was everything in Spanish?

But by the time all of my stuff had been safely moved from the U-Haul to my apartment, I calmed down a bit. Dad and Stu went off to drop off the U-Haul, and Debbie arranged my entire kitchen while Jay and I journeyed to find beer. I was already warming up to Debbie prior to the move, but that day she really won me over. She saw the look on my face when Jose handed me my five million keys, and from then on, she took over the role that was clearly needed for moving day—arranging all the dishes and food in the most sensible places in the kitchen, keeping my dad from flipping out, helping me calm down my terrified cats, and not complaining when Jay and I left her in my disaster zone of an apartment so we could pick up beer. I think that was the day I finally accepted that it was okay to like Debbie. I wasn’t betraying my mom by enjoying her presence. It was a nice feeling.

I’ll spare you the rest of the details about moving day. Since that day, so much has happened. A lot of which belongs safely in my journal, not posted online. But I finally feel like I actually live here, that I’m not just visiting for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve still freaked out countless times, calling Dad or Jay crying about whatever meltdown I was having that week, and at least once a week, I question my decision to live here.

But I did it. I’m here.

I might have a negative balance in my checking account right now, I might have lost my salary and benefits at IU, I might miss my family enough to induce camp-like stomach aches on a regular basis, but I don’t regret it. Sooner or later I WILL get a good job. Then I can quit focusing on the negative all the damn time and think about all I’ve gained from living in Chicago. The ability to parallel park, for one. Maybe I still don’t know what direction is north 80 percent of the time—but at least I know I have the guts to be a small town Hoosier lost in this giant city. And waiting tables blows, let’s be honest, but I’ve made some amazing friends while working at that bar.

So there you have it. It’s been a crazy year. So now I am raising my Diet Dr. Pepper can in a toast to my Mac and myself—cheers to Chicago, and here’s to another year of awesomely awkward adventures!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Poll Results Are In!

And I am going to completely disregard them and thank you all for voting Swayze.

Get ready for Sunday. It's going to be a good one.

The Horrors of Sleep-Away Camp

I'd almost completely blocked out my painful memory of my only sleep-away camp experience until I read this article today. Now I know why I’m most definitely not normal. I did not like camp. In fact, I hated camp so much I made my parents bring me home.

Here’s what I remember from sleep-away camp. My 2nd grade best friend Amber had talked about it the whole school year—how much fun it was, all of her “camp” friends, how I HAD to come with her that summer, blah blah blah. I remember thinking it was going to be the coolest thing ever. Camp sounded AWESOME.

Then I got to camp. From the moment I put my bag on that bottom bunk I wanted to go home.

Amber had failed to mention that camp would involve countless group activities where a terrifying woman with permed black hair—my 7-year-old self was convinced she was the Wicked Witch of the West—would force me to pray in front of kids I’d only known for one day, and yell at me for playing basketball with the boys. (What the hell kind of scary Christian camp was this? Why did my parents allow this to happen? These are my questions now.)

By day three (or was it two?) I’d worked myself into a stomachache so fierce that the Tums the Wicked Witch was trying to force down my throat just wouldn’t cut it: I had to call my mom. I don’t remember this phone call actually happening, but I do remember the Wicked Witch telling me I was homesick and I’d be fine the next day.

The next day? I couldn’t stay in that terrifying place one more minute. I clutched my stomach and cried until she caved. Amber, who was having too much fun with her camp buddies to understand my misery, was unfazed by my announcement that I was leaving.

My final, glorious memory of camp: my parents getting out of the car when they arrived to pick me up.

I ran away from the clutches of the Wicked West and back to safety. I had made it two and a half days. I was a survivor. Amber and I never spoke about camp again.

Now I understand why my friendship with Amber didn’t make it past 6th grade. We were in two different groups: me, who hated camp so much that I made my parents send me home; Amber, who really, really enjoyed camp.

But as it turns out, we’re both fucked:

“People (like myself) who didn't enjoy camp tend to have a problem engaging in organized activities of all kinds. Later in life we often become criminals or sociopaths. The more respectable among us often become journalists. If we're extremely bright or creative (or aspire to be), we may become writers or scholars or artists. The common thread is an outsider mentality. A self-flattering analysis, I know, but such is my privilege as author of this article.

Some people hated camp so much that they made their parents bring them home. These people should not be confused with the outlaws described above. There is nothing outré about not being able to endure summer camp. The come-and-get-me set grow up to be neurotic and needy. These are people who can often be heard on C-SPAN's early-morning call-in program Washington Journal, filibustering from a time zone still blanketed in predawn darkness, until the host says, ‘Please state your question.’

Some people really, really enjoy camp. I wish I could tell you that these people grow up to be really, really normal, but they don't. You know who I'm talking about. These are the ones who wept uncontrollably when the papiermâché numbers spelling out 1967 were set ablaze on a little raft that a camp counselor, under cover of darkness, towed stealthily to the middle of Lake Weecheewachee on the evening of the last group sing. These are the people for whom childhood represented the zenith of human existence and everything that followed an anticlimax. The women—they're mostly women—usually end up in abusive relationships with pathologically angry men who eventually abandon them and pay child support erratically, if at all. If the person who really, really enjoyed camp is a man, then he is unlikely ever to develop an intimate relationship and on occasion may be spotted in the back of a police cruiser speeding away from a grade-school playground.”
If only I could have made it those three more days. Then I could put myself in the more respectable category as journalist and writer. If only. I could have been an outlaw. Now I’m just neurotic and needy. Dammit.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The 4th of July Syndrome

Right around the 4th of July every year, it hits: I miss my mom more than ever. It sneaks up on me, too, even though by this point—my seventh year without her—you’d think I’d start mentally preparing myself. But every year it’s still a sudden feeling, knocking the wind out of me when I least expect it. It’s a combination of things, I suppose. Mom’s birthday was July 8, and I have a lot of strong memories of 4th of July celebrations from childhood. I always felt like Mom was at her best in the summertime. As a teacher, it was her cherished time off from work, when she had plenty of time to relax on our screened-in back porch, reading books and drinking iced tea. She was always calmer, happier, and her laughter came easier. Her laughter used to embarrass me sometimes—loud and kind of shrieking, even louder when she was with her sisters—but really, what a great laugh.

The last summer I had with Mom before she died was one of the best—and worst—times we had together. The best, because it was the last one I had with her and we were at our closest then; the worst, because it marks the time when I realized that she might die.

That summer (2002) was an incredibly humid one, even by Indiana standards. The heat made it even harder for her to breathe, and even with me carrying her oxygen tank for her, just a trip to the grocery store could wear her out. She didn’t complain—she would just sink into one of our kitchen chairs as soon as we’d get in the house, turn up the oxygen a notch, adjust, readjust that damn oxygen cord, and lean into the kitchen table. I’d get her a glass of ice water and learned quickly not to stare at her while she caught her breath. It upset her—not only because it must have hurt, not being able to breathe, but Mom hated being out of control. She always seemed annoyed (angry on a bad day) that her body wasn’t cooperating with her. Plus, it can’t be too fun having your teenage daughter stare at you with worry while you’re trying to catch your breath.

That’s not what I try to think about, though. Instead, I think about eating popsicles with her on the back porch. I think about driving us to Indy for our trips to Fazoli’s, Target, and the mall. I think about talking about how we’d go shopping in Chicago—minus the oxygen tank!—after she got her lung transplant.

I think about sitting on the back porch with her as she helped me pick my first semester of classes at IU—she was the one that picked out African American lit, the best class I had all through college. That first semester, I called Mom from the college bookstore and rattled off all the books on the syllabus. I remember that conversation so clearly. “You don’t need to buy all those,” she said. “Just take my copies from home when you’re back next.” And, like always, she knew exactly where they were on the shelf by memory. “Black Boy is upstairs, middle of the third shelf on the right. I’ll have your dad bring it down.”

We were just starting Black Boy when she died. Every time I’d look at my copy—her copy—and see “HAMM” scrawled in black marker on the side, I had to swallow the tears. I loved that book, though. For me, every book I read that semester was like having a conversation with my mom. It was comfort when I couldn’t be comforted. I’d devour the books, even more so the ones she’d given me, knowing she had read those same words. I tried to find her again in the pages.

Buying books every subsequent semester was the worst. I’d stare at my English courses’ syllabi with a stabbing feeling in my gut, wanting nothing more than to call Mom and hear her tell me what shelves the books I wouldn’t need to buy were on at home. Instead, I’d scoop up all the books in a hurry, telling myself maybe Mom had never read any of these.

These are the things I start thinking about when the 4th of July and her birthday start creeping near.
Today really got me though. I was walking to lunch, listening to music, when Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” came on.

Suddenly I’m 18 again, driving my Neon with Mom in the passenger seat, oxygen tank at her feet. She hadn’t been feeling that well that day, but we were going to Indy anyway to go to Target. I’m spilling my guts to her about feeling betrayed by my best friend and my boyfriend, and she says, “You know what we need? We need our song.”

She grabs the pink CD and pushes it in the player, skipping to No.6. (We’d deemed it “our” song shortly after I got the Mary J. Blige CD, because we both loved it and Mom thought it had a good message for me, given what I was going through with my friends.)

We turn it up, loud, and Mom taps her fingers on her knees to the beat as we sing along. When Mary sings, “Why’d I play the fool/go through ups and downs/knowing all the time/you wouldn’t be around?” Mom looks at me and says, “Just remember that you’re not a fool just because you’ve been betrayed. Don’t ever feel bad for caring about someone. Never let someone make you feel stupid for being a good person.”

I’m 25 now, but I could still use some good mom advice like that these days. So today, as I was walking down a Chicago street, I listened to that song and pretended I was 18 again, singing along with my mom in my car, driving to Target.

The song ended, and I hit the back button on my iPod shuffle. I wanted a few more minutes with her.

Only 1 Day Left!

Vote Swayze.

The early bird gets the worm

I oversleep pretty much every day. It's a disease. Luckily The New Yorker has a solution for this.

Here's the excerpt that had me giggling uncontrollably at my desk. This one isn't quite as good as bees on blow, but it'll do. Side note: I probably should quit reading the "Shouts & Murmurs" section while at work. The new intern who sits next to me clearly thinks I'm nuts. I mean, I am nuts, but she doesn't need to know that.

If only I had an elliptical:

"Whoever said that the early bird gets the worm could have been talking about me, only I’m a person, not a bird, and I’m not interested in getting worms, more like getting things done. But I do get up early. In fact, the secret to my success could be boiled down to three little words: my quiet time. It begins at 1
A.M., when I get out of bed, check my e-mail, brush my teeth, scan some documents, and floss. Then I’ll surf the Web, maybe order a sectional couch or trade zloty futures. Last week, I bought a Swiss chalet and sold it at a twenty-per-cent profit while I was still in my pajamas. I wanted to high-five someone, but no one else was awake. Sometimes I can’t remember if I’ve flossed already, so I’ll do it again, just to be sure, while checking my e-mail and maybe sending a fax. Did I mention that the early bird gets the worm? That in many ways applies to me.

By 1:03, I’ve had two cups of coffee, I’m down in my basement on the elliptical, and my heart is pounding like a cheetah’s. I know that cheetahs have a fast heart rate because I often watch Animal Planet while I’m on the elliptical, although sometimes I’ll do the picture-in-picture thing so I can watch CNBC Asia while I’m watching the thing about the cheetahs. It isn’t always about cheetahs; it’s about other animals, too, like meerkats. I just said cheetahs as a for instance. I do the elliptical naked. One time when I was on the elliptical, I patched myself into a conference call in Jakarta and accidentally hit the camera thing on my phone, so everyone wound up seeing me in the buff, all flopping around and everything. Another time when I was on the elliptical, I saw an amazing documentary about cheetahs.

While I’m on the elliptical and maybe ordering a hovercraft online, I’ll drain a six-pack of Red Bull. Red Bull Red Bull Red Bullybullybull. Then I’ll call London. I don’t have any business in London, but I have a London phone directory and I like to call people at random. It helps me clear my head. You’d be surprised, though, how some people in London will get totally honked off if you call them out of the blue just to say “What’s up?” It’s not an anti-American thing; sometimes I’ll call them with a fake British accent and say “Tallyho!” and they’ll still get pissed. They’ll act like it’s the middle of the night, even though with the time change and everything it’s already 6 A.M. But even if they tell me to go fuck myself it recharges my batteries."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

More Recommended Reading

If you don't feel like committing to reading Love in the Time of Cholera, at the very least, check out this short story by Julie Schumacher from The Atlantic's fiction issue.

But you really should read Love in the Time of Cholera. I finished it yesterday, and the ending was even better than I expected. Great last line.

In conclusion, I am a huge nerd.

Pedestrian Perils

Since I spent a large chunk of the morning hiding behind my hair because I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I decided I better make a quick Starbucks run. (Now, spare me the Starbucks lecture—it’s only a block away from my office. Get off my back.)

So, granted, I’m a little sleepy, and granted, I was checking my voice mail, but I was still aware of my surroundings as I started to cross the street. I had the right-away. The little walking man was blinking at me as I stepped off the sidewalk. I’m almost halfway across the street when I am forced to jump backwards because a bus turning left was barreling around the corner, ready to run me over. (AM I INVISIBLE? I’m wearing a bright red shirt. What the eff.) Seriously, though, I had to leap out of the way. I didn’t think I was capable of leaping, but apparently when it’s a choice between death by bus and leaping, I’m a leaper.

My “ohmygodi’mgoingtodieonthestreet” thought process was abruptly terminated when I made eye contact with the bus driver as I leapt out of death’s way. She was glaring at me. Excuse me? You almost murdered me because you’re speeding around a corner, not paying attention to pedestrians crossing the street, and you’re glaring at ME?

I hate that bus driver. I have a sneaking suspicion that if she had actually run me over, she would have just kept driving.

I was so shaky, cranky, and irritated that not only did I almost die by bus on a Chicago street, I got a dirty look from my potential murderer, that when I reached Starbucks I went into panic mode and bought one of those giant chocolate cookies with my cappuccino.

I’m not hungry. I don’t want a cookie. I had French toast for breakfast. But considering I made it the whole block back to the office without being run over, and my $4 cappuccino was only half-full (seriously, Starbucks?), I deserve this cookie, dammit.

It might sound like I’m joking, or exaggerating slightly, but seriously, I almost died. My heart is still racing.