Friday, November 30, 2007

amusing things my dad says vol. III

On our collected response to the latest family crisis:

"We are a bunch of nerdy, anal-retentive-y... nerds."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

heart smart

Due to some recent Human Resources shenanigans at work, I've been tracking my paycheck deposits pretty closely over the last few weeks. Traditionally I've not always been the greatest with money. Though I'm now ruthless about paying off my credit card in full each month and, after some pretty typical post college carelessness (oops, Verizon bill fell behind the bar again!) generally am not late with things, I really have no idea how my paycheck is calculated each month. To ape the Friends episode, I don't really know who FICA is or why the hell he gets all my money. I have no idea why I've paid over a thousand dollars out of pocket for medical bills in the last year when insurance gobbles up a chunk of my salary. I just know that magic money faeries put enough money into my checking account every other week to keep me from having to borrow nickels to pay for a Metro fare, like I did immediately following college graduation. That was not a fun time for EJ.

Like most overeducated and underemployed young adults in DC, I live paycheck to paycheck. I've never known anything else and, given my education and professional choices, probably won't know anything else for a long time. I figure I'll just marry rich and then justify my shallowness by calling it fourth-wave feminism. Perhaps I'll become one of those fabulous stay-at-home moms I see in Washingtonian who live in Georgetown and wear lots of Lilly Pulitzer. I'll run a "freelance lifestyle consulting business" where I charge clients several thousand dollars for advice such as "live in Georgetown" and "wear lots of Lilly Pulitzer."

But for now I'm okay with the job I have and track I'm on because there are other benefits, financial and otherwise. It pays my tuition. It exposes me to lots of interesting and brilliant people. It gives me a super-cheap gym membership.

Let's consider that last a bit, yes?

In my obsessive monitoring, I noticed an out-of-cycle deposit for over $500. Though my employer owed me a rather large sum, this didn't fit the deposit schedule I'd worked out with HR. So I clicked on the electronic check to see what was up, only to see that it was a refund from my gym.

That's right. My gym has refunded my last year's worth of payments. My gym has given up on me.

In my defense, I hate my gym. I hate that it's full of 90-pound teenagers who hog the ellipticals while sporting full makeup and cropped Prada workout uniforms. I'm sure that when they look at me, in my pilly GAP circa-1998 bootcut running pants and whatever T-shirt I got from a college teambuilding retreat, they shudder and say to themselves "please let that never be me." Which is a totally understandable reaction, since when I work out I'm projecting frustration, anger and perspiration in equal and substantial amounts.

And it's not like I haven't been working out. There are the dance classes, the weights at home, the despised morning and late night runs...

Oh, forget it. Who am I kidding? My gym totally gave up on me. Some asshole with 3% body fat probably saw my record and said "this girl clearly needs more money for Hostess Cupcakes. Let's take pity on her."

Well, joke's on you, Anonymous Archetypal Gym Person! I don't even eat any Hostess products! I'm totally taking my $500 and investing it in heart-smart vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, right after I finish this chocolate croissant and venti vanilla latte. HAH.

the planning for urban orphan thanksgiving 2008 starts now

This is a drawing my cousin's son did on Thanksgiving. It shows me at the top of the "Kids" section.

It, and my father's cornbread stuffing, were pretty much the highlights of the holiday. Not that the holiday or the 20+ character family reunion were in and of themselves awful, any more so than any single 25-year old woman's Thanksgiving in rural Indiana. It was more what happened after my plane left on Saturday that has left me wondering exactly when my family became one of those families who has to deal with crap that we were only supposed to see on blurry late-night reruns of COPS. We were not supposed to be one of those families.

I don't know yet if or how I'll ever write about the news my grandfather's wife dumped on the family after I left on Saturday morning. Suffice it to say that it was bad, and it was very good that I wasn't there when she called this particular family meeting, because my response since finding out about it has employed a vocabulary that would most certainly not be welcome at the kids' table.

I hope that you all had a very lovely Thanksgiving, and that the worst thing you had to deal with was your mother loudly sighing that she wishes you'd find a nice boy/girlfriend. I miss when that was the worst part of my Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

sparks may cause punctuation and caps lock abuse. please consume responsibly.

Look, some people just have to learn the hard way that Sparks is a bad, bad, bad drink. They don't listen when their friends tell them horror stories of waking up in the middle of the night with severe heart palpitations several days later, or of snapping out of a fog at their desk the next morning and realizing they have no idea how they drove from Dupont to Dulles but are still way too drunk to drive home but way too wired to stay at work and not have co-workers wonder what they've been snorting, so the only alternative is to tell people that they were going home sick and then sleep it off in the car until they sobered up enough to drive home.

After last night I now can say from experience that the combination of Sparks, four vodka Red Bulls, Art Brut and the Hold Steady will do at least one if not all of the following to the average, healthy American female:

1) dance and screech with such enthusiasm that the soreness of her feet is topped only by the soreness of her throat
2) loudly inform her friend that she's so wired she's going to grab that guy over there and either punch him or make out with him, maybe both, then quickly realize that she said this with enough forcefulness and volume that the guy heard her and consequently looks rather terrified and is backing away
3) cause her to get up in the middle of the night for water, run into a wall, then punch the wall because it was TOTALLY THE WALL'S FAULT
4) oversleep until the exact moment she is supposed to BE at the office, then punch the same wall again BECAUSE IT IS STILL TOTALLY THE WALL'S FAULT
5) show up at the office late sporting jeans, unwashed postconcert hair and a giant black smudge on her cheek from sleeping on her stamped hand, prompting a co-worker to take one look at her and start laughing hard enough to give himself a hernia
6) order and consume an entire super-size Wendy's # 3 meal at 11 AM
7) be so wired and jittery thirteen hours later that typing a short blog post takes a good 35 minutes

Over Thanksgiving dinner my bitchy aunt will ask me what the heck I'm doing with my life down there in our nation's capital. I anticipate it being the second time in my life I am completely and totally without any kind of response whatsoever.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Yesterday while reading Jezebel I came across the story of a Missouri teenager who committed suicide after receiving mean messages from a boy she liked on MySpace. Oh, but it gets so much worse. The "boy" was actually her ex-friend's mother. The mother knew that this girl had struggled with depression. The mother, upon learning the girl had killed herself, expressed no remorse because the poor girl had tried to hurt herself before.

It is so very sickening, I can't recount all the horrible details. Suffice it to say that reading the story of this poor girl's life and death, I understand the vigilante urge for mob justice. I want to call this woman and scream at her that she's the reason a child is dead. I want to show up at her business and spit on her. I want to stand on her front lawn and wait until she comes out to get her mail and then lash out at her with my fists and words.

Obviously I won't be doing any of those things, but it's noteworthy that I want to because I'm not an especially violent or vengeful person. I'm firmly in the "eye-for-an-eye makes everyone blind" approach to justice.

In 2001, when the DC sniper was crawling around local parking lots shooting strangers at random, I appeared on an MSNBC talk show to talk about what it was like going to school in DC in a post-September 11 world (no, I don't remember which show-- it was MSNBC, aren't they all the same?). When the host asked me if I thought the DC sniper should get the death penalty when he was caught, I said no. The host really pressed me, saying things like "but he's obviously evil and disturbed," and "so would you want him living next door to you?" I kept my cool and responded that morals only meant something if you held to them under the toughest circumstances, so no, I would not want the death penalty for the DC sniper. The host got pissed that he couldn't break me and went to commercial.

Overlooking the fact that I managed to be so sanctimonious at nineteen, you can get my basic point. I'm not a violent person. I use my words, and I use lots of them. But I think of this woman, her total lack of remorse, the fact that there are no laws on the books to protect people from online harassment, the gall it takes to press charges for property destruction against the parents of the child you drove to suicide, and I want to cause her pain.

It seems especially cruel that an adult woman would inflict those kind of mind games on a teenage girl. Believe me when I say that every day, I'm thankful that I never have to go back and do adolescence again. It was bad enough the first time, and not to sound too critical of today's whippersnappers, it was still not this bad back in my day. I can watch My Super Sweet 16 as an adult and make grand pronouncements about Today's Youth and Consumer Culture, but I never had one of those girls running my sophomore class. I had other girls say mean things about me in the halls (and to be fair, I also said mean things about other girls in the halls) but they were never captured and preserved for posterity online. There's not enough money in the world to make me repeat those years, but much rather I'd do it again as I experienced it than start over again today.

Since both geography and the bounds of human decency keep me from lashing out at this woman the way I would like to, I would add here for any teenage girls who happen to stumble across: I'm so sorry. This totally the worst time in your life. I get it, I really do. You have to get up really early and spend all day learning a lot of stuff you won't ever use, surrounded by a lot of people who can be really, really mean. And the adults around you... well, a lot of them don't get that it sucks. A few do, but they are few and far between, and their hands are tied by all sorts of regulations and rules and they're crazy busy and overworked. And a lot of stuff like, oh, watching out for the kind of non-violent but insanely cruel mental warfare that only teenage girls can inflict with such brutality... well, it gets lost in the shuffle. I totally get why you think life sucks. If I had to do that all over again, I would think life sucked, too.

So take this lesson from your Big Sis EJ to heart: right now it sucks, but it gets so much better. I promise! People start to chill out around your junior year of high school, and from there it's only a short time until college. And you can be anything you want in college! Experiment with bisexuality and Republican politics in the same year! Go to Italy on study abroad and make out with a European dude! Take Psych 101 and later tell all your roommates about how sad the monkey experiment was!

And then you go to work, where they have rules about the people you spend your days with being awful bitches to one another (unless you work in fashion, media or in politics, in which case... well, good luck). Trust me, your harried seventh-grade homeroom teacher has nothing on a Human Resources department.

Just hold on, and know that everyone-- and I do mean everyone-- is secretly terrified that they are weird and abnormal and strange and that everyone else knows it.

Oh, and my own little contribution besides posting here? I forwarded this to a friend who forwarded it to this guy. Who wrote this. And yes, there is some kind of poetic justice in that the internet, the same medium, they used to destroy this girl, is the same tool that is going to hold them accountable.

Monday, November 12, 2007

anatomy of an unsuccessful booty call

Step 1: Attend multiple parties, overdrinking cheap red wine all the while, before ending up at a sex toy party.

Step 2: Spend money you do not have on items of dubious morality. Later, you will blame your subsequent credit card bill on the combination of said red wine, peer pressure and a surprisingly persuasive saleswoman. For the time being, giddily compare your new purchases with those of your other friends.

Step 3: Cab to Adams Morgan.

Step 4: Adams Morgan hideously Adams Morgan-y. No one should have to deal with two consecutive nights of drunken AU sophomores, Amstel Lite and Fergie. Split.

Step 5: Decide new purchases warrant immediate testing. Mull over who to call in for help with said testing: Option A or Option B. Decide it's too soon for Option A, text Option B.

Step 6: Exchange increasingly R-rated series of texts with Option B. Option B being obnoxiously recalcitrant, expressing concern about the wisdom of the acts being proposed and wondering "if this is such a good idea." Get very frustrated. Hello! Trying to make a stupid but entertaining decision here! Now is not the time to develop a protective concern for emotional well-being!

Step 7: Get very salty and belligerent that Option B did not immediately drop his plans and hoof it over to your apartment. Stumble back into apartment, pour self another glass of wine, keep CFM boots on in case Option B does get his act together and come over right away.

Step 8: Receive text: "are u going to be up for a while?" Think to yourself "hell to the nawh!" Text back never to mind, manage to remove CFM boots, pass out on couch watching Dazed and Confused.

Step 9: Option B upgrades to calling: "are you sure you don't want me to come over?" Respond curtly that the moment has passed and slap your phone shut.

Step 10: Briefly consider Option A again, but quickly remind yourself that no, the only idea worse than Option B right now would be Option A.

Step 11: Receive text from Option B apologizing for being lame. Saucily respond that he should be, you were at a sex toy party earlier in the night. Smile as you picture the expression on his face when he reads this text.

Step 12: Don't acknowledge next text from Option B, though it has moved into decidedly X-rated territory. He had his chance earlier.

Now, where did you put the triple-A batteries?

Friday, November 09, 2007

and don't even think about wearing your ironic hipster burqa to class

To: The Female Student Body of The Education Corporation

From: EJ, Associate Provost for Unsolicited Opinions, Office of the Prevention of Questionable Fashion

Re: The Keffiyeh as Accessory

Dear Women of the Education Corporation,

It has come to our attention that a significant portion of you have recently been wearing keffiyeh as an accessory, most commonly as a scarf. On a recent stroll around campus, no less than five of you were spotted with keffiyeh jauntily wrapped around your necks. Of this pool, all subjects were also wearing leggings, three subjects were wearing Ugg or Ugg-esque boots and one subject was sporting a sweatshirt bearing the Greek letters for a Jewish sorority, a juxtaposition that caused at least one Corporation administrator to ask her companion "Am I actually seeing this, or did an IED just go off in my brain?"

The administration of the Education Corporation cannot condone such wardrobe choices on the part of its student body.

You students may well have "had, like, a totally spiritual experience" while on your birthright trips over the summer. However, the fact that you once spent a day on a kibbutz with other nineteen-year-olds from Syosset does not mean you may, with any authenticity or credibility, wear keffiyeh on your person. That you purchased the keffiyeh at Urban Outfitters, alongside a $32 Transformers t-shirt, does not help your case.

We are prepared to offer case-by-case exceptions to individuals who can demonstrate that they are of Palestinian origin and/or express a sophisticated identification with and sympathy for the PLO. Moreover, the administration of the Education Corporation is sensitive to the fact that college is a time to try on new identities, often with varying degrees of success. To that end, we remain sympathetic to any undergraduate who allows his or her daily behavior, personality and approach to personal hygiene to be affected by any of the following:

Ayn Rand
Clove cigarettes
Jean-Paul Sartre
The entire oeuvre of Ingmar Bergman. And Lasse Hallstrom. Basically, Swedish cinema in general
Immanuel Kant
Che Guevara
The belief that Communism could be a valid method of social and political organization, it's just that it hasn't yet been adopted under the proper circumstances

The Education Corporation has a tradition of success of ending unfortunate trends in neckwear, most notably bringing to a close the Great Burberry Plague of 2001-2004. We now appeal to your common sense, asking you to recognize that by en masse donning a symbol of anti-establishment rebellion, you drain the keffiyeh of all its political and social significance. Plus, you look stupid.

We wish you the best of luck with the end of the semester, and look forward to seeing your more culturally-sensitive accessories in the New Year.



Tuesday, November 06, 2007


When I first decided to do NaBloPoMo this year, I didn't have much of a plan for how I would actually fulfill the daily posting requirement. A few days later, having already fallen off the wagon, it occurred to me that I should really be writing more about my family. Not the writing I often do, where I bitch about various extended family members who themselves bitch about me, but documenting stories of the people and memories I cherish.

My father almost died this year. It sounds so melodramatic to phrase his illness, subsequent surgery and post-surgery complications like this. He would never use these words to describe his encounters with medicine over the last twelve months. I have never used them when talking about his health with him or another family member, despite being there for the especially painful aftermath.

Being in the thick of it, focusing on trying to stay positive and celebrating that he was getting the royal treatment at a great hospital, kept all of us from acknowledging the reality of the situation. It took a close family friend squeezing my hand several weeks after his surgery, her eyes swimming with maternal tears as she said "You know your father almost died, right?" for me to realize, oh, wow. Dad did almost die. And I was in no way ready to say goodbye to him.

My memory of the weeks leading up to his surgery last December is fuzzy at best, but I remember feeling spectacularly guilty that he was dealing with this alone. I remember my irrational, unhelpful anger at my mother for not being able to leave her new job to be with him, at my sister's school for having the nerve to give her finals right as he was dealing with the possibility that his heart would give out at any moment. My fury at my own work for keeping me chained to a desk in Washington as Dad sat a dark, empty house in Michigan, a malfunctioning time bomb ticking in his chest. I pictured him sitting quietly with our elderly family cat curled up in his lap, the two of them bathed in the tinny blue glow of Law and Order reruns, trying not to think about the life-saving surgery that kept being postponed and falling asleep alone on the sofa, and my own heart broke.

The surgery was a success and he began healing faster than anyone expected. Dad was determined to be the valedictorian of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and would push himself to walk extra laps past the nurses' station and the courtyard. If other people recovered in five days, he would do it in three. He surprised everyone by coming home several days earlier than expected with a clean bill of health and very positive prognosis. Our immediate family spent a perfect Christmas together at our cabin, the women of the family eating and drinking Dad's share of the holiday feast and all of us stinking up the joint in our grungy pajamas as we watched endless DVDs and played Operation, congratulating ourselves on our gallows humor. We split off at the New Year to our four separate homes, Dad going back downstate to camp out in our old house with his aunt and uncle until he was safe to be alone.

Dad was pan-frying pork chops in vinegar when he got the first pangs. He wrote them off as more soreness from the incision and didn't tell his aunt and uncle something was wrong. Less than a day later he was doubled over, practically hallucinating from the pain. In not wanting to make a big deal and worry his family, he ignored what turned out to be a major abscess on his gallbladder. By the time he told his aunt and uncle, the infection had destroyed his gallbladder and was starting to attack his other internal organs. Dad was in so much pain his uncle decided they shouldn't wait for an ambulance. Somehow they loaded him into the back of the car and set off for the hospital, but Dad was so out of it he couldn't give them directions and, being from out of state, they had no idea where to go.

Luckily, they drove by a police car. When they told the officer what was going on he told them to follow him. The cops put on their sirens and escorted them to the nearest hospital, speeding through the streets of downtown Lansing. When they got to the ER, Dad couldn't sit or stand up, much less get out of the car. They managed to get him inside, where he blacked out from the pain. He only dimly remembers being told he needed emergency surgery to remove his gallbladder or any of the 48 hours that followed. He did tell me several weeks later that he remembered thinking this was it. He said he was in no way ready to go because his family wasn't with him, but that he knew he was loved.

Even then, I don't know if I got how bad it was. I read back over the various blog posts I wrote during those weeks about returning to Michigan to take care of him as he recovered from his second surgery, and I'm embarrassed at how little they have to do with him. By focusing on the details of the HR paperwork to take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act, or venting my feelings on friends and strangers, I put off acknowledging the fact that my father almost died and I wasn't there with him. That for how close my family is, how much we genuinely enjoy one another's company and value each other, however generous we are with our phone calls and "I love yous" and advice, one of us almost died and the rest of us were too busy with life to be there when it happened. By focusing on the obnoxious, irrelevant minutiae of the situation I wrote myself a free pass for this unforgivable truth.

Of course, he would never in a million years hold this against me or any other member of our family. He says he now looks back on the whole thing as a learning experience, something that has taught him that he's not Superman and that he needs to pay attention to his limits. He still works way too hard and holds himself to impossible standards, but he's also more attuned to his priorities. After he recovered from the gallbladder surgery he started making inroads to repair major rifts in our extended family, efforts that have already begun to pay off in emailed family legends and wedding invitations from long-lost cousins. It would be a stretch to say that he's grateful for the experience, but he's certainly handled his dalliance with mortality with more grace and diginity than most people would.

Thinking of where he and our family are this holiday season, versus where we were a year ago, I feel much like I do when I walk by the White House or Capitol. Having lived in DC during September 11, I'm acutely aware of the sacrifice of people of United Flight 93. Today when I walk by the White House or Capitol I can't help but think "there but for the grace of God...," and it's the same with Dad. Had he stayed with the first cardiologist who told him he needed more exercise, had he not had the Mick Jagger of cardiothoracic surgeons, had he waited even an hour longer to tell his aunt and uncle he was in pain, had that police car not been there to escort them to the hospital... these few small decisions and coincidences are why he is still here today.

Much as I am with the sacrifice of the passengers of United 93, I find myself knocked over with gratitude for whatever force in the universe allowed that period to unfold as it did. I am humbled by a chain of events that I don't understand. I am overwhelmed with love for my father and my family. To say that I will never again take them for granted would be unrealistically Pollyanna-ish of me, but to this day, I remain enthralled by my capacity to love them ferociously and endlessly, without condition or hesitation.

And in my own myopic, navel-gazing way, I am thankful for the reminder that they will not be here forever and that there are only so many days to tell people that they are loved.

Monday, November 05, 2007

amusing things my father has said in the last seventy-two hours

"I don't think I should be sending flowers to my gay boss."

"Your mother keeps buying red leather couches. Our house is starting to look like the set of Caligula as interpreted by Pottery Barn."

Responding to my noting that it didn't seem very nice to be talking about another family member behind her back: "But sweetie, that's why people have backs."

Friday, November 02, 2007

but it's the last time i have to go there for another two years

I recently had to spend a Saturday afternoon at the DMV to take care of some paperwork. Normally, this would be about as fun as... well, spending a Saturday afternoon at the DMV to take care of some paperwork. But a strange combination of unseasonably warm weather, a jolly female security guard who went around assigning nicknames to various patrons (most notably "Clark Gable, Jr." to one especially well-dimpled guy) and speedy lines wound up creating a carnival-like atmosphere in the waiting room. People were laughing with strangers. People were smiling. There was actual applause when they shut the doors and announced that they weren't taking new people.

A cute guy took the seat next to me and we wound up chatting, despite the fact that I was wearing a ratty tee from the summer camp I was a counselor at in college and the only concessions I'd made to personal hygiene were brushing my teeth and slapping on deodorant. It was entirely on the basis of my sparkling wit and innate charm that after two hours of waiting and talking, when I finally made it up to the teller, the guy came up behind me and handed me his number and email written on the back of his ticker number.

Did I mention he was a Republican male model? Because he was a Republican male model.

Contrast this ridiculously entertaining encounter with DC bureaucracy to this morning. I went in to work only to get my doctor's name from my Outlook, as the cold I've been fighting for three weeks finally broke into a vile hacking cough that rattled my lungs. My doctor is by Georgetown, and since I had some time to kill before he saw me, I thought I'd swing by the DMV in the Mall That Happiness Forgot to finish up the last bit of documentation. Because this is how my brilliant mind works. Fever? Phlegmy cough? Unshowered and greasy bangs matted to forehead? Wearing glasses? Perfect time to get a new driver's license photo!

In my defense, I was just trying to update my parking sticker. I didn't intend to get a new license with my new address. The DMV Lady, however, had other plans and held my new sticker hostage until I got my license updated with my new address (y'know, the one I moved into in April. I'm so on top of things). This broke my heart because my old license photo was one of the best pictures ever taken of me. It's seriously more flattering than my high school senior portraits. Replacing it with something doomed to be unflattering, even ugly, would make me emotional even if I wasn't so stopped up that my entire head already felt like it was leaking.

In the end, the picture wasn't hideous. But it's not good, either. Both the cold and my contempt for District bureaucracy are written all over my face. I'm wearing the same sweatshirt I'm wearing in my passport picture, which was taken outside the US Consulate in Barcelona after my traveler's wallet was stolen in the spring of 2005. So that's some nice synchronicity, I suppose.

But most annoyingly, I didn't even pick up a male model. Just as soon as I started to think the DMV was a magical place, reality brought me crashing back down to earth.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

the road to hell...

I'm going to try NaBloPoMo again. Last year I made it up to Thanksgiving, but was ultimately thwarted by a lack of internet connection and inspiration. This year I begin my quest encumbered by school and language lessons, but for now I remain optimistic that I'll sack up and manage to at least post a cheeky Youtube clip once a day for the next month.

I've got a few ideas for posts percolating, but could use some suggestions. Anything you want to know? Anything I should avoid like the plague? For other bloggers, what is your favorite device for filling space when you can't think of anything remotely interesting but your last post has been lingering at the top of your page for so long it's starting to smell funky?