Monday, November 1, 2010

This joker is no joke

I am 32 and afraid of clowns. I’m actually afraid of anyone in a mask or face paint, but clowns are the worst, particularly evil ones. I thought I was getting better about being around them, but this weekend my fear got worse and I may have made a total fool of myself in public. I was sitting with my back to the door in a really good Thai restaurant just outside of DC when my husband, Alex’s, eyes got wide and he said “Oh, that’s not going to make you happy.”

I turned around to see the ghost of Heath Ledger, circa Batman, The Dark Knight. This joker was no joke. A very authentic version was walking in the door and my world went into slow motion. “Oh, f%*&,” I said out loud. The evening was going so well. I had actually forgotten that it was the night before Halloween, my least favorite holiday. I turned around, looked at Alex and said, “We need to get the check NOW.” I started working out the logistics in my head of how we were going to get out of the restaurant while simultaneously putting as much distance as possible between me and the clown. See, when there’s a clown in the same room as me, I can’t relax. I need to know where that clown is in relation to me at all times. I tried to remain calm, and kept telling myself to “show no fear.” As soon as a clown smells fear, that’s when they pull out their bag of tricks.

The joker surveyed the room when he walked in. There were empty tables all around us, and I was panicking. Fortunately, the waitress asked if a table near the wall on the other side of the room would do. With quick hand motions, he said in a gravelly voice, “That’ll be fine.” Then he flipped the chair around and straddled it. Resting his arms across the back of the chair, he waved at the restaurant patrons and said “Hello everyone” in that low, steady voice that Heath Ledger cultivated and mastered so well that it even freaked him out. That seemed to be the extent of his antics, but I couldn’t be sure. I really wanted to get a picture of him, but I couldn’t risk drawing any attention to myself.

Then he stood up. I really needed for him to find a seat and sit down. My worst fear was that he was going to need to use the restroom. To do that, he would need to walk right by me. I couldn’t handle his long purple overcoat swinging by me when he walked or his sudden movements. I imagined him sitting down next to me and getting really close to my face, continuously wetting his lips and then saying “So . . . How’s the food?” This guy was good. He had the persona down – the movements, the voice, the makeup, the hair, and the outfit.

As it turned out, he just wanted to go outside for a smoke, delaying our plans to leave. “Let’s sit for a few minutes,” I said. “Whatever makes you more comfortable, love,” Alex said, smirking. So we sat and waited. Alex chuckled every once in a while as he caught sight of the joker pacing outside in his long purple overcoat, with a cigarette hanging out of his red crooked perpetual smile.

When he took off his coat back in the restaurant, flapped it out and then hung it over the back of the chair and then slowly removed his purple leather gloves, I got chills. Once he took his seat, I looked at Alex and said “OK, we need to go now.” While the clown was looking at the menu, I made a dash for the door and waited in the parking lot for Alex.

I thought I kept my cool and was proud of myself for handling the situation well, but according to Alex, I didn’t.

“I’m surprised he didn’t bother me in there. Clowns always single me out,” I said.

“Generally, if someone dressed up like that thinks you’re going to flip shit on them, which was exactly the vibe you were giving off, then they’re not going to bother you."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tampons belong in the toilet, not the garden

Last week we had a handyman coming to take measurements for hardwood floors we were having installed. While I was talking to the handyman, Rusty, my Jack Russell terrier, was out in the yard. At 7 ½ years, Rusty still very much has the energy and mentality of a puppy. He will get into everything, especially if it’s food. In the chaos of having company, I noticed A look outside then yell out the door into the backyard. This is normal, as Rusty often gets into the garden. I paid no attention as I discussed paint colors for our dining room walls. I remember A saying something about the dog having gotten into some trash in the yard, which was strange because we don’t keep trash in the yard. We put it in the trashcans that usually are all lined up in the alley. As we live in a city row house, the trash cans are sort of collective property among the neighbors. But last Tuesday, the garbage collectors didn’t do a very good job and someone threw an entire bag of random trash into our yard along with an empty can.

After the handyman left, I peeked out the back window. In the garden, raw trash was strewn about, and upon closer inspection, I noticed it looked like someone's bathroom trash. I was embarrassed to see a collection of white tampons starkly contrast against the dark soil. I quickly grabbed a few plastic bags and headed out to clean up the mess before any of the neighbors saw our unsightly flower beds. As I cleaned it up, I grew angrier, knowing that I was cleaning up someone else’s mess of things that belonged in the toilet and not in the trash, or the garden.

About half an hour later, I noticed my dog was hanging out in his crate and when I coaxed him out, he started walking around in circles and kept looking back at his side. I took a closer look. Had I been feeding him THAT many extra treats lately? His entire torso was getting really fat. He’s a pretty fit dog, being a JRT and all. He burns off most of his dinner jumping up and down just before I feed it to him. I tried to see if food would get him excited. It did, but he didn’t have nearly the amount of energy he normally does when I say: Are yooooouuuuuu . . . HUNGRY? There was no jumping straight up and down to kitchen counter height, which is pretty much a clear sign something is wrong.

Could he have eaten one of those tampons? I wondered. How many could he have eaten? What else was in that trash that I didn't see? I cringed at the thought of explaining this to the vet. I called the Pet ER and told them his stomach looked bloated and the tech said: “You need to bring him in like RIGHT NOW.” So I put his leash on, which he did get excited about, but he was so bloated by this point, that when his tail wagged, his belly and torso swung back and forth, more like a large, happy lab than a little svelte JRT.

The vet techs were waiting for us when we got to the hospital. Inside, they whisked the dog away and directed me to the desk to fill out paperwork. Then I nervously waited in an examining room, where a tech met me and I explained to her that he had gotten into trash that was not mine and he may have ingested a large quantity of feminine products. She warned me that something like that would probably have to be removed surgically and then left, telling me they would start X-rays on the dog and the vet would be in shortly.

So there I sat, wondering how much this would cost, if I had gotten the dog there in time to save him, if the vet was going to be male or female and if they’d ever seen a dog that scarfed down as many tampons as he could find. (Of course they have, I told myself. Dogs eat everything.) Still, I prayed for a female vet. My wish was granted as a young woman, who looked fresh out of vet school entered the room along with another younger girl carrying what looked like a reporter’s notebook. But I pretended not to notice and thought there must be some explanation for the notebook. She must be in vet school. The vet introduced herself and then mentioned something about the other girl being an intern for the city’s Style magazine, which didn’t make any sense to me at the time. I acknowledged her, but thought I must have heard wrong. How was I going to explain that my dog may have eaten a bunch of tampons with a reporter writing down everything I said? It’s bad enough the vet thinks I’m an unfit dog owner. I can’t have the entire city thinking that.

So the vet asked what happened. I gingerly explained that Rusty got into the trash, making sure to clarify again that it was not my trash, but that someone had thrown some into the yard. “It looked like bathroom trash” I said, thinking I could leave it at that. She pried further and I had to divulge the information. I watched as the reporter jotted down everything I was saying, still confused as to why she was really here.

We went into the hallway where Rusty’s X-ray was glowing against a lightbox. I could still see the svelte frame of his body, but his stomach took up most of the torso and was at least four times the size of his little heart which is always beating at the pace of a constant drum roll.

“Is that larger than it should be?” I asked, pointing to his stomach.

“Yes. It’s distended to about four or five times what it should look like.”

Inside his stomach, on one side, it was filled with what looked like elbow macaroni. Tiny tubes were all curled up together and on the other side, there was just a whitish transparent blob. It kind of looked like this:

Eventually the reporter approached me and asked for my name and phone number in case she wanted to use any “anecdotes” from our visit. The former reporter in me told me to have mercy on this poor budding journalist who was desperate for a great lead to her story, and had hit the jackpot with me. But I didn’t know her and she was still green. I couldn’t be sure she would have mercy on me, so I told her no, she couldn’t have my name. If she was a true sleuth though, she stole it off my dog’s chart.

The vet told me the X-ray looked good and nothing seemed to be lodged in his intestines, which would have been more precarious and expensive. She gave me some prescription, high fiber dog food and sent me on my way. Needless to say, the situation has pretty much worked itself out, but I am anxiously awaiting next month’s issue of Style magazine.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


As you may have gathered from my last post, I am getting married in a few months. I am oh so grateful for the man I am marrying, (we’ll call him A) and for the friend (we’ll call her S) who told me repeatedly he was the one for me, years before she ever introduced us. I’m not sure what my friend saw in each of us that prompted her to put us together, but if you are single, you may want to become BFFs with her so she can get to know you and start working her magic. She has a gift for matchmaking, and quite a sense of humor.

A knows and understands me better than I do myself sometimes. It’s one of the many traits that drew me to him in the first place. And that has come in handy recently. As A knows all too well, I absolutely hate surprises. So when his parents told him they wanted to surprise me on our wedding day with a bagpiper at the ceremony, I am so glad he stepped in to say: that’s a really bad idea because she doesn’t like surprises any time of the year, but on her wedding day, she would really hate them.

A and I are paying for the majority of the wedding ourselves so we’ve had control of most of the logistics. A bagpiper is a wonderful idea, but I can’t help but imagine myself on our wedding day, when a strange man in a kilt showed up and started playing in the middle of the ceremony or reception.

So if my future in-laws ever read this blog: I really appreciate the gesture of a surprise, but surprises make me hyperventilate, and here's why:

My mother, who you may have read about here, is full of surprises, and not always the good kind, though they are usually well intended. She emanates a certain childlike innocence, making it hard for anyone to be really mad at her for long. She knows not what she does, most of the time. Kind of like when my dog rips apart one of my favorite high heels and then comes to drop it at my feet with a huge smile on his face, his tail wagging furiously.

In my early twenties, when I was trying desperately to find a way to move out, I got my big break, a job two hours away from home. I was out on a date with the recipe thief the weekend I got the job, when my mom called and told me my Jack Russell Terrier was very sick and I needed to come home to take him to the vet. She even produced tears during her frantic phone call. I turned around and raced home. When I got there, I ran into the house looking for my dog, who was safely penned in the kitchen. I was bombarded by a group of people who I didn’t recognize at first, yelling “Surprise!” When my eyes focused on them, I realized they were five of my closest friends.

“It’s your going away party!” my mom yelled.

“How’s Rusty?” I asked producing some tears of my own by this point.

“He’s fine. I had to use that as an excuse to get you to come home.”

“Oh. . . Wait. How did you arrange this party that fast? I just got the job yesterday,” I said.

“I’ve been planning it for a while, but then when you got the job, I decided to make it your going away party, since you have to move away.”

“But what did you tell everyone the original occasion was?”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. It was just to have a party.”

“OK,” I said, knowing that this was going to upset me more if I dug any deeper at this point. And anyway, I had friends to hang out with and banana bread to eat and even cards to open. As the night wore on and I laughed with friends, I started to wonder more about my mom’s motive behind the party.

“Your mom is SO funny,” all my friends said while she was in the other room.

Throughout the night, my mom was manic and frantically bustling about, ordering people to "eat more dinner!" and "cut the cake!" I know my mom is easily excitable, so I can imagine the scene (but I try not to) before I arrived - when I wasn’t there to monitor her.

Later on, she told me not everyone she invited could make it.

“Who else did you invite? And how did you get their addresses?”

“I took your address book from your room.”

“Who else did you invite?” I asked again, realizing that the book was outdated and from high school and college, consisting of people I hadn’t talked to in a few years, some of them ex-boyfriends.

“I invited a few other girls and a few guys.”

“MOM. That book was old.”

“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t invite anyone you haven’t talked to in a while.”

I decided to let it go and not even think about it anymore. A few weeks later, one of my friends called to say she was sorry she couldn’t make it to the party and she asked how I’d been doing lately.

“I’m fine, why?”

“Well your mom said she was having a party for you because you’d been ‘feeling down’ lately.”

I couldn’t remember feeling down or giving off that impression, but my mom's mood swings were rampant that year. When I confronted her about it, she told me she just wanted to have a party. That’s fine and all, but don't tell your daughter's friends she's depressed just for an opportunity to have people over because if she isn’t feeling down before the party, she sure will be after.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A late night encounter with Miss Havisham

Last summer, I shopped for wedding dresses. Having found two that I liked, I stalled and put off the decision. Late one Saturday night, Alex, my fiancé, and I were walking home from a night out. It was a warm night in early September. The flowers were still spilling out of their large clay pots as we passed a newly renovated section of brick row houses, down the hill from our own home.

A door opened just a few steps before we passed it. A flurry of white fabric encased in a clear, thin plastic bag took up the entire doorway, as a woman’s head peered from behind and maneuvered it down the brick steps in jeans and heels. Behind her, a taller woman of about the same age – late 30s – followed.

“Anybody know anyone getting married?” she asked.

“We are next year,” Alex blurted as we passed by.

“Do you have a dress yet? We’re giving away this free wedding dress.”

I stopped.

“Really?! Why are you getting rid of it?”

“Well, I’m divorced,” the shorter woman said.

I wanted to ask ‘Are you Miss Havisham?’ remembering the jilted bride from Great Expectations. But I had the good sense not to.

“I’m getting married again next weekend and I already have a dress. It’s upstairs. This is a beautiful dress. It’s all silk. It’s a six-thousand dollar dress that I got for a thousand,” she said.

As she continued to sell the dress and I resisted, it grew awkward. The social etiquette for getting a free wedding gown from strangers on the street at 11 p.m. escaped me. I started asking random questions that only seemed inappropriate after the words were out of my mouth.

“Is it bad luck for me to take it?” I asked. “Was your marriage that bad?”

“Well, it wasn’t pleasant,” she said.

“Don’t you want to sell it? You could probably get a lot of money for it.”

“No, it’s not about that. I would love for someone else to have it and wear it on her wedding day.”

“Well, if I take it, I have to give you something for it. I wouldn’t feel right just taking it,” I said.

“No, I don’t want anything. This is your dress,” she said pushing the huge bag filled with poufy crinoline, satin and silk into my arms. I didn’t know how to handle the dress and felt uncomfortable taking it, so I draped it over an arm and held the hangar up with my other hand. I realized I had only seen a dim, blurry version of the dress through the plastic under the small streetlamp. It was pretty, but poufy.

“Well, I’ll try it on and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll give it back,” I said.

“NO” both girls said in unison. “We don’t want it back. We are actually on our way to a party where we were going to destroy the dress,” the friend said.

Again, feeling awkward and not knowing the proper etiquette, I said: “Well, in that case, I’ll take it. Am I ruining your fun for the night?”

“No, this is a much better option,” Miss Havisham said.

“Well, thank you,” I said. A hug seemed necessary, so I threw one arm around her shoulders while supporting about 15 pounds of fabric with the other.

We congratulated each other on our upcoming nuptials and went our separate ways. As they walked down the street behind me, I heard a smack and turned around to see them giving each other a high five.

I couldn’t help but wonder what was in that high five. They both seemed a little too eager to get rid of the dress.

I ripped open the plastic and tried on the dress the same minute I got in the door. It was pretty, and it fit like a glove. The top was simple and strapless, and covered in embroidery. But from the waist down, it was too much - a ball gown with layer upon layer of crinoline that swished when I walked. The dress required several feet of clear space on all sides. I could barely make it down our narrow staircase. Upon closer inspection I noticed a small, faded brown stain on the front, hidden in the folds of the silk.

I wavered back and forth as I looked in the mirror. It wasn’t either of the dresses I’d picked already, but it was free and pretty. I could put the money I’d saved for a dress toward the honeymoon. Unable to decide, I took the dress to my fiancĂ©’s parents’ house, pulled it out of the plastic and hung it on the doorframe in the archway to the living room. It floated there, turning on its hanger all night.

“It really is a beautiful dress,” Mary, Alex’s mom, said.

“I just don’t know what to do. It was such a strange experience,” I said. “They high-fived as we walked away. I’m not sure what that meant.”

“They probably were just really happy to have done something nice for someone,” Alex said.

“Maybe it was hot,” Jim, Alex’s dad said.

“No, I really think this was from her first marriage. There’s a tiny stain on the front. Why would they give it away if they’d stolen it?”

“The whole thing creeps me out,” Mary said. “It looks rather ghostly floating there in the doorway. I don’t think I could wear it. You don’t want to be worrying about anything like bad karma on your wedding day.”

When I got home, I laid the dress out on the spare bed. It took on a life-like form, the bodice propped up on the pillow and the wavy folds of silk flowing down the length of the bed, as if there was a pair of crossed legs under the cloud of fabric. Each time I entered the room, I startled at the sight of it. My initial perspective was that someone was lying on the bed.

I decided against wearing it and stuffed it deep into my closet and then pried the accordion doors closed. I’ve thought about trying to sell it on eBay and putting the money toward the wedding, but I haven’t been able to open that side of the closet and look at it since.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stolen Lasagna

I’ve never understood the idea of secret recipes, unless a profit is being made. But just to keep something so delicious from others so they can’t share in the same joy seems trivial and cruel.

I once dated a guy who would never share ANY recipes with me, all of which he obtained from his mother.

“Nope. It’s a secret,” he’d always say when I asked for one.

I used to watch closely and memorize the order of ingredients long enough to get it on paper, where the recipe would be mine forever.

I made my beloved banana bread one day at his house and left the recipe card on the kitchen counter, I was sure. (I have a short memory so I still need the recipe.) A few weeks later, I wanted to make the bread again, but could not find the recipe anywhere. (I’m also very disorganized. Thanks Mom.) I asked him about it.

“I haven’t seen it, but I’ll keep looking,” he said, in earnest.

“I’m sure it’s there. Keep looking, please.”

I wound up just calling my mom for a new copy soon thereafter.

I was also desperate for his mother’s unpatented lasagna recipe, which she got in secret too, from watching her Italian mother-in-law, who also refused to share recipes. I had been asking for it for a while, but he’d taken it out of his recipe box and hidden it. A few months later, things had already started heading south (hoarding recipes was the least of it) and I knew we wouldn’t be together much longer. I was at his house alone with his sweet dog one day, toward the end, and decided I was going to find and copy that lasagna recipe before we broke up. I couldn’t bear the thought of never having it again. It was one of the best dishes I’d ever had.

I’d long forgotten about losing my original copy of dirty banana bread by this point. I flipped through his recipe box. Still no dice on the lasagna. The kitchen was large with cabinets that went almost all the way up to the ceiling. I stood on a chair and looked inside all of them, and way up high on an empty shelf that neither he nor I could reach, tucked deep in the back corner, was an index card. I reached in and grabbed it. Lasagna! And underneath the lasagna was my original banana bread recipe.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Banana Bread Chronicles

I LOVE my mom’s banana bread recipe. As a kid, I’d eat three or four pieces at a time, and there was almost always a loaf in the house. It’s so moist and heavy, the kind of density that gives you instant indigestion if you eat it too fast – and with this recipe, inhaling it is the only way.

I now make it myself occasionally, but when my mom makes it these days, I’m suspicious of it. The recipe hasn’t changed, but the end result varies depending on her moods and wits. My mom is very scatterbrained, which has gotten worse with age. The first indication that this trait had affected my beloved banana bread was when I was in high school. One day after school I came home and helped myself to a slice or two. I bit down hard into something rock solid. After checking for all my teeth, I found a large white object that resembled a human bone the size of a finger. When my mom got home, I asked her what it was.

“I’ve been looking for that!” she said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s part of the handle to one of the tea cups. It fell off the shelf and broke while I was making banana bread.”

My mom’s kitchen is sometimes a fire hazard and not just because it contains an oven or even because she occasionally leaves a gas burner on overnight. My mother hoards so much clutter that things are always falling out of cabinets or off shelves. In college, I cleaned out the medicine cabinet and found medication that was prescribed before I was born and a contraceptive that had been off the market for years. With so much clutter, it becomes hard for her to clean or even see dirt in the house anymore. Which brings me to my next banana bread story. . .

One day I was devouring a slice from one of two loaves my mom had made when she asked how it was.


“I won’t tell you what happened to it.”

You can never say that to someone especially while they are still eating and not expect to be subjected to an inquisition.

“What do you mean? Tell me.”

“I dropped it on the floor, but it was probably the other loaf.”

When my mom gets caught, she likes to talk herself in circles or change her story rather than fess up.

“How do you know it was the other loaf?”

“Don’t worry, it was. I’ll eat that loaf.”

“Mom! What do you mean you dropped it on the floor? The whole pan? After it came out of the oven?”

“Before I baked it.”

“But that’s . . . in liquid form. How did you still have any batter left to use?”

“I scooped it up.”

“What?! With what?”

“My hands. I just pushed it all back in the bowl.”

“From the floor?!”

I looked at the half eaten piece of bread in my hand.

“No, no. Don’t worry. It wasn’t that loaf,” she said.

“How do you know?”

“It wasn’t. The other loaf is in the kitchen. It wasn’t that one. Don’t worry aboooouuuuuutt it.” she whined.

And this is why I make my own banana bread . . .