Oct 29, 2005

In Which I Cave in to Halloween

Public school, which Jack will begin next year in first grade, is beginning to look really good, if only for the reason that all the kids will live in our school district, and therefore birthday parties won't be way out in the exurbs. What a confusing landscape we passed through yesterday afternoon. as we drove along country roads not engineered for the rush hour traffic they were getting. We passed huge new houses on cul de sacs, horses and cows, more developments,more farms, more traffic. It took 40 minutes to get there from our inner suburb/small town.

Kids were supposed to wear costumes to the party, thus combining my dislike of Today's Birthday Parties with my dislike of Halloween. We carpooled with Alex again, the Consumer Child. He was wearing a plush Hulk costume, and he made withering remarks about the sorry-assed skeleton "costume" I made for Jack. I had cut out bone shapes from posterboard and taped them on Jack's clothes. I found the costume idea on the FamilyFun website under "last-minute" costumes. I couldn't find the right kind of string for the mask, and had to use two-sided Scotch tape instead of masking tape, etc., etc., etc., and so of course every piece of his costume fell off when he was at the birthday party, and none were retrieved, either. So, we were back to the drawing board today. My plan to have the boys wear matching skeleton costumes of my own making was beginning to take on a quixotic tinge.

Plus, I suddenly remembered how my mother always had me wear things that were embarrassingly uncool (kilts, galoshes,sweater sets) but that met her standards, and even though the boys were not begging me for "normal" costumes, I caved. Caved in to the need to impress Alex? Let's not think too hard about it. The three of us went to Party Land, "Your Halloween Headquarters!," and got costumes. Now a little Darth Vader (Will) and a little Batman (Jack) live in our house. The boys are extremely pleased. I thought we had left part of Jack's costume at the store, and I sent John to look for it, and I began to feel that I was a worthless human being for not checking the contents of the boxes. This after fighting all the traffic, getting two squirmy boys to try on their costumes at the store, and fighting more traffic on the way home. And a call to the other Party Land franchise nearby revealed that they had no more superhero costumes for boys that age, only total loser costumes like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz and, ugh, clown costumes. Is there anything as unfunny as a clown? I was really desparate.

So a few minutes after John left, I apologized abjectly to Jack, and he said cheerfully, "That's okay. We have all the parts." Apparently he had taken part of the costume out of the box without me knowing it,and didn't want to say anything to us. I don't know why. Didn't he hear John's and my conversation? I don't care. We will have a normal Halloween tomorrow. We will. To be partly redeemed by collecting for Unicef. But just partly. I'm a living dictionary definition of "ambivalence."But before I go, Happy Halloween. Yeah.

Oct 27, 2005

Babes in Faux Pumpkinland

Not pumpkins being pulled off the vine by acquisitive preschoolers and kindergarteners. But pumpkins that have been --under cover of darkness?-- dumped on a field of weeds by the truckload, then to be named a "pumpkin patch." At this point is when the acquisitive preschoolers and kindergarteners pick them off the ground. At Jack and Will's field trip this morning, I never heard one of the children question why no pumpkins were attached to any plants. That's what the suburbs will do to you, I guess.

As small farms located near cities struggle harder to make ends meet, they go into "direct marketing" to make a living from all the suburbanite families surrounding them in greater and greater numbers. It seems now that there are a half dozen such farms, offering hayrides, "Pumpkin Land," little train rides, selling cider and doughnuts and offering, of course, a pick-your-own option. The weather has been poor for pumpkin growth this season around these parts, and very few of these places hesitate to go the faux pumpkin patch route. More power to them.

So I seem to be one of those moms who is free to go on field trips. I drove four boys including Will and Jack, Josh, who cried most of the way there, missing his Daddy, and the other, Jack's best buddy Alex,a rambunctious kid who owns every Spider-Man tie-in they sell in the U.S. Four boys, even with the quietly sniffling Josh, make a hell of a lot of noise. Alex's father came along too, an unemployed architect who claims the role of stay-at-home-dad "sucks." Since he's dying to get back to work, I let him struggle with the car seats in the back row of the van. Ha.

I had to write a post today because here my blog is mentioned (a few paragraphs down) as if it is actually current, by Miriam Peskowitz, author of The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother? So now I gotta revive the blog. I find the more I write, the more I want to write, so this probably means a whole new slew of entries will spew forth. And I know there's a better way to say that.

Oct 11, 2005

The Coffeemaker Has Left Nevada.

Did I really need to know that? UPS package tracking on the web provides too much information. Actually I think it was in Illinois on Friday. We had been worried that it would be waylaid in Utah somewhere. Our old coffeemaker now has enough things wrong with it that we finally decided to get a new one. We were faced with about 20 choices too many. We just ordered the first one that seemed like the old one but better. Because every new thing you buy has to be better than the last, right? And have more stainless steel surface area.

The blog's been very sporodic of late, I know. That's because I'm actually writing. Not just Blind, which I've revised a couple times now, but also I've done some marketing copy for my sons' Montessori. And getting paid. Whee! It paid for the coffeemaker, anyway.

The writing group I tried last week was amateurish. Had to slog through Ch. 20 of an elderly lady's interminable courtroom drama, filled with ethnic stereotypes. I mean "expressionless little Oriental?" I think not. So now I'm looking for a group that has higher standards, but not so high that they won't accept me, of course. So I'm going to check out"Reality Writes" at Penn's Kelly Writers' House soon. I need the pressure of a writers group in order to crank anything out.

I'm also in search of is a good cafe in which to hang out and write. In a retro notebook, the kind you use a pen with. The Starbucks near me has a staff who banters at high volume, and because it's small I can't get very far away from them. Borders seems impersonal.I visited an independent coffee shop in Media, but the coffee was only okay, and there was only one other person besides me there, which felt weird. I'm looking for a certain vibe that I fear only exists in the city.

Oct 4, 2005


(Here's a rough draft of a nonfiction piece I just wrote for a writers' group tomorrow. )

It was the summer of 1994. I was supposed to be writing my dissertation. My roommate was in Hawaii for the summer. My interest in the O. J. Simpson case waned immediately after peaking, and, like any self-respecting doctoral student, I sought distraction. A boyfriend would do just fine.

At the age of 35, my single status was getting, shall we say, old. My mother and grandmother had given up on me, but I hadn’t yet. This was the twilight of the Age Before Internet Dating, so I turned to the Philadelphia Inquirer personals. Was my soulmate calling out to me from there? First, I had rules. Standards. No kinky stuff, and most importantly no one who said they liked walks on the beach at sunset or candlelight dinners. Please! I’m worthy of someone more original than that. The personals were set up so that you left a message in a voicemail box and gave your phone number, hoping they’d call you back. The message would be all they had to go by, so every time I left a message I would rehearse it several times, to make it sound light and breezy, and spoken in confident low tones. It took nothing less than total concentration.

The first man to call me back was Josh. He was a therapist in the Northeast, and easy to talk to, as a therapist would be. An hour went by before I knew it, and we set up a date for a drink in Center City, non-alcoholic, of course. Standards. Josh had warned me that he was six feet eight inches tall. I marked it on the wall of my apartment and practiced looking up to where his eyes might be. It was very high. Still and all, I thought of my own 5 ft. 8 inches, and thought, “Tall’s good, right?”

What he didn’t warn me about was that would be ramrod thin, with an outsized nose, wearing a light blue seersucker suit, and sporting a straw hat. Six feet eight. Light blue seersucker suit. Straw hat. Huge nose. I became acquainted with a sinking feeling that I was sure he could see in my face. In the whole time we talked in the coffee shop, the feeling never went away. I fought back tears. It hadn’t occurred to me me that a person who sounded so normal could be so mortifyingly strange-looking. I prayed to God that no one I knew would see me with this character, who looked like he could play the part of a Bible salesman in a Flannery O’Connor novel. Then I felt ashamed of myself for feeling this way about a perfectly fine person. Finally a decent interval passed, and we parted. “Can I call you again some time?” he asked just before he went down the steps to the subway station,” and I said “No, I don’t think so.” His face fell and he said, “OK, well, thanks, anyway.” And his lanky frame disappeared into the darkness of the station. And I crawled back to my apartment on my belly, groaning and eating dust.

Weeks went by, in which I was actually driven to write a chapter or two. But then I did it again. This time the ad intrigued me because this man said his favorite movie was Gregory’s Girl, which was also one of my favorite movies at the time. The guy couldn’t be that bad. So I rehearsed another call and left a polished version in the voicemail box. He called me back, and I learned his name was Jeff and that he worked for Community College of Philadelphia. And that he was five feet eight and lived in Roxborough.

Fine. I prepared myself for a plain-looking man. Realism, realism. A plain-looking man with a discerning taste in movies, of modest height living in a working class neighborhood. A humble man, faithful and true! Who would love me through all the years of our lives. As I approached him I could see that had no discernible chin. What I mean is that a large flabby something existed between chin and neck, it being itself neither chin nor neck. In other words, he was ugly in a completely different way, a diametrically opposite way from Josh. “Lauren, you must be Lauren!” he said eagerly. “Hello Jeff,” I said in a lukewarm tone of voice. “I’m getting better at this,” I thought. “My mortification and shame are decidedly duller this time. And I don’t think he can even see it in my face.”

My smugness was shattered when I glimpsed a man I knew. I hid behind a column. “You were saying?” I asked brightly. “I was saying, I read your article. What does that French quote mean?” My unnerving was now total. I remembered I had told him about an article that I had published in Modern Drama. And he read it. The only person to this day who has read it, to my knowledge, other than my professor. And he wants to know what that French passage means! Shit! “I don’t even remember, to tell you the truth.” He was trying way too hard.

We had a soda at a neighborhood restaurant, and some appetizers. I ordered a hummus platter, whereupon I learned that he had never heard of hummus. Never heard of hummus? How was that even possible? I was mystified. Hummus was the staple food of every grad student party and I guess I thought everyone ate the stuff. “So do you like Roxborough? I asked, and he said yes, and that he would never leave it, because it was “safe” with so many cops living there. “Safe.” I was moving away, fast, from humble man, faithful and true, to bigoted man, narrow-minded and . . . . and doesn’t that tie pinch his neck? Or is that his chin?

Third time’s a charm, right? One more time, I told myself. Late July. There’s still time to find Mr. Right before my roommate returns and deflates my hopes. Before classes resume and I get back in the groove of flirting harmlessly with the safe married men and the safe gay men of my department. One more foray into the uncharted territory of the personals. Think Goldilocks, Goldilocks.

Joe was man number three. I sat waiting for him at Le Bus thinking I’ve seen two physical extremes, so now I’m hardened to anything. That guy from Beauty and the Beast is kind of sexy after all. Plus, I don’t really care about meeting a man, anyway, so what if I’m single and childless my whole life? Even if I become a bag lady, I’ll at least have some good books in that bag and some funny stories. “Hi, are you Lauren?” asked a man with black hair and a beard. “Yes?” “I’m Joe.” He smiled warmly. I stared. There was nothing perceivably amiss about his appearance. He was actually attractive. Decently dressed. Didn’t smell bad. Goldilocks. We had a lovely conversation. He was a nurse. He lived in West Philly near me. He played the saxophone. He was Italian. He was masculine without being macho. His last words were “I’ll call you. We’ll listen to jazz at Ortlieb’s.”

What can I say? “Goldilocks.” We married the next year, and now we have two sets of twins. Couldn’t be happier. I could also say “Stinky Cheese Man.” I waited for Joe to call me. Three weeks later, I finally called him. Light and breezy. Confident low tones. “Hi Joe. It’s Lauren . . . how have you been?” “Lauren . . .?” “From Le Bus three weeks ago?” Silence. “We met through the personals? I ordered an Orangina?” I was beginning to hate myself. “I have to say, I don’t remember you. I’ve been working through a lot of issues lately . . . . I’m sorry.”

Another chapter in my dissertation got written. I swore I’d never tell my roommate about my summer. She came back and I promptly told her everything. She said “That’ll teach me to go away for the summer.” I fell back into the academic routine, flirted with the safe men. The next year I finished my dissertation, got a teaching job, and met my husband at a party at my own house. We now have two wonderful children. But not before I joined a dating service and met a lawn and garden supply salesman and a brick salesman. Did you know there are 250 different kinds of bricks?