Second Chances

The year was 1985. It was the start of a new school year at Mary Irene Day Elementary School in Minerva, OH. And this was no ordinary year. At M.I. Day, the start of the 5th grade not only ushered in a new school year but a whole new brood of students from the tri-county area as well.

This was the year that all of the other kids from the smaller, more rural, K-4 schools joined the “townies” at the larger, local elementary. And let’s face it… Who likes outsiders anyway, right? This concept was particularly difficult for a bunch of bratty, pre-pubescent, middle-schoolers-in-training to deal with in a graceful manner.

But there I was, a little blonde girl who probably thought she was “all that” sporting a sassy new 80s get-up while unpacking my sharp #2 pencils, fresh notebooks and admiring the front of my new Trapper-Keeper. And there he was—reeking of new-kid-ness—a sheepish, chestnut-haired boy with kind brown eyes, turned backwards in his chair and staring right at me.

“Why don’t you take a picture. It will last longer!” I snapped at him in the nastiest pre-teen tone I could muster, trying to make my friends laugh and ease the heat that I felt rapidly spreading toward my face. He quickly ducked his head and turned away. I had obviously hurt his feelings by acting like such a little bitch.

Little did I know that 26 years later that same sheepish boy with the kind brown eyes—now a grown man with an even kinder spirit—would escort me to that same spot, kneel down in front of me and say: “A picture would have been nice, but I want something that lasts forever.”

It wasn’t easy for him to pin-point the exact spot where I’d hurled those hurtful words at him so many years before… but somehow he’d managed to pull it off. You see, our school had recently been torn down and a new one built in it’s place. But with an uncanny sense of direction and the assistance of Google Earth, Bing and Yahoo Maps… he found it. THE very spot where our 5th-grade classroom used to be was now the new playground.

The school as it looked in 1985.

A clever story about his role on the Building Leadership Team at the school where he teaches convinced me to go with him to the playground to do a little “research” for his district. Feeling like a kid again, I teased him about the brat I’d been back then and took a trip down the slide. He was waiting for me at the bottom poised to ask this life-altering question.

After a lot of tears and shouting “Yes, a million times yes!” we couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer amazement of how life works sometimes.

By the time we were in high school we had become great friends. Kindred spirits some might say. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I liked him. He was one of the good ones and we could talk about anything. We shared a taste in music, books, movies and deep conversation. We tried “dating” for awhile but I did not yet understand the importance of dating someone who was also a friend… so we parted as friends.

Off to college and separate adventures that would take us in completely opposite directions… To him, I was “the one that got away” when he read of my wedding announcement 4 years after graduation. And to me, years into a destructive and abusive marriage… he was “the good friend that I desperately wished I hadn’t taken for granted.”

By the time we met again at the age of 34, you could say that our lives—much like that old school building—had, over time, been completely torn down and reconstructed. We were different, and yet somehow exactly the same. And we realized that we’d been given the very rare gift of a second chance.

Since we first laid eyes on one another two years ago—after half our current lifetime had passed by—we have not looked back. Perhaps 26 years ago he saw something in that bratty little blonde, and thankfully he didn’t give up on me right then. Thankfully he stuck around and waited. Waited for something that would last longer than a picture. Something that would ultimately last forever.

Slightly Preoccupied

With the turkey fully digested and the official “decking of the halls” close at hand, I encountered what you might call a slight distraction during this busy holiday time.

Down on one knee, velvet box open in his hand… my best friend popped the question last Friday. It happened so fast that seconds after I cried and shouted “yes, Yes, YES I’ll marry you!” I slipped the ring off my finger, stuffed it back in the box, shoved it into his hand and yelled at him: “OK… Now… DO THAT AGAIN!!”

He of course looked at me like I was completely insane and I’m certain wondered to himself: I don’t think this is the way it is supposed to go down, but whatever. And he indulged me. Yes, there have been times when my sanity MAY have been called into question, but on this occasion… I just wanted to make sure I’d remember the moment forever.

Well… there’s that… and the fact that I knew I’d have to be able to recount the story on command in the coming days and weeks to friends, co-workers, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and probably the town crier.

So I hope that you’ll indulge me as well, dear readers, while I think of just the right way to craft this very special story that began 26 years ago… all the way back in the 5th grade. You see, it’s not your garden-variety boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy marries girl, boy and girl live happily-ever-after kind of story. It’s more like… Boy meets girl and a lifetime of detours later… Life gives them a second chance.

So I promise that just as soon as I get done returning phone calls, answering texts, Facebook messages and emails… and pull my head out of the clouds… and my eyes away from this lovely, hypnotic, sparkly thing on my left hand… I will find just the right way to tell you the story.

To be continued…

Me… Naughty?

Last December I came home to find a red plaque hanging on my backdoor. It had 4 simple words on it, presumably for Santa. It read: I have been naughty. And I knew right away who the culprit was… it was my dad. He is famous for finding these unique little items that no one has ever seen and then leaving them in surprise places for you to discover.

For example… a few nights earlier… at nearly 11 p.m., I discovered a hobby horse at the top of the ladder up to my loft and it scared the shit out of me! Hobby horses are a joke between my father and me that goes back to elementary school… but that’s another story for another day. Anyway… this hobby horse was just sitting there… silently centered in an obviously very carefully chosen location. It felt just like the sort of thing a killer would leave to let you know he’s there… right before he leaps out of hiding and murders you.

I know, I know… I watch too many movies.

But back to the “naughty” thing… I honestly don’t know where he is coming from telling Santa I’ve been a naughty girl. I mean honestly, I think I am just a misunderstood, passionate person with a unique zest for life who requires a healthy amount of “me” time and who also happens to have a bit of a preoccupation with the macabre.

Dear friends, read the following and tell me…

Is It Wrong To…

1. feel like sleeping until noon everyday and then seriously entertain the idea of doing absolutely nothing after that?

2. expect that radio stations ought to play music instead of combing through the minutia of pervy Herman Cain’s sexcapades as well as the cognitive integrity / mental stability of each of the Republican Party candidates for the entirety of my 20 minute commute into work?

3. yell obscenities (with the windows up of course) or honk the horn at the driver in front of me who doesn’t use his/her turn signal, drives under the legal speed limit, cuts me off, or just doesn’t follow the rules of the road in general?

4. drive 10 MPH in front of someone who has been tailgating me for the last 15 minutes when they can’t pass me because of oncoming traffic and then floor it when they are able to pass me? Oh… and to thoroughly ENJOY this while I am doing it? I mean… absolutely, totally and completely DELIGHT IN IT to the point of drunken giddiness?

5. find joy in feeding the dog peanut butter just so I can watch her try for over an hour to get it all off of the roof of her mouth?

6. fantasize about taking an ice-pick to all of those inflatable Christmas lawn decorations? You know… to every last one of them that I see? Or after I’m finished unleashing my misguided torrent of rage on all of those unsuspecting Santas and Rudolphs… then to consider driving around and actively searching for more in which to slay? Or should I say: sleigh? Get it?

7. continuously assault you, the reader, with bad puns purely for my own enjoyment and simply because I can?

8. wish for a winter storm SO severe, and SO widespread that it knocks out power to everything within a 50-mile radius, making the roads impassable and thus causing everyone to stay inside for days and days with nothing else to do but sleep, read and play UNO, Monopoly, Yahtzee or Scrabble? Or did I mention sleep?

9. insist… when playing Monopoly… on being the banker in order to eventually cheat everyone, dominate the entire game and ultimately win? You know, like bankers do in real life?

10. text message a last-minute decline of attendance AND my sincerest apologies for not making it to the Christmas party / family gathering / function where everyone was expecting me by pulling a “Marcia Brady” and saying that “something suddenly came up” when in actuality I just didn’t “feel” like going because truthfully, I would much rather be outside slaying inflatable Christmas lawn decorations?

See, I don’t particularly think there is anything odd, strange, “twisted,” “sadistic,” “demented” or “naughty” about any of those things… but then again… maybe that’s just me.

Nevertheless… I guess I will find out in less than one month whether or not Santa agrees.

Roll Patrol

It’s a Thanksgiving tradition everywhere. Everyone in the family coming together to share in a great feast featuring such culinary delights as turkey, stuffing, candied yams, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. And of course there are the additional items that make the meal complete like the salads, buttered rolls and other sweet treats.

In many families, such as my own, the responsibility of providing all of the food is a shared one. Someone (usually the hostess) provides the bird and stuffing and others do their individual share to contribute to the cause with their “specialty.” My sister’s, for example, is green bean casserole. Hers is hands-down the best so she provides that dish year after year, among other things. My mother brings the candied yams and usually a seven-layer salad… sometimes a dessert as well.

I’m not certain where all of the other food comes from… like the mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, deviled eggs, garnishes and pumpkin pie. I only know that it doesn’t come from me. I am—99% of the time—relegated to roll patrol. When I inquire as to the item or items I might contribute to said smorgasbord, I am always told by my sister, mother or cousins in a very soothing tone: “Oh… That’s OK Joanna. I think we’ve got it all covered. But, I’ll tell ya what… You can bring the rolls! and their voices slide up an octave as they deliver this news… probably relieved to have thought of something I can actually provide that poses little risk to the continued gastric integrity of themselves or others.

Ah the rolls. Now that’s a prominent role one longs to fill in the grand scheme of things (my apologies for the bad bun… I mean pun). For everyone knows that the roll bearer is usually some sorry sap that is either A. Poor as a church mouse. Or B. Good for nothing when it comes to the kitchen… Or C. Has been totally overlooked in the planning of the event for any number of reasons… Or D. Is still considered a “child” by their family because they are unmarried with no children.

In my case it is neither A or C. It is firmly BOTH B and D. I am not ashamed to admit that I am… shall we say… culinarily challenged. Neither am I ashamed of the fact that I have borne zero offspring. I just find it interesting from a sociological standpoint. Like marriage and children is equal to having wicked-good skills when it comes to cooking. I can tell you with great confidence that I DO know how to cook things (beyond boiling water). Though most of the time, I choose not to. What do I need to cook for?

Truth be told, I did imagine myself at this age, with a husband and a couple of rug rats in tow, carrying a warm, covered dish to the gathering complete with seasonal oven mitts on both hands. And although I definitely never thought I’d still be the roll bearer at age 36… It sure makes for one hell of a quick and easy shopping trip.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! Watch for tumbling turkeys on those tootsies at 5 a.m. when you arise to turn on the oven. And don’t forget to take the bag of “stuff” out of the bird before you slide it in to cook it. Even a roll bearer like me knows that.

Anyone Else Hear That Buzzing Sound?

I’ve been a little swamped lately so I hope you’ll forgive me for posting something I wrote a few summers ago when I first moved into my “new-to-me-but-very-old” house and discovered I had roommates… of the buzzing, stinging variety. Yep… yellowjacket wasps. And I am DEATHLY afriad of bees or bugs for that matter… especially ones that fly. And buzz. And sting. So, although I feel too busy to breathe right now—or at least fearful of forgetting HOW to breathe—I’d rather post SOMETHING than nothing… so I reached into the archives for this one. My hope is that you will find it as entertaining as I did horrifying… Enjoy. Oh and maybe grab your fly swatter.

Just so you’re aware, and I hope you NEVER have to find out… here is what it’s like to share your home with yellow jacket wasps…

For almost 2 weeks now, every morning, I do the “Walk of Shame” in my pajamas. At day-break, bra-less and with pillow-marks and wild hair, I scurry over to MY house from my parents’ house. I do everything at my house, except SLEEP there. The thought of one of those “creatures-from-depths-of-hell” (as I have grown fond of calling them) crawling on my pillow in the middle of the night creeps the shit out of me! What if I roll over on it, and it stings my cheek, or worse… I accidentally swallow it!?! I shudder even as I type this. I can only imagine what the neighbors must think though… a 34-year-old woman who has her own home, STILL sleeps at mommy and daddy’s every night?!? Talk about having “issues”…

Once inside the enemy’s territory, I sneak around my OWN house, tip-toeing like a cat burglar, with my WMD’s (a fly-swatter and a can of Mega-Freeze hairspray) close at hand. I enter rooms as though arriving at my own previously-anticipated surprise party… You know, because I want to surprise the surprisers that are hiding and laying in wait.

I compulsively throw open doors, blinds and curtains as if this element of surprise gives ME the upper hand against AN INSECT THAT FLIES!! I thoroughly shake out my clothes before getting dressed, I closely examine shoes and slippers before placing my foot inside—lest I squash one of them and my foot swells and it looks like I have elephantitus or some such disfiguring disease. I gingerly lift towels, rags and laundry with my thumb and fore finger in case one of the demon-spawn is hiding there. I’ve learned to RELY on the mirrors to tell me if one is sneaking up on me from behind. I suspect NOWHERE is safe, and I trust nothing.

However, I AM beginning to wonder if I am going about this ALL wrong. Perhaps the yellowjackets and I should maybe consider a less harsh solution like… couples therapy? I mean, me and the hive, could just sit down in a neutral setting, where there is no judgement or preconceived notions about “good” and “bad” and everyone is equal and we can air our grievances in a calm and cool manner. My sister once talked a raccoon into leaving her garage after several weeks, by simply speaking rationally to him, maintaining eye contact, and then leaving the door up that night when she went to bed. Soooo… anything’s possible.

Maybe I should just open up the phone book and find a family therapist who specializes in “unique” problems. I mean, OK… so MAYBE poisoning them with Aqua Net isn’t the right way to go after all, maybe it is a tad harsh. I’m not perfect. Perhaps we just need to learn to live in harmony with one another. You know, respect each other’s space. Bee considerate… and by all means, COMMUNICATE.

OK, it’s settled, I have the yellow pages, and I’m looking for therapists… I think I’ll start with the B’s…

The Day Before Black Friday

Do you remember it? You probably do… C’mon… think! Think! You know, it’s that day in late November where we all stop what we’re doing, get together with our families and friends, eat obscene amounts of food and watch football. We stuff ourselves with loads of turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and candied yams and green bean casserole and hot, buttered rolls and of course, pumpkin pie. And many of us also take some time to pause and reflect upon that for which we are thankful. I guess that’s why it is generally referred to as Thanksgiving.

However, for some strange reason, in recent years the term “Thanksgiving” seems to have eluded us. Despite the fact that our country remains deep in a recession and we’re still seeing some of the highest unemployment numbers in decades, I noticed a disturbing trend emerging even stronger than in years past. The trend being that what was formerly referred to as Thanksgiving is now merely The Day Before Black Friday.

I’m not an idiot and I don’t live under a rock. I’ve known for years that here in America we worship the almighty dollar more than anything else. And in direct correlation with that, we worship things. We see it… we like it… we want it… we HAVE to have it! After all, the neighbors do. And by all means we must keep up with our neighbors and our relatives and our friends and our co-workers. But even with the knowledge that “things” are so important to us… I am still shocked by what I hear at the very top of every newscast during the holiday season (which, by the way, NOW begins immediately following Halloween.)

Notice there is ZERO mention of: “How to Prepare The Most Succulent Turkey,” or “10 Tips for Fixing a Feast Fit for 20,” or even the ever-popular: “How to Avoid Gaining 10 Pounds While Still Ingesting All The Carbs Your Body Can Possibly Handle Without Winding Up in a Coma”

Instead of those all-time favorite Holiday Classics, we are bombarded with: “How to Be the First in Line To Get Your Air Swimmers Giant Flying Fish” or “10 Self-Defense Tips for Fighting the Frantic 3 a.m. Traffic at Wal-Mart” and the NOW popular: “How to Best Manage Your Credit in Order to Still Provide a Magical Material Christmas for Your Child Even Though You’re Broke and Haven’t the Money to Make Your Subprime Mortgage Payment.”

I'm fairly certain THIS is Dante's 9th circle of hell.

What is wrong with this picture? Surely I am not the only one who has made note of this and found it a teensy-bit troubling, unsettling, nerve-wracking or nauseating? Hello? Can I get an Amen?

It doesn’t feel like that long ago news programs, talk shows and magazines served up extra helpings of wisdom on how to have an enjoyable Thanksgiving with the people who mattered most. But seemingly overnight this once-favorite holiday has yielded it’s prominent position to the day after. I’m not exactly sure who is to blame. Whether it’s us—the consumers? Or whether it’s the big-box stores, manufacturers and credit-card companies? I suspect it is probably both… A marketing match made in heaven… Or hell. Depending on how you look at it.

I may be part of a minority here, but I think I’ll stick with the day before Black Friday as my holiday of choice. After all, there is no waiting in line, no angry mobs to deal with and no anguish over paying the bill for those stupid Air Swimmers when it comes due in January, February and March. You see, on The Day Before Black Friday there is only the warm, lazy feeling of being lulled to sleep in front of a football game surrounded (hopefully) by people you love… with a tummy full of turkey.

And I much prefer that.

P.S. By the time the credit card statement comes… that “must-have” flying fish is most likely enjoying the company of dust bunnies… somewhere underneath a bed.

P.P.S. THIS is how I plan on spending my Black Friday…

To Be or Not To Be… Carded

There comes a time in every woman’s life when they just stop asking. And unlike the fantasies we may have entertained when we were 16 or 18, it turns out it really isn’t all that great a feeling.

We spend our under-aged “kitten years” wishing we were old enough to wander casually into a grown-up establishment, brimming with cool confidence, make eyes at the handsome bartender and seductively order something “neat,” “dirty,” “extra dry,” “shaken, not stirred” or “on the rocks” like it’s our job. In other words… we can’t wait to be viewed as independent, mature members of society.

But in reality… when that magical times comes when we CAN wander casually into a grown-up establishment, brimming with cool confidence, make eyes at the handsome bartender and seductively order something “neat,” “dirty,” “extra dry,” “shaken, not stirred” or “on the rocks” like it’s our job… we sit there secretly praying he will ask to see our I.D. In other words…  we hope to be viewed as that long-gone “kitten,” perhaps not even old enough to grace the place with the innocence of our presence.

And the “eyes” we make at him, well… they are one of two varieties… the pleading or the daring. Pleading with him: OH PLEEEEEEZE ask to see my I.D. you know I can’t possibly be older than 21, don’t you? Or daring him NOT to ask, thus threatening his very life on what might happen next. If NOT carded (gulp) we are likely to fling ourselves across the bar, grab his towel and strangle him with it for so much as THINKING we are so obviously “of age” that we aren’t even worth the asking.

The only time… THE ONLY TIME that I DO NOT want to be carded is when I’ve forgotten my I.D. Which is, of course, as Murphy’s Law clearly states… the exact moment the poor bastard will ask. This happened recently after an Ohio State game and Lee was concerned that I would not be permitted anywhere without my I.D. Not because I look that young, but because they were college bars and college bars tend to be ultra cautious. But we played the whole “Guess Who’s More Likely To Let You In Without An I.D. Sociology Game” and chose the right bouncer… and it worked. And I got in. That time.

Had they not let me in, I was going to execute a new strategy where I put my face up REALLY CLOSE to the person making the judgment call that was going to effect the entire rest of my evening and ask them whether or not my crow’s feet would be an acceptable form of identification.

Poor bartenders and bouncers. It must be tough to be them… dealing on a daily basis with women perched ever so precariously on the edge of sanity as we wrestle with this whole getting older thing. But here’s an FYI… I am 36. Yes 36. Fifteen freakin’ years beyond the legal limit, and far from being considered a “kitten” but I still want to be asked if for no other reason than to flatter my ancient ass. For what it’s worth… There’s an additional 20% in it for you if you do.