Single White Female Seeks…

Girlfriends. That’s right I said girlfriends. I am searching for a few good female friends… though I’d settle for just one. I have actually been considering taking out an ad and conducting interviews. I’m not searching for the virtual kind of friends with whom I can “chat” electronically across the miles about all sorts of random topics. Those are wonderful, please don’t get me wrong.

I realize that many of you reading this right now are those sorts of “friends” to me. But today I am specifically referring to the real-life-flesh-and-blood-in-your-physical-company kind of friends.

… Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Ross and Joey … Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine … Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha … And to be fair to the bros out there … Vince, “E”, Ari, Drama and Turtle …

There’s a simple reason why these famous “friends” from popular culture have worked their way into our living rooms and ultimately our hearts over the years. We all want what they appear to have. They have a bond and a closeness that cannot be denied. Someone is always there to bail you out, cheer you up, calm you down or stay in with you and share a bottle of wine.

Some people are fortunate enough to have friends like that in real life. But sadly, for me, I am not one of those people. Make no mistake. I have some amazing friends with whom I have stayed in touch over the years, but we no longer live in the same state, let alone the same city. And the ones who do live in close proximity… well, it seems we’re all too busy with our own little lives to make the time to nurture a friendship. And I am equally as guilty as anyone else when it comes to this.

But now, at 36, I am wishing for that close friend or friends with whom I can share anything. ANYTHING. The kind of friend…

  • who would tell me what a jerk he is (even if he isn’t) because it is what I need to hear in that moment.
  • I have a standing date with on Monday nights to watch The Big C, Nurse Jackie or The United States of Tara.
  • who would tell me the harsh truth no matter how hard it is to hear.
  • who would NOT post compromising, reputation-altering or career-threatening photos or videos of me on Facebook or YouTube (no matter how great their viral potential may actually be).
  • who lived nearby and would show up at 3 a.m. if I think my cat is dying (or just hacking up a giant hairball).
  • who would help me hide a body if necessary (just sayin’).

Any interested party, living within a 15-mile radius and fitting this description please feel free to submit an application to yours truly.

Willingness to share shoes, accessories and clothing a plus. Co-dependant, jealousy-prone, psychopathic, passive-aggressive narcissists need not apply.

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No Trespassing or “Dueling Banjos”

My dad tells me I watch way too many movies. And maybe he is right about that. Plus, I also have a pretty active imagination… But seriously, it did feel like a scene straight out of “Deliverance” at times. The woods were thick in every direction, the roads narrow and winding and the hillsides were extremely steep. Several of the houses and driveways were completely overgrown with weeds, and even though I was only a few miles from town… it felt remote enough that I was fairly certain no one would ever hear me scream.

<cue “Dueling Banjos”>

At one point I passed a boy driving a 4-wheeler, dressed in so much camouflage I almost didn’t see him. He had at least 2 cross-bows with him and as our paths crossed, he just GLARED at me. Come to think of it, everyone that I passed glared at me. Maybe because they knew I didn’t belong. A girl dressed in church clothes and heels, driving a silver Pontiac with the sunroof open and the radio cranked to Billy Joel, doesn’t exactly BLEND in with camo, ammo, tractors, 4-wheel-drive pick-up trucks and 3-legged dogs with one eye named “Lucky.”

But I was on a mission. There’s probably only one, maybe two weeks left of bright sunshine and glorious, leafy, green trees before everything drops to the ground, surrendering to winter. Full of determination and with the camera in tow, I headed out to the country. I was driving on some back roads to find the most beautiful photo ops. And the whole taking-my-life-into-my-own-hands-thing aside… I did manage to get some beautiful shots!

When I was satisfied that I had gotten all of the best pictures I could without my family having to send out a search party, I headed for home. On my way home I spotted these full, verdant trees along the edge of some water and knew that I HAD to get a shot of this. But I couldn’t just stop on the road because any on-coming traffic would not be able to see me. So I looked around for a place to park the car and walk to the right spot in which to shoot the picture. I noticed a little white house that looked harmless enough, and conveniently there was a place to park at the edge of the property, without blocking the driveway. It was technically on their property, and there was a “NO TRESPASSING” sign posted right beside where I parked… But I really didn’t think they would mind. Plus, I’d be so quick about it that they might never even know I was there.

I took my photos and began walking back to the car and was about to climb in when this dog comes out of nowhere and charges toward me barking wildly. Here we go. This is it. I’m in trouble. Either they’ve called the police, who will be here in no time to arrest me for trespassing, or I’m gonna end up in these people’s freezer. I cringe as the dog gets closer… prepared for the mauling I was sure was imminent. My mind flashing forward to the battery of rabies shots I was going to receive if I survived.

Just as the dog reaches me, I see the owner. It’s an older lady, but not the just-got-back-from-church-and-baking-a-pie kind of older lady. No this lady was dressed in jeans and flannel and I honestly couldn’t get a read on her or her dog right away. Instead of fleeing (I’d never outrun the dog) I decided to face my fate head on. I said hello to her and the dog magically dropped to a seated position at my feet. Whew! Rabies crisis averted. She said hello but was definitely not there to make small talk. She’d come to check out the trespasser who’d had the nerve to park on her property. I could tell by the way she was looking at me that she was sizing me up (probably determining whether or not they had room for me in the fridge). And I also noticed that she walked with a bit of a limp. Oh for crying out loud! This was SO a scene from a movie: Nice, innocent girl slaughtered by old, limping, flannel-clad woman in Backwoods House of Horrors.

I introduced myself and explained what I was doing, figuring it sounded decent enough. I mean it wasn’t as if I was out there mutilating squirrels and other small woodland creatures… I was taking nature pictures. What could be more harmless than that? She asked if the photos were “just for me” and I said that they were. I explained how I grew up near there and had been away for years and was still quite taken with the beauty of this time of year. It was then that she said: “I have some lovely trees in my backyard, if you would like to see them. You’re welcome to photograph those.”

Sure, sure… I thought… this was her ploy to lure to me deeper onto her property, and once I was out of public sight in her “backyard,” the real nightmare would begin. But I knew that the polite thing to do was to follow her. After all, I DID trespass and now she was asking me to see her backyard… the least I could do was indulge her. Although I WAS certain that her husband or son would be waiting for me behind the house with a chainsaw.

As I followed her and her dog, I grew a bit more nervous when I noticed that we would have to walk through a little corridor between the house and the shed. The passageway was draped with a tarp and had only slits in the front and back in order to pass in and out. Oh yeah… I’m definitely a goner. However, when I tentatively pulled back the edge of the tarp and peered inside, I saw that the enclosed space was not full of bloody limbs from previous victims… but fresh, garden-grown produce!! All sizes and colors of zucchini and tomatoes with prices marked on them. She was not a homicidal maniac! This woman was just a produce-peddler! For the second time in 5 minutes relief washed over me. I was not going to meet with some horrible demise in the backyard of this sweet old woman’s home.

The view of the woods from her backyard was gorgeous, and she told me how she’s been sitting at her breakfast table every day watching the leaves transform. Her and her dog… Millie. Harmless little Millie… the sweet attack dog who was now licking my hands while I stroked her fur. I took some photographs of the view AND the fresh veggies and talked with her a little while before getting back in the car and driving away. She told me I was welcome to come back anytime to visit or photograph her property. I could park my car on her land and take as many pictures as I’d like. I waved good-bye to both her and Millie as I drove toward civilization.

Perhaps I do watch too many movies… but real life or fiction… you still never know how the story is going to end. Luckily, this one ended happily-ever-after.

<banjo music fades>

A Little Less Than Perfect

Hanging things on the walls of a 100-year-old house is a challenge. Nothing is straight, nothing is even. Not the floor boards, the base boards, the door frames, the walls or the ceilings. So you can imagine how difficult it is to hang pictures or wall decorations and have them appear perfectly straight. If you align them with the ceiling, you can guarantee they will not be parallel with the floor and vice versa. This can be quite maddening for a self-professed perfectionist.

For someone like me who loves, loves, LOVES straight lines, parallel lines, perpendicular lines, 90 and 45 degree angles… the decorating process can be nothing short of difficult. Now, I’m not talking “Alice-In-Wonderland” type screwy walls and floors… just your basic I’ve-been-sitting-here-for-100-years-and-the-ground-beneath-me-isn’t-level-and-therefore-I-am-going-to-settle-into-a-not-so-level-position-myself screwy walls and floors… In other words, things are just a little bit off.

The same thing applies to positioning furniture in-line with the ancient floor-boards. I once spent an entire Saturday morning trying to line my bed frame up with the floor boards, only to realize then that the accompanying area rug looked crooked. And the bedspread design, which is of course, vertical stripes wasn’t quite right.  Suffice it to say, I was glad no one was around to watch me obssessively ooch and scooch the bed (by degrees) this way and that… wondering where the fatal flaw was. Exasperated, I eventually just gave up.

I have done my best to hang, position and drape my décor in this not-so-perfect-but-full-of-character-house and adjust my concept of what “straight” really is. Usually I end up splitting the difference between the floor and ceiling with whatever piece I’ve chosen to be the “anchor” and try my best to ensure the surrounding pieces are as in-line with it as possible.

The same can be said of the people we choose to hang our “stuff” on in this life… our parents, our children, our friends, our spouses, our leaders. I mean, just like that 100-year-old house, no one is perfect. In fact, the very definition of the word “perfect” is: entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings. Now tell me… do you know ANY human being who fits that description? None of us have a perfectly straight, perfectly even, perfectly sound foundation. We all are loaded with flaws, defects and shortcomings.

So, when looking at those people who we deem to be the “anchors” in our lives, the absolute BEST we can ever really do is try and adjust our concept of what “perfect” really is by splitting the difference between expectation and reality. Recognize that those we love are not-so-perfect but full-of-character… And then do our best to ensure that the others we CHOOSE to surround ourselves with, are as in-line with us as possible in this less-than-perfect world.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

How is it that children see things so much clearer than we do sometimes? Perhaps it is because their brains aren’t as cluttered with all of the crap we adults tend to carry around. We underestimate their ability to comprehend, process and understand what we deem to be “adult information” and we often overlook how tuned-in they really are.

Three summers ago when I moved back to Ohio from the southwest and began my job search, I thought FOR SURE I had stumbled upon or been led to the perfect job for me. It all came about so easily and so quickly and I pridefully thought to myself: This is really going to work out much better than even I had planned. The job was near Cleveland, the pay was great, the company seemed solid and well-established, and the work was creative & diverse. The HR Director had even used these words: “We really think we have a good fit here” while referring to me as a candidate for the position. All 4 of my interviews with the various “suits” had gone well and I felt fairly confident that this thing was all sewn up.

I’m sure you can tell where I am going with this by now… I didn’t get the job.

The rejection letter came, a charming form of correspondence with which I would later become very familiar… and I came unglued. I mean REALLY unglued. Unfortunately, my then 12 year-old nephew, Cameron, was at the house at the time.

I should mention that for about 6 or 7 years now I have struggled with depression and anxiety… and I was in a bit of a fragile state of mind at this particular time anyway, so this letter was the last straw. In an attempt to protect the innocent as well as whatever is left of my credibility with whoever may be reading this, I won’t go into detail about HOW I came unglued. Let’s just say that the wheels pretty much flew totally OFF my wagon.

My mom and dad tried comforting me, all the while my nephew is in the other room, hearing terrible things spew forth from my mouth as I am screaming and sobbing and raging about all sorts of things that I’m pretty sure were not even remotely related to this “You Suck” letter. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but Cameron overheard things that no child should ever have to hear from an adult whom they love. Scary things.

A few days later, when I had gained some composure and perspective, in addition to a refill of my medication… it’s OK you can laugh at that… I took Cameron out to lunch, just the two of us, and I apologized to him and I asked if he had ANY questions he wanted to ask me about what he’d heard me say that day. Cameron is an extremely bright and mature child, therefore nothing was off-limits. I wanted him to know that it was ALL out on the table in front of us. He expressed his feelings of sadness and concern that I was so upset, but I believe he genuinely understood that everything was going to be OK… that I was going to be OK.

I wish that at the time, I had had the confidence in myself that my nephew had in me.

Fast forward 10 months.

It is 5:30 p.m. on a weekday. I am home from work and I pull my new car into the driveway of my house. Because my family has practically established a 2-block commune in our little town of Minerva, it is quite the norm for a stray child to appear out of nowhere with a hug and a bright “Hi Aunt JoJo!” And on this particular day… it was Cameron.

He gave me a huge bear hug and asked how my day was. I hugged him back, locked my car, gathered up my things and started toward my parent’s house to say hello. But Cameron stopped me. He put his little arm around my waist and turned me to face my house. And he said, verbatim: “Look at you now, Aunt JoJo. Look at how far you’ve come.” At first I thought he was just being silly and sarcastic and I smiled and hugged him again. But since I was not completely certain what he meant by that, while we were still hugging one another, I asked him: “What exactly are you talking about, Cameron?”

He lifted his chin up to meet my gaze and he said to me: “Your car. Your house. Your job. (And he nodded in the direction of each of those things) Look at all you have now. And to think that just a few months ago you wanted to give up.”

I was speechless. I started to cry. I squeezed him tighter and I cried harder. All I could do was nod in affirmation. At that point in time I was so overcome with emotion, that his small 4-foot-something frame was supporting ME. I held onto him for dear life and I have never felt a bigger knot in my throat.

Friday Night Lights

The season is so brief, maybe that’s what makes it so special. In northeastern Ohio, football is king. After all, The Pro Football Hall of Fame is only 20 miles away from my little hometown. Professionally speaking, we may have one of the worst teams in the NFL… but that doesn’t stop us from loving the sport. It may infuriate us and cause people to occasionally fly into fits of rage and throw things… but that’s OK. It just demonstrates how much we care.

However on Fridays, we tend to forget how terrible our pro team is and turn our attention to a different set of heroes: The local high school football teams. They don’t play for fame or money… they play for their schools, their towns, their classmates and teammates. And more importantly… they play with their hearts.

There is something magical in the air on Fridays. It’s as if the whole community is anxiously awaiting the upcoming battle that will happen later in the evening beneath the bright stadium lights. Businesses show their support by placing signs in their windows and merchants display and sell all sorts of items that carry the local mascot. Homes are adorned in bright school colors with flags and banners. Students wear jerseys, t-shirts and face paint to demonstrate their allegiance. And by early afternoon the pep-rallies are in full-swing.

At 7 p.m. it’s as if there is nowhere else in the world to be than at the stadium. The town is empty and the only sound you’ll hear for miles is that of the marching band and the voice of the announcer. The stands are packed and so are the fences that surround the field. Everyone has found a spot to settle in and watch their favorite high school hero for the next several hours. The younger kids run through the crowds tossing the football, no doubt imagining the day when they will be on that field and all eyes will be fixed on them. The adults are likely arguing about the official’s call or even more likely reminiscing about their own glory days… when they too were charged with the energy of youth, fueled by endless possibilities.

It lasts for just 10 weeks, a little longer if you’re lucky. And in that brief time the world around us will transform from the warmth of summer, through the brilliance of autumn and into the colder grasp of winter. The grass on the field turns brown and frosted, the bleachers stand cold and empty, the loud speaker is silenced and the Friday night lights go out. All grows quiet as the world retreats indoors and a few stray snowflakes start to fall across the faded white lines of a vacant field.

Until next year…

Uninvited Guests

On occasion, I have been known to entertain some interesting visitors. I really don’t like them and if the truth be told… I wish they would just go away. They aren’t welcome and never really were, but they show up unannounced anyway.

It’s not like they are spending every free moment with me. They usually don’t bother me during the day when I’m busy at work. It is during my nights when they really make their presence known. Maybe you know them. Maybe they’ve visited you too at an inopportune time… they are notorious for that.

Their names are: What-If, If-Only and Why-Me. Have you heard of them? They are quite the terrible trio and whenever they visit, they always want to party. They know how to take a perfectly nice evening and turn it upside down. They’re LOUD, obnoxious and rude. They especially like popping in when everything is quiet and I’ve settled down with my journal or a good movie or book. They dance around my home and call me names to get my attention.

What-If likes to play this annoying little game with me. He shows me a scenario in my life that has actually occurred (a negative one of course) and then proceeds to show me ALL of the other seemingly BETTER ways the same scenario could have played out If-Only… And this is where he joins in on the fun.

If-Only whispers in my ear ALL of the things I COULD have done differently so that the scenario in question might have had one of those better, more desirable outcomes. If-Only likes to dangle his favorite toys in front of my face: Lost Opportunities, Past Possibilities and Roads-Not-Taken. And he will not rest until I reach out my hand and grab hold of one or all of his tempting little trinkets.

Why-Me is a bit more shy, but is actually the worst of the bunch. He usually hangs back to wait and see how the other two have fared in engaging me. He is not one to force himself on me. He knows that when What-If and If-Only have done their jobs well, and sufficiently gotten my attention, it is only a matter of time before I approach him.

Why-Me LOVES to play dress-up. When I come to him, he is ready and waiting with a heavy coat made out of the fabric of Misery and Self-Pity. This he likes to drape across my shoulders. It weighs me down and is dreadfully uncomfortable to wear. I always end up slogging around, shoulders stooped beneath the weight of the garment, unable to move. When I am aptly dressed, Why-Me stands back and smirks… knowing that he too has made the most of the visit.

You can see why these 3 are such annoying and unwelcome guests. They aren’t the least bit fun and their shenanigans leave me totally drained, exhausted and spent. After they’ve gone, I spend the next several days cleaning up after them because of course they never visit without making a total mess of things.

I do, however, have a couple of friends who—when I think to invite them—do an amazing job of keeping those 3 trouble makers at bay. Their names are Gratitude and Contentment. And the 5 of them actually cannot even exist in the same room. I really should call them more often and invite them over. I’m positive that they are such loyal friends… they’ll even HELP me clean up the mess next time.

“There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience that dwells in the heart of every man.”

Clinical Trials?

Every other day some drug company announces that it has a new product and is conducting a clinical trial. These companies attempt to solicit potential lab rats for their experiments by advertising on TV, radio or the internet. It seems that any “eligible and willing participant” (whatever THAT means) will be compensated, usually in the form of cash, for their involvement in said trial.

I usually don’t pay much attention to these commercials as I have never been willing to apply, insert, inject or ingest some unknown substance manufactured by a company who feels the need to advertise to the GENERAL public that they are in want of “test subjects.” However… one commercial DID capture my attention recently.

I heard on the radio that someone (I really don’t know who or what organization) is looking for individuals who are currently or have at one time been on prescription anti-depressants. They want to test “several new types of antidepressants” on any depressed person who is “eligible and willing” between the ages of 18 and 65. I don’t know about you, but this scares the hell out of me that there could be diagnosed, already-depressed people LEGALLY walking around out there on EXPERIMENTAL, mood-altering substances, and getting paid for it!

From previous posts, anyone reading this ought to know by now that I am certainly NOT anti-anti-depressant. I have freely admitted to using and benefiting from them… under the careful observation and supervision of a REAL medical doctor or psychologist!! It is typically a risk starting any mood-altering medication, even under the best of circumstances and surveillance. There’s a reason those drugs carry black-box warnings you know. There is no way to anticipate how any given psychotropic drug is going to affect you physically, cognitively, emotionally and mentally. However, with a prescribing doctor nearby, an informed person can usually get through any trouble that may occur during the initial start-up period.

It seems alright to me for people to try a new energy drink or diet supplement or appetite suppressant here and there… or a ground-breaking skin cream for acne, psoriasis, stretch marks or eczema… Some unique teeth-whitening paste… A potion that promises a potential cure for baldness… that’s OK. But I’m sorry… no good could possibly come from something “experimental” being marketed to an already vulnerable, clinically depressed population.

See, the thing is… with the earlier mentioned items… what’s the worst that could happen? An upset stomach, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, excess gas and bloating, flatulence, headache, skin rash, hives, itching, dry-skin, oily-skin, scaly skin, weight gain, weight loss, hair loss, tooth loss, dry mouth, sleeplessness, restlessness, ringing in the ears, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, swelling of the mouth, face, lips or tongue, chest pain, dark urine, fast, slow or irregular heartbeat, fever, chills, sore throat, swelling of the hands, ankles or feet, unusual bruising or bleeding, excessive tiredness, vision changes, muscle soreness, strange watery discharge, night sweats, numbness, nose bleeds, bleeding out the eyes… that stuff is child’s play compared to what might happen when you carelessly tinker with the chemistry of the brain.

Just imagine someone participating in this highly-solicited clinical trial who is a crane operator, taxi-driver or middle-school teacher… ALL of which are extremely perilous jobs. HELLO!? Does the idea of this stuff being offered up to any psychologically-medicated person within earshot of a radio scare anyone else? Or is it just me?

Perhaps I am paranoid.

Maybe I should give that 1-800 number a call. I could use the extra cash.