Cupcakes & Badges

JENNIFER!!!

What?

Did you eat my cupcake?!

Oh my God, YESSS! Who leaves a frickin cupcake in the refrigerator for four days? I mean seriously!

I do!

Well that’s just wrong! Honestly, you should be thanking me.

What?! You bought that cupcake—for me!!

I bought it because I thought you’d eat it! Who doesn’t eat a cupcake for four days? What I did today was an act of charity! A mercy killing.

Russ shook his head.

Changing tack he said, Why did you move the air pump?

Because I filled up my exercise ball.

You mean MY exercise ball.

Well since I gave MY exercise ball away, so we didn’t have two lying around, it’s now OUR exercise ball!

Staring down his pointer finger like the barrel of a gun he barked, OURS. That’s better. You owe me another cupcake. Go get it right now!

I did not.

That was the day I quit class. It hadn’t even officially begun. There was a week of non-compulsory orientation to learn the platform and how things worked. After a couple of interactions, I requested a refund, which they granted without question. No one asked me why I dropped the class. If they had, I would have told them. I wrote a letter, because I found the brief experiences so staggering, but I haven’t sent it. I’m still deciding whether it’s worth it and what I hope to gain. I won’t reveal the name of the professional, or his business, but can affirm it was not a class of Scott Galloway’s, or Section4, the beacon of both professionalism and illumination. The letter follows below.

Dear X,

I’m wondering what your involvement is in this workshop. Is it a reflection of your brand? Is it a product constructed with your beliefs and values, or is it just your name slapped on the front like a sticker on a steamer trunk? Is there a difference? Aren’t you supposed to be your brand?

I loved your books. I continuously read your blog. This was my first interaction, in real-time, with your brand and the people who represent you.  I met with a workshop coach on Zoom for onboarding (I was the only participant), and joined a group onboarding the next day. At the start of the second zoom, the coach instructed us to close our eyes and breath deeply, with one hand on our tummy and the other hand across our chest. If Zoom could bend in a circle, we’d have been sitting cross-legged on our rubber mats, facing one another, and cooing “Om.”

 This isn’t how I imagined the workshop would begin. It landed like a cheap pitch for the coach’s own business. Taking for granted we need to recenter ourselves before beginning class is a rather condescending assumption for a representative of your workshop to disseminate, isn’t it? Rather reeking of the antithesis of yoga’s tenets? Unable to fast-forward past the exercise, my choices were to endure it or disconnect from it entirely.

I am sure this exercise was intended as a gift or an offering. There were many ‘thanks’ shared in the chat box on Zoom, so maybe I am alone in my assessment. But it doesn’t change the fact your business workshop kicked-off with a round of yogababble. This seems a deep departure from your brand. At the very least, it struck me as incredibly incongruous, leaving me to question the quality (authenticity) of your message.

In addition, the SaaS chosen for this workshop (Discord? Discourse?), resembles a slow-footed dinosaur. I’m curious why this instead of another one, such as Slack, which is much more nimble and intuitive (let alone aesthetically pleasing). Lastly, who are the Remarkables in class? Are they fan boys and girls who haven’t quite cut their teeth as your coaches yet? I honestly don’t know who they are, but this chosen moniker, this title, is more suggestive of a band of superheroes in a Marvel flick, than groupies in a three month-long workshop for upskilling. It’s hard to take any of it seriously between the yoggababble, the monikers, and the badges doled out on the platform, like dog biscuits tossed to the pack, every time we engaged with others on the platform. Fucking badges?? Seriously? I felt so ‘gamed’ by the whole experience, like a child with a shrewd babysitter.

I’m lost as to what your brand is and what you are trying to accomplish. Are we professionals learning new skills? Are we creatives learning new techniques? Or is this all just for fun? Learning is a lifelong endeavour. I have no doubt there are many illuminations tucked inside your workshop like silver coins hidden in the weepy corners of coat pockets. I’m just not certain the many pain points encountered doesn’t diminish this experience beyond recognition. My rant surely indicates a misalignment within my own chi, proof of deficit of both patience and compassion, and an omission of mental fluidity that more yoga would serve to alleviate. I strive to improve all of these things, just not here, not now, and not in this space. After all, inappropriate mixing isn’t limited to metaphors alone.

Namaste,

Jenn

Revenge Spend

Revenge spending is really a thing. I can’t fucking stop it. I have fallen off that wagon straight down the slide to the depths of perdition. It’s never the small stuff. You’ll have to take a pry-bar to wedge that fiver out of my cold dead hand, but the big stuff??

I. Am. All. In.

Drives Russ crazy. He will eat out for lunch everyday and not think twice, but will start sweating at the mere mention of Switzerland. Not that this is bad. We rein in each other’s proclivities for spending, a team of checks and balances under one roof. Reconciliation of ledgers doesn’t always comes easy, but it’s the messy process of finding consensus is what counts.

These last two weeks I’ve purchased my fall writing classes, a quartet, one business class, and one ticket to Hamiltonon Broadway. It’s been twenty-one months since the last show I saw in New York (Beetlejuice, but Hamilton was the day before that!). 

I’m not crying!  

You’re crying!

It might qualify as a problem, an addiction, when I transfer my credit card balance to another, with the recent offer of zero a.p.r. for the next twelve months. It was like a sign from above. God granted me permission. 

It’s alright, my child. Go forth.

So I did. All of last year’s savings, sitting on the couch at home, are flying out the window. I haven’t reined it in quite yet either. (Soon though. The funds are near extinction). Just a few more tickets on the horizon, before 2022 swerves into the station or another shutdown occurs—whichever happens first. 

DC is still only partially opened. The museums are either closed, or on timed tickets, you have to apply for a month in advance. This is only slightly more accomodating than our DMV, which opens at the end of this month, after a whopping seventeen months shuttered. (Weirdly, I feel like the mother of a toddler talking about all of these things in monthly increments.)

I will finally have the ability to register Dad’s car, and the rents can stop being blindsided by the toll infractions appearing in their mailbox. They know exactly where I’ve been by the paper trail, like a bad report card with a teacher’s note attached, after swearing to them school has been going great all semester. Flying under the radar as a teenager these days must be much more difficult.

With the museums closed, I had to get creative with my sister visiting last week. Where would we go? I decided on Union Market first, because I thought she’d like it (she did), and then, because it was so bloody hot, we trekked to Roosevelt Island for a shaded walk. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, and because it’s off the beaten path, it is often overlooked. My friend calls it Chernobyl. You’re surrounded by leafy forest, floating in the middle of the Potomac, only to walk into a massive, bleached memorial you don’t see coming until you are already there. Every time I stumble upon it, I picture a team in hazmat suits scrubbing the marble like the nuclear reactor sprung a leak. It is odd, yet compelling.

We were plastered with sweat despite the shade, but decided to forge ahead to the FDR Memorial around the Tidal Basin, also home to the MLK Memorial. Franklin is my favourite memorial in DC, hidden by the trees and its composite of dark granite. I find the space serene, often taking the long walk there from home, its peace and tranquility drawing me there like smoke. Tourists often don’t make it to the other side of the reservoir, turning around at Jefferson, but both FDR and MLK are worth the trip to see them.

My sister had a different sort of visit to DC, seeing sights and sections of town she wouldn’t normally see on a visit. It was hot and humid walking all of those places under the blazing sun, but as she said, “You’re lucky I live in Houston and not Montana.” She was used to the stifling oppressiveness. The day ended with dinner and a martini at Le Diplomat, followed by Jeni’s. The next time I see my sister will be in New York City later this summer. Is it luck or misfortune Broadway won’t be open yet? I’m not sure, but I’m viewing it as a well-placed tourniquet for the severed artery in my wallet. Something has to slow the bleeding. It should be the depletion of funds, but I’ve delayed the inevitable with a balance transfer. I’ve taken revenge spending to a whole new level. I’ve joined the countless ranks of other Americans who enjoy it now and pay for it later. 

Trumpet Flutes Opening

Last weekend was existential and a little surreal. I collected my sister and niece from the sidewalk at Reagan airport and we drove straight to Philly. That wasn’t the original plan, but life happened in between the purchase of tickets, and the eventual flight. The traffic on I-95 was abhorrent. That Great Saphenous Vein buttressing the Atlantic seaboard of our Motherland pulsed with traffic, clusters of cars clotting like platelets, each jam actually a stream of contiguous embolisms. Any evidence of a pandemic paralysing the hands of the clock this past year was absent. Did it even happen? Looking past our noses can be difficult, but it seems envisioning the trail behind us is even more so. Out of sight, out of mind. Maybe this perceived weakness is actually one of our superpowers. 

Life goes on. 

I pushed Susie and Sophia out of the car at the hotel, continuing my trek into the country. Another funeral. Maybe it was a memorial instead. The distinction is irrelevant. They are both celebrations of life. I drove down the long gravel driveway to the Quaker stone house, a centurion bulwark, perched in the clipped field of Timothy, hundreds of acres, the jewel at the center of its crown. They erected a starched tent behind the house, a canopy shielding the heat of the sun, two rows of whitewashed collapsable chairs at the front, and small round tables draped in linen assembled under the remaining space, each adorned with its own vase of purple and yellow flowers. The service, informal, was moving. The man’s wife, his sister, his daughter, and his best friend, all spoke about him. What more can any human ask for, than to be loved and cherished, by our family and friends? They shared wonderful stories and memories. I had only met him once, but I wished I had known him better. He loved fine wine, and travelling in style. He also loved hot dogs. Now that is my kind of human being, someone who enjoyed both the high and the lowbrow. When the service was over, a glass of wine in our hands, the caterer served hors d’oeuvres of duck-liver pate on crostini, topped with a cornichon, and hotdogs, halved, with kimchi. I will never look at a hotdog again in the same way. Not only is it delicious at the ballpark on the 4th of July, but you can dress that frankfurter in a kimono and take it out on the town too. 

I spent the night in the country before returning the next morning to Philly. I met Susie and Sophia at the college where Sophia is attending her summer program. They led me up the stairwell to her dorm room. Our soles squeaked against the waxed surface with every step. The feeling of being 18 again, embarking on this exciting journey, flooded my thoughts. What an exciting time in a young person’s life! We kissed Sophia good-bye and Susie and I headed to the car to leave. 

I parked in front of the Rodin Museum. Did you know it was here?” I asked my sister. 

No, I didn’t. Do you want to go?

Do we have time?” We were headed to a suburb of Baltimore to visit my sister’s friend from Cranbrook before we arrived in D.C.

“Sure! Let’s go!”

I’ve always loved Rodin. Yes, he’s a renowned artist, but there are many, arguably more skilled, more prolific, or more whatever. But I love him because I have always loved The Thinker. I do not remember the first time I saw The Thinker, but I do remember how it made me feel. Thunderstruck. Speechless. Weak at the knees. My heart threatening to explode. My mind a blur of thoughts. Every time I spot The Thinker, Detroit—Baltimore—Philly, I am swept by a current of those same emotions. I had no idea The Thinker originated from Rodin’s The Gates of Hell. This context, this complication, only makes me love The Thinker more. The Musée Rodin outside of Paris is on my list of places to visit.

We drove to the suburbs, succumbing once more to the stifling traffic of the interstate. We arrived to discover they live in bank as stated in the stained glass window above the front door. Listed on the Historic Register, the front of the house is the original bank building. The teller window was still intact, as well as the free standing vault resembling an antique icebox of dark grey steel, just with many drawers and narrow shelves inside. They used the original space as their office, sitting at the built-in wrap around desk, behind the glass shield. The back of the house was the recent addition to the bank containing the bulk of their home. We celebrated their new baby, only two months old, so tiny and perfect. 

Death, college, Rodin, and childbirth. The weekend unfolded like a trumpet flute emerging from its bulb, the horns squeezed and creased at the start like origami paper, before billowing wide, stunning yet poisonous. The experiences were beautiful, pendulous, inspiring and transient. It’s a cliche, but life moves at breakneck speed. Like the pandemic of our past, it’s easy to forget how fast the earth is actually spinning, and us with it.

Yesterday I received a Slack message. Richard said he met with other gentleman I introduced him to on LinkedIn. They are both expats living and working in Singapore. I have not met either person in the flesh, but we are all Section4 alums. I thought they might be great support for one another, and if nothing else, they could network on the other side of the world, so far from their homes in North America. Richard said they hit it off over a cup of coffee. They discovered they are located only five minutes apart from one another. The world is so big, and at the same time, it is incredibly small–one of humanity’s greatest paradoxes. It’s hard to fathom the polarities sometimes. But with complexity comes connection. We are all truly intertwined, traveling the same murky path of humanity, in this place we each call home.

Lightning to Shiitakes

I decided I should try to write a novel. Or maybe just a novella. The fact is, I have no idea what the journey looks like to get there. My familiarity is limited to the destination of others, sentences incandescent, tied together one after another like perfect kernels of corn, popped and needled on a string, collected and bound under the cover of a single shiny jacket. 

It’s as magnificent and difficult as lining up a band of wild Chincoteague ponies by waving a snake charmer’s pungi. I blaze on anyway, blissfully ignorant of the inevitable points of pain, not unlike the raspberries appearing beneath an exercise-jockey’s blue jeans after too many rides, a bloody knot where the strip of cowhide crosses the front of the fibia lying closest to the skin, smarting each leg straddling the barrel at speed. The only thing worse is the alternative: The stitching unravels, the cowhide fluttering to the track, along with the jockey, unceremoniously dumped. 

I’m registering for more writing classes. This year, they have become my theatre tickets. I joke about this, but tickets are recently available for purchase again after sixteen months, and I am feeling the burn. I want both. (Those three words signaling a true capitalist as much as I resist it.) All my writing of late focuses on class and the ultimate goal of marathoning a compelling narrative. Right now, I seem to stare at the same paragraph, reconfiguring it each time, before moving on to the next one, already written, raking its guts as well, like the old game of “Operation.” I squeeze each tiny bone between the tweezers, careful not to touch the buzzer on any side, extracting and relocating them to a different part of the patient’s body, hoping it’s the right fit this time. Writing is a total slog. One step forward and three steps back. At this rate, my goal will take a lifetime.

I have also joined a book club this month. My first one ever. It happened by default, not necessarily by design. It is a sub-group of my challenge network, Section5, the rogue Section4 Sprinters who formed their own community on Slack. (This is Russ’ big joke: “Are you Slacking? You’re such a Slacker.” Etc, etc. The bottom line is “Slacking” has become a verb in our household, more so than even “Googling.” This is total brand dominion, BTW. No one says, “Let me Apple that.”) The fact is, I spend a lot of time on Slack with Section5 and I’m super excited to have a group of smart people with varying backgrounds to discuss a book we have all agreed to read simultaneously.

We finished Adam Grant’s Think Again. He challenges his readers to rethink their own perspectives, questioning where they came from and how, and to view the world and all of its interactions, macro and micro, more with the lens of a scientist than as a preacher, a politician, or a prosecutor. (Sounds like a bar joke, I know.) A few key takeaways: He defines “idea cults” as “oversimplified intellectual Kool-Aid.” It doesn’t matter which side of an issue or argument you stand. We are all guilty of subscribing to our viewpoints without always acknowledging why.

At the end of the book, he touches on “identity foreclosure”—committing to one sense of self without all of the other possibilities being considered and “escalation of commitment”—heroic persistence versus foolish stubbornness. Basically, the dark side of grit. Anyone who knows me will understand why these concepts, and questions surrounding them, appeal to my thinking. Our group is discussing the book tonight.

I’ve started two other books: Hamnet and Aesthetic Intelligence. One is a luxurious read of beautiful script and the other is a personal story of a prolific career in branding. I’m cramming as many books into my minutes as I can, before the prescribed reading and writing that comes with the new class that starts in two weeks. Try as I might, my collection of books still far outweighs my consumption. The pile is proliferating like lightning strikes to shiitakes. Don’t get it? Google it.

Long Weekend

The Moth

She said, Has anyone ever told you you like Tina Fey?

Umm. Nope. No one has ever said that to me.

Really? Never?

I laughed. 

No, I’m sure. 

I smile, but my stomach curls into a ball, like a woolly-bear caterpillar prodded with a stick.

Why am I so affronted?

I think to myself, Tina Fey looks like a soccer mom who drives a Volvo station-wagon. The vision of her in “Date Night,” opposite Steve Carrell, is seared in my mind. 

Oh my God. That’s me. 

Minus the kids, but with the housewife hair. 

Jesus wept. How did this happen? Ten years ago, standing under a big white tent watching polo in Florida, wine glasses clinking in our fists, someone told me I looked like Hilary Swank. Another person said the same thing again a couple of years later. 

So this is what happens to Hilary Swank, I consider, gritting my smile, facing the girl at the other end of the zoom meeting. The woolly caterpillar eventually becomes the papery moth the color of muted feldspar. She ends up resembling just another Tina Fey. 

I don’t think I’d have been as insulted if the girl asking me didn’t resemble Beyonce so much, minus a few curves. She still had Beyonce’s caramel skin, cat eyes and full lips. I can’t help but wonder how she’ll react in fifteen years when someone asks her, “Has anyone ever told you you look like Wanda Sykes?”

Ketchup

Russ and I started watching “Doctor Foster.” It’s older. British. I chose it is because the same actress who played Villanelle in “Killing Eve” stars in it. It’s a cheap drama, but it sucked me in anyway. Dr. Foster’s husband is a perennial liar who cheats on his wife with the young Villanelle. Dr. Foster’s suspicions are raised when she finds a long blond hair on her husband’s scarf. 

Russ said, “Don’t get any ideas, go looking for trouble.”

Oh you’d be in so much trouble!” I said. “I’d question you if I found a long blond hair on you!”

“Jenn,” he said. “You can’t find the ketchup bottle trapped in the refrigerator door!”

I couldn’t really argue his point. Sometimes even I am astounded at my own inability to notice the conspicuous. 

Sticky Fingers

Yesterday, cleaning the apartment, I knocked a valuable French ceramic bowl off of the coffee table. Russ calls me the bull in the china shop. It’s impossible not to make a mess while cleaning up my messes. This is why Russ cringes when I walk into the kitchen. Cooking invites a massacre of both the room and the meal. 

Picking the pieces of the bowl off the floor, I tried supergluing them into place. The only pieces I managed to superglue together were my two fingers on the same hand. I’m still picking the stiff edges of clear adhesive like nail polish from my legs in the shower. 

Connoisseurs

Wednesday my last class wrapped. I finished fourteen one-on-one appointments in three days bookended around work hours. I feel like I need to sleep for a week. Luckily, this is a long weekend. 

That said, I love reviewing projects with the smart people who created them. So many bright minds in the world pursuing different tracks. One student had a slide that really made me laugh. I can’t share most (any) of it, but will leave you with one nugget. In regards to the product he is launching he said, “Funny thing, when people have most of their disposable income wiped out – they suddenly develop ‘taste’ and a sense of ‘value.’” A whole tribe of connoisseurs sifted from the ashes. The veracity of this newfangled perspective depends on whether you’ve snatched it by the tail or by the teeth. That depends on which side of the wallet you stand. I’m not going to wonder any further about it until next week. I don’t have time. I’m late for a massage. 

Four Funerals and a Wedding

Four funerals and a wedding. That’s how this wedding season is shaping up so far, and the second half of the year is yet to be mined. Is 2021 the pandemic’s hangover? It feels that way, but no, it’s just my time in life. In my twenties, everyone married in a single heat. We climbed the starting block, staring down the lane, and dove head first into the pool when the whistle blew. Some had kids, some didn’t. The thirties were shards of smashed glass. Couples collected their belongings, parting ways, their edges frayed and a little crispy. Forty brought big changes sometimes coined existential crises. Now, in my late forties, our final rite of passage, death, and the years leading up to it, blanches the diary. 

This past weekend, strangers queued in a circle, beers in hand after the funeral, introducing themselves to one another at a bar in the middle of West Virginia. No one mentioned kids (so it’s not just horse folk), but everyone talked about the challenges of caring for ageing parents. And according to an old neighbor, I have the second round of divorces to look forward to in my fifties. Sitting on a stool in her kitchen sipping wine several years ago, she let out a long sigh as she hung up the phone. Turning around to face me, she said, “All of my friends are getting divorced. After twenty-five years.” I was surprised. “Why?” I asked. Shrugging, she said, “The last kid just graduated from high school, so they’re all splitting up.” 

What should I prepare for at sixty?

The past four weeks have been a blur. I recognised the challenges I enlisted—the writing class, TA’ing the Brand Sprint again—but failed to factor in unforeseen developments like work returning to pre-pandemic levels and a dog who couldn’t be left alone. All of those pieces resembled a Jenga puzzle shaking with more fervor than the Tacoma Bridge. The inability to leave the dog alone proved the most difficult. One Friday, I took him for a long walk (thirty minutes was all his obesity would tolerate), turned the TV on loudly, and fed him treats away from the door, slipping out undetected. I waited in the hallway, listening to him whine before it erupted into full-fledged yelps, his siren a well-rehearsed metronome. I gave it ten minutes more before retreating back indoors. I did this three times. Eventually, I had to get to my office. It was already 3 pm by then, and I had spent most of my day walking a fat, old dog. I deployed the same tactics before leaving, mindful Russ was running late, but would be home shortly. 

The dog was alone for twenty minutes, but he still peed on the mat. (Pissed, but still a gentleman.) This was the third time he flagged his opinion to be sure we had no doubts. My nerves exploded into shrapnel that day, and I felt sincere compassion for parents of toddlers everywhere who did this for years. Likely more than once. Even though toddlers do nap fairly regularly, allowing their parents to leave the room, let alone their sights. For three weeks I was tethered to a dog. Twenty-four, seven.  The last Saturday he lived with us, I woke early to use the bathroom, and the dog followed me, whining outside the door. I just wanted to be alone for five fucking seconds. Pretty soon, Russ yelled my name from the bed. “JENN! …JEEENNN!!!! Get the dog!!! …JENNNN!!”

I sat on the toilet, listening to the roll of the dog’s whine, like an ocean swell crashing the door panel, while Russ barked my name, snippy and clipped, from the bed where he lay cocooned in a swath of blankets. Annoyed, I flushed the toilet and marched back to the bedroom, hot dog breath spraying my heels, and smashed a pillow over Russ’ face. “Can’t I have five minutes to take a fucking shit in peace? You’re such an asshole! What did you think I was doing?”

Luckily, before I drove to West Virginia, the foster dog scored his forever home. I met his godmother in the parking lot of the Safeway in Georgetown where I handed him off to her. She had looked after him while Russ and I were at a wedding and volunteered to transport him to his new home. I continued from there to a friend’s house to participate in a fundraiser. We each bought a ticket to an Iranian cooking class taught by her good friend. The weeks leading up to it were so scattered, I had somehow concocted a vision of the chef cooking while we watched and learned. We would hold cool glasses of sweet wine in one hand, while tasting rich, aromatic samples in the other. 

My first hint I was wrong came earlier in the day. My friend texted asking if I wanted her to pick up ingredients for the both of us. Huh? I swung for the fences. I chirped, “Sure! That would be great! Thank you!That sounded plausible, I thought to myself, and not like I had no idea what was going on. I arrived to discover class would be held over zoom. Strangling my bottle of wine like a chicken’s neck, I surveyed the pile of ingredients sitting counterside and asked for the corkscrew. I signed up for more work? That I paid money to do? Completely jaded I know, but like I said, my nerves were shot.

My friend did most of the heavy lifting, but together we cooked saffron steamed rice, saffroned chicken with barberry braise, and served it with an onion, cucumber and coriander quick pickle. I had never tasted a barberry before. Who am I kidding? I had never heard of them. Barberries resemble rubies the size of two carats. They are small, but their flavour is strong and punchy. I thought they tasted somewhat like scented soap. It was strangely alluring the same way some people find cilantro. I actually left before dinner finished cooking. I was on fumes, and I still had a funeral to go, with a long drive there and back. 

Having a foster dog was a good reminder: If the dog has to be perfect in order to “fit in,” you shouldn’t have one. As much as I would love a dog, now is not the time. It was also a good reminder how expensive it can be to have a pet. One “free” dog cost hours of time in the car, crossing the toll road and the interstate, and roughly $700 in incidentals pertaining to the dog. This was time I didn’t have to give (and didn’t realize would be necessary) and money I didn’t necessarily want to spend in this way. Was it worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably not. 

We helped a dog out. That was the point. But there are some real costs and constraints involved in doing so, ones that can have a huge impact on your life. My nerves were shot, but I still loved the dog. How can you not when the dog adores you so unconditionally? By the end of his stay, he lost enough weight we could see the start of his hips. He walked faster and further with a little spring in his step. And he started licking his ass incessantly. Why? Because he could finally reach it. It must have been a very long time. Russ and I high-fived each other the day before he left. For the first time in three and a half weeks, the dog lifted his leg to pee, steady as a rock, instead of squatting. If that doesn’t signal success, I don’t know what does. 

The Old Bag

(This writing piece is from a prompt to write about an object that has spanned time across your life.)

I found the bag at TJ Maxx. It hung from a rack like a barnyard chicken dangling by its feet. It was a plain bag, unassuming, among the other chic designer bags, painted with palettes as bright and shiny as a wood duck’s head. This bag, the color of a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, was boring in comparison. What made it interesting were the two shoulder straps stitched to its backside. Ahh, a backpack. That makes sense, I thought at the time.

I can’t remember why I bought it. There would have been a reason. Maybe before my honeymoon to St. Lucia? I’m not a leisure shopper. Never have been. I shop like a sniper. I start the process by identifying what item it is that I need. Do I need a dress for a wedding? For a funeral? I knew exactly what store to go to. I’d hop in my car and drive to the shop. Like a hitman, I’d get in and get out, with the target subdued and in the bag. That’s how it went back “in the old days” at least, before Amazon infiltrated living rooms across the globe, as easily and quickly as as respirator pumps nitrous oxide. These days, I’m just a sniper with the clicker.

My aversion to shopping sprouted early in my youth. My earliest memories include being drug through various malls for hours at a time. Shopping was an all afternoon event that left me spent like a sweaty gym sock. I remember crawling underneath circular racks, leaning against the base that held the carousel, like the trunk of a tree holds all its branches in one place. I stared at the ankles walking past in pairs, poised above their shoes, studying the ones stalled in front, listening to the hangers sliding over one at a time, inspecting each item before moving on to the next. 

Eventually a pair of shoes would stop short, almost leaving a skid of tread in the carpet. An arm would cut through the clothes like a knife piercing layers of a cake, flipping them up like bangs, exposing my wiry frame squatted underneath . My mom’s face would appear, her lips a mere crease. Get out from under there, right now. She never yelled. She didn’t have to. Her words didn’t mince, despite hissing them like a ventriloquist, her mouth a steely trap.

As the years rolled past, my dislike of shopping, and malls, only intensified. The mention of an “outing” incited so much dread, it almost crossed into the territory of panic. Even hearing the words, “I just want to make a quick stop at the grocery store on our way home” was enough for me to helicopter into a tailspin. The problem was our different definition of quick and our different styles of shopping. Mom is more aligned with the leisurely side. She savers every possibility before her like a scientist, examining each prospect in earnest. She can stretch out the experience to her satisfaction. 

As a kid, I didn’t have a choice about the shopping. Reaching adolescence, it became the bone I chose to fight over, asserting my independence and opinion on the subject. The requisite “before school” shopping trips became full blown wars. My repudiation only incited more backlash, the result being shopping-induced PTSD. Just ask my husband. If it isn’t one-click shopping (a modern-day SSRI), I’m not doing it.

I may not remember why I purchased the plain brown bag, but I do know when it came to be. Its new existence is recorded in single photograph, the bag starched and crisp placed behind Cracker on the bed, eight-weeks whelped, his head as big as the rest of him.

The bag has outlasted Cracker. It’s still in use today, although I have to admit, I’m self-conscious about the disheveled appearance it casts when slung across my shoulder. After twelve years of daily use, I gifted the bag a facelift, trusting three Amish brothers to do it. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder, like identical paper cutouts behind the counter of their repair shop, which was also the local feed store, somewhere in a field in the middle of Leonardtown, Maryland.

The exterior leather flap, like a hatchback door that buckled into the hardware at the bottom, had slowly unstitched from the top over the years, retracing its steps to the beginning of its journey with the needle. Finally, half of it drooped, like a flag against a flagpole, until only the buckle was left attaching it to the bag. The brothers also replaced the thin leather shoulder straps that had frayed and separated, like dried paint that cracks and bubbles peeling away from soggy old planks.

It returned momentarily revitalised, but entropy is real. The last six years has weathered the bag harder than the first twelve. The flap is long gone now, having succumbed to the scissors to remove its dragging state like slicing off bunched skin that comes from sliding across asphalt on your knees. Once removed, the zipper across the crown was now exposed, the leather on either side of the trestle as delicate as tissue paper. There is nothing left to stitch to. Yet, the bag limps on, unsightly, somewhat grotesque like the hunchback of Notre Dame. 

The bag has inspired a lot of finger pointing and questions over the years. Battered and bruised, it wears its collection of stories like a rosette. That bag has traveled the world. It has endured the transpacific flight to Australia and New Zealand three times, stuffed under the seat in front, and packed with maps printed on copy paper, lists of phone numbers and addresses, three or four power bars (because you never knew), Xanax (because that much I did know—16 hours in one seat?!), and a book.

 It’s been to England and Ireland more times than I can count, stuffed with a raincoat and a Barbour oilskin hat, and in the afternoons,  a bottle of champagne as it trekked around the cross-country course at Burghley. That bag has sat silently on the floorboard at my feet while I zipped down the Autobahn at 100 miles an hour. It made the trek across the border into Canada three times, always spending a week at Bromont, packed with enough currency to buy a few bowls of poutine from the food truck on grounds. 

The bag has driven past the Cotswolds, stopped at Vere and Clea Phillips, and had a cup of tea, or a Hot toddy, with just about everyone in Ireland, because let’s face it, they’re really friendly people. It spent a dozen winters in Aiken, mostly living on the bench seat in the dually, always ready for the next adventure. It made the rounds in the south of Spain, carrying a sweater and a rain coat, sunglasses and boxes of antihistamines to fight off the illness that slapped me off my feet. The bag survived a marriage, and a divorce, and it has lasted long enough to see me come out the other side of it all.

Oh the stories it could tell! Sometimes I wish the bag could talk, reminding me of other adventures, now forgotten. I used to say that about Cracker. I imagined he would sound like the Yoda of dogs. But thinking about it longer, I decided, maybe it’s better that he couldn’t talk after all. 

Scratches and Cracks

My father no longer drives. He likes to remind everyone he could if he wanted, because he still has his license. Two years ago, he had to renew it. I called my parents the morning of his appointment. My voice a plastic smile, singsong, I said, “Sooo, call me later and let me know how your day goes,” casting the net wide, conspicuously inconspicuous. 

The day came and went, as did the next, with no report. No doubt my parental units were unperplexed, marching onward, while I was apoplectic with concern, a field mouse chewing through its leg jammed under the wire jaw of the trap. Finally, I could stand the silence no further. I called my Dad.

 “So how did everything go?”

“Everything is fine.” 

“Soooo….you got your license renewed?”

“Oh yeah.”

Silence. 

Shock.

Relief.

I primed for this conversation a year and a half ago. Home for Christmas, Russ and I accompanied Dad to McDonald’s, only a couple of miles from the house. Late afternoon sunbeams, as bright as bolts of electricity, blinding, broke through the surrounding tree-line as bushy and thick as broccoli, splashing across the road. We drove into a spotlight and Dad slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road. He couldn’t see.

I was instantly reminded of a precarious situation I found myself in at the tender age of twelve. Dad came to a halt while crossing the Horace Wilkinson bridge looming over the Mississippi River. He was having a panic attack. Eighteen wheelers roared behind us, yanking their horns and hissing like perturbed geese, as Mom and Dad hopped out of the panelled van, running around the front of it like a synchronised pas de deux, switching seats. Strewn comfortably across the luggage in the very back and rubbing my eyes open with the sting of commotion, even then I was acutely aware of my unfortunate position, a potential harbinger of calamity.

Russ and I awaited the sound of screeching tires, our ears a tuning fork for imminent disaster.  We sat motionless, mute in our seats, as Dad crept forward, as if deciding which square to land his Bishop on the chessboard. We finally pulled up to the drive-thru lane, and Dad shouted his order to the voice inside the intercom. As Dad looped the corner to the cashier’s window, he held up his coupon and said,” I always tell them I have a coupon, but they never take it, so I use it over and over, hee hee!” Straightening the wheels, his side mirror scraped along the red brick.

“Dad, you just hit the building!” 

He chuckled without pause and said, “Oh, that happens all the time! Not a big deal. No one died. The car’s fine.”

Umm.

This happens all the time?

We left McDonalds, creeping our way home, like a newly-domesticated cat outlining the furniture pushed against the walls inside a house. I noticed Dad had perfected the easiest route coming and going places. It included as many right turns as possible, making the drive not the shortest distance between two points, but the one least engaging with other drivers. Smart, I thought to myself. Still brash, but not reckless.

Dad pulled into the left turn lane at the entrance to the subdivision. As the signal changed from green to yellow, Dad hit the gas pedal, the back of my head hitting the leather rest behind it. I grabbed the handle folded inside the door,  my feet pushing against the floorboard, securing my bottom in the bucket of the seat.  

Inching along again on the straightaway, I said, “Dad, what the hell?!”

“What? I wanted to make the light!”

Silence.

“DAD. You didn’t make the light! You ran a red one!”

“It was yellow.”

“No, it was yellow when you hit the gas. It was red when you were in the middle of the intersection, turning. YOU CAN’T DO THAT!

Holy shit, Dad!! Jesus Christ! You. Cannot. Do. That! It’s totally dangerous!”

It was like a horse leaving a stride out at the coffin on a cross-country course.

That was us.

We left a stride out at the coffin.

Russ, the stoic silent type, didn’t say a word in the back. (I don’t know how.)

“Ahhh, it’s fine. It was yellow,” Dad said.

The next day Dad reminded me to check the taillights because one was cracked. He didn’t want a cop to pull me over while driving his car. Walking around the vehicle in the garage, Russ and I noticed both corners of both bumpers were scratched and both of the taillights had a crack in them. I walked back in the house, deciding to cut the deck in two, shelving half of the conversation for later, the more difficult one about Dad’s newly-adopted rules of driving.

“Dad,” I said. “Both taillights are cracked and the bumper is scratched, too.”

“Yeah, I think someone backed in to me. I don’t know what happened. One day I walked out and they were just like that.

I haven’t hit anything,” he added. 

That you know of, I thought.

One afternoon last summer, Dad called me.

“Funny thing happened today,” he said.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“I hit the curb,” he said.

“These damn curbs! 

You know they cause a lot of accidents…

Because they are so upright! 

There’s no room on the road, the curb is right there. 

They flip cars, you know!”

I listened, chewing on the words like a stale slice of beef jerky. I commiserated, and said I was glad it wasn’t worse than it was, and I was relieved he was okay. Two weeks passed before he brought the incident up again.

“The craziest thing happened,” he said over the phone. “Did I tell you my tire hit the curb?”

“You might have mentioned it, but what happened?”

“One minute I was on the road and the next minute I jumped the curb! 

Oh God. Here it comes. The truth. I braced for it.

Have you seen our curbs?”

“Yep, I’ve seen them.”

“They’re so upright!”

“They are!”

“It’s so dangerous!”

“They are for sure.”

“Cars flip all the time on that main road! Did you know that?!”

“Yep. I did know that.”

“They’re so bad! Dangerous!”

“You’re right. They are dangerous.”

“So upright!”

“You’re right. They are.

That must have been so scary.”

“It was scary! I don’t know what happened. I creeped over a little, and boom, my wheels jumped the curb, before I knew what happened!”

“Oh my God! Then what did you do?”

“Well, I righted it back on the road.”

“I’m glad you didn’t overcorrect. That would be easy to do in the situation.”

“No, I didn’t do that. I got back on the road.”

“Is the car okay?”

“Oh yeah. 

Your mother says I scratched the side of it, but I don’t know what she’s talking about. 

I don’t see anything there. 

I think your mother is making it up.”

Last week, my phone vibrated when Mom sent me a text. It included a photo. 

*“Did you have an accident?,” she asked.

Huh?

“No, I didn’t have an accident.”

“Well I just received a notification saying Dad’s car had an accident.”

Fifteen hundred miles away, and I still can’t get away with anything. 

This past March, I drove Dad’s car back to DC. His days behind the wheel came to an end. (“I still could if I wanted to! I’ve got a legal driver’s license!”) The passenger side of his car is scratched and creased like the waist of an aluminium soda can pinched between the thumb and forefinger. 

“They’re adding points to Dad’s license,” Mom said. “You’ve got to get the title changed into your name and update the insurance on the car.” 

This was the third phone call with Mom, after the third notification my parents received in their mail. Since taking possession of the car, I’ve gotten a speeding ticket (by speed camera), dashed through tolls unpaid (forgetting I didn’t have the pass in that car), and cracked the windshield so badly it needed immediate replacement. Who did they notify each time? The address on record for the grey 2013 Toyota Highlander:

My parents.

It isn’t as if I haven’t tried to register the car here, but the DMV is open by appointment only, and all of the appointment slots are already taken. It’s been this way since…March. The inefficiency of this particular government service is…stillastounding.

“Well, I’m not sure points matter, at this point,” I said, knowing full well that, ironically, that wasn’t the point, but merely a diversion, a thin consolation. 

“Ahh, well. Could be a lot worse, Mom.”

It was all I could think of to say.

Post script:

This morning, I learned of a friend’s death. She died on Thursday, while I was celebrating the birthday of another dear friend. We weren’t close, but went to college together, and we lost track after graduation, “we” being “me,” like I did with most everyone, too busy spending all of my time looking between a horse’s ears. Cancer took her away from this world in seven months.

What do I remember about her? She was so beautiful, she was stunning, but never knew it. Her heart was so open, so generous and loving and kind, I marvelled even then how she moved through the world so effortlessly, without being reduced to a pile of rubble with all of the pain and hardship that surrounds us. But she did. While someone is celebrating their best day, elsewhere it is someone’s worst, come to fruition. The world lost a good one last week.

SHADOWS

She ran to the bathroom, banding her hair into a short tail, using the mirror to pin the loose ends into place. Damn it. It’s three minutes until noon. Grabbing the pink toothbrush from the cup, she scrubbed the knotty film of cotton batting wrapped around her teeth, spitting into the sink. 

Fuck fuck fuck. Why am I’m so fucking hungry all of a sudden? she thought. Did I even eat today? She swiped a jar of peanut butter from the cupboard, on her way through the kitchen, plucking a small silver spoon from the drawer, tarnished and streaked from the dishwasher. Her mom was not happy about that. I ain’t got time for that shit, hand washing silver! she told her. And I’m not saving ‘the good stuff’ for a rainy day. I could be dead by then! 

Jules believed in the now. She believed in eating off the china and using the silver her mother insisted she have, ‘Just in case,’ she said as she unpacked it in Jules’ apartment cupboards. If Jules owned any diamonds (she didn’t), she’d wear them everyday too for no reason. She made it past forty and wasn’t dead. In her mind, that was reason enough. 

Sitting down at her laptop, jamming the spoon into the peanut butter, and shoving it in her mouth, she saw it was two minutes past noon. Late, but I’m close. Jesus, I still have my pajamas on. God, she thinks to herself, This must be how single parents feel. Completely strung out, as frayed as a peel of  dried bark, severed by a lightening bolt. Like every goddamn day. And for years at a time. Decades even! 

Oh, don’t worry, her mom said. You’ll never have kids. You’re not even married at this point, and you’re already…30…so…Well, I mean, she said laughing, stroking Jules hair with affection, or condescension, Jules was never sure, You can barely take care of yourself after all! 

She had resented the rebuff then, but lately had wondered. Maybe her mom was right all along. In her defense, Jules thought, their lives had been very different. How could either of them really know what it was like for the other person? The fact was, her mom grew up like a prized Persian cat in an upper class British family, and Jules’ own childhood in Woodstock, Vermont was more like the actual event in New York State long before she was even born. She grew up roaming the neighbourhood like an untethered dog, free to go where she wished, and she did. 

She was sure her mother regretted buying the pink bike with the tassels on the handlebars, Jules ‘freedom ride,’ but then again, Jules’ mom resented her father for dragging her to that God-forsaken countryside up the north in the first place, where etiquette was not recognised, let alone prized. Her string of pearls worn every day was all for nothing. As a teenager, whenever Jules felt particularly prickly towards her mother, she’d spit, “How are we even related? Did you take pity on the poor, unwed mother, your age, who followed you around, cleaning up after you in your own house? Was that it?”

Her mother would shake her head and cluck at these accusations, wondering how indeed did this anomaly spring from her loins? This unkept, wild child of hers, unmoored like a sailboat thrashing on the high seas. She kept trying to tame her daughter’s edges, but this was exactly how Jules liked it. Reckless, her mother thought. 

Swallowing a spoonful of peanut butter, Jules counted. Day five. The foster dog had lived with her for only five days. Now her own badinga had a fat shadow that following it around. Popper was black, swirled with patches of merle, short pointy ears on a squarish head. His neck was so cresty he resembled a foundered Shetland pony, green at the gills from hoovering his own weight in spring grass. His torso, wide like a fishing boat, looked as if he had swallowed a baby buffalo whole in a single bite, bulging like a squirrel’s cheek hiding a nut for a cold winter’s day. It was as if the buffalo’s thick coat oozed out of his every pore, big tufts of curly hair busting through his own puffer of down.

Finding  black and grey pinwheels all over the floor reminded Jules of of her last boyfriend’s beard, always shedding. Jules cracked herself up, calling them his “facial pubes,” as she held the  the scraggly strands by their tips, waving them in his face, accusingly. Isn’t this just perfect, thought Jules. I get rid of the boyfriend, only to have the canine version of him land on my doorstep. Oh, the irony of it all! She shook her head at the thought.

Popper had whined non-stop since arriving. He whined whether she moved around her apartment or was planted on the couch reading a book. He whined whether he was sitting himself, or lying flat, or walking around the neighbourhood block. Jules surmised, he even whined in his sleep, if it qualified as that. She just knew her own consumption of alcohol and edibles had tripled since Popper moved in. 

Aptly named, she thought. That’s all I’ve done since ‘Popper’ arrived is ‘pop’ edibles, swishing them down with cheap gin.

She couldn’t help but imagine prisoners of war tortured like this, their minds smashed into a million pieces, the dog’s whine a hammer, electric with anxiety and confusion, clacking its nails on the floor at their heels, without pause. 

Holy fuck. I’m exhausted, she conceded. Now I’m plugged up, too, she thought, getting pissed with herself. The fucking dog has plugged me up like a turd jammed in the P-Trap where the big intestine squeezes the hand of its mini-me. I can’t write here…I can’t write there…I got to be here…then I got to be there…but then I’ve got to get back again. Like pronto. Or there is. literally. piss. to. pay.

She heard her mother’s voice in her ear, wagging her finger. You have to think before you act, Jules! Being impulsive will get you in trouble, maybe A LOT of trouble one day. THINK! You’ve got to think, Jules! You can’t just do what you, when you want! But Jules, born headstrong and stubborn like a mule, had done almost exactly that. Rules, she thought, were imaginary lines, like pasture fences, that invited crossing. Mostly she got away with it, unscathed. Every now and then, she didn’t. 

It could be worse, Jules thought,her mind wandering,nodding on queue, Pavlovian, at the appropriate times in the zoom meeting. God, why do I say that? Why is this even a thing? Who coined this bullshit platitude? It’s about as useful as applying buttercream frosting to a stab wound. 

‘It could be worse.’

Yeah, she thought. It could. Once, it had been worse than this whining dog underfoot. Jules had a terrier with such bad separation anxiety, he chewed a chunk out of the steering wheel, and severed a couple of seat belts while he was at it.

In her parent’s car. 

While they were at church.

That time, her parents words lapped over one another, slashing across the phone line, hurling threats with spitballs of criticism about all of her life choices up until then. That’s how these things went. One isolated setback became proof of everything, of her, like examining a bug under a magnifying glass, ultimately setting fire to it. Her mother like to say, ‘One time is a mistake. More than once is a habit.’ Over time she edited it to add, ‘And habits are what lifetimes are made of.

And that fucking crazy dog. What a nutter. The fact was, Jules knew that dog was just like her, hopping fences and crossing lines. He had to be free. Jules snuck another spoonful of peanut butter out of the camera’s view. Leaning under her desk, she patted Popper, her shadow, on the top of his head.  

ALMOST FAMOUS

Bloody Eggs 

Russ asked me to assemble Beet Eggs to serve at a party this weekend. I was surprised. My skills in the kitchen, compared to his, are still in diapers. In the last six years, I’ve received only one prior request from Russ: carrot cake for his birthday. After three hours, my knuckles were shredded, along with the carrots pressed against the bullet holes of the boxed grater. Slapping the layers with a mountain of sugary frosting, I slung it across the table and swore, “I love you, but never fucking again.” Russ smiled, speared it with his fork, and swallowed a chunk the size of the Andes.

I think he enjoyed my toil as much as he did the sweetness of the cake.

Eggs are a staple in my diet. They’re packed with protein, cheap, and are difficult to destroy beyond edibility when preparing them. They can be served a myriad of ways, and are a key ingredient in most baked goods, the glue holding all that sweet goodness together. I’ve learned consummating the meaty yoke with a stick of butter produces an alchemic event equivalent to spinning gold. Hollandaise is the rich extension of chicken roe that pairs well with most dishes like an upstanding vintage. 

I’m positive Russ considered all of this before initiating his request. What could possibly go wrong? What he didn’t factor into the equation was the peeling process. I can count on two fingers how many times I’ve peeled hardboiled eggs smooth and unblemished, skin like veneer-bronzed supermodels. I had acknowledged this potential pitfall, but reconciled my misgivings with the page of foolproof directions Russ had left for me to follow.

How. Could. I. Possibly. Fuck. It. Up?

I can only surmise I must peel eggs with the same brawn as John Ceda. No doubt when he shucks corn, some kernels are yanked unceremoniously from the cob along with the husk, leaving the fleshy pestle with a gap-toothed smile. Two out of the eighteen eggs I peeled are as smooth as a baby’s bottom. The rest of the litter is pockmarked like the faces of pimply teenagers. Covered in beet juice, I’ve coined them “Freddy Krueger Eggs.” Russ laughed when I recounted the horror flick that happened in the kitchen. He said,“Well, I guess we’ll just pick up some crackers and cheese to take to the party instead.”

“Ohhh, bullshit to that!” I screamed into the phone. “Do you know how much work these were? I worked really hard! And what the fuck were you thinking, asking me to make something I’ve never made before? To serve at a party? To other people!”

Russ sighed knowing this train had to run out of rails before any sense could be extracted from the wreckage. 

“Fuck that,” I said. “We. Are. Serving. Them. They’re ugly, but I’m sure they’re delicious. Besides, it’ll be a good story for the new couple. They can always laugh and say, ‘Remember that time? At our engagement party? When Jenn and Russ brought those beet eggs?? Oh my God, who can’t peel a fucking egg? Well, they were delicious, even if they did resemble Freddie Krueger’s face.’”

Russ thought that was funny until I told him I was taping his recipe to the jar for everyone to see. The end of it reads, “The eggs need to stay refrigerated. No one wants food poisoning at an engagement party, and a house smelling like poop would not go over well for the soon-to-be in-laws. But it would be kinda funny.” 

Now that is NOT the story I want the future bride and groom to remember about their party. 

Synergy

This is my birthday (week). It’s still a few days away, but the champagne has already flowed, and I received the best gift ahead of schedule. Gushing (not from the champagne), I called my boss.

This is the BEST present ever!” I said. “I’m saving it, and I’m going to show it to E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E!”

My boss chuckled his hearty, wonderful laugh, like a comforting bowl of Irish stew on a December day. His laugh, infectious, has a way of wrapping shoulders in a warm embrace, like a blanket pulled straight from the dryer. 

My boss is the CEO of Ullico Inc. Our organization is comprised of 240-plus people, providing financial services to labor unions and their members. Ed arrived at Ullico thirteen years ago, in the shit storm of the Great Recession. The company was bleeding out for a variety of reasons, both internally and externally, and onlookers were doubtful to its survival. But like a phoenix that rises, so too did Ullico soar from the ashes. But reality isn’t a story sucked from lore, glorifying the gods and goddesses central to their myths. Comebacks are legends built on the backbones of blood, sweat, and tears, with the acute vision of strong leadership, a stalwart at the helm. For Ullico, that person was Ed.

Discussing leadership within Section5, a friend proposed there are two levels of leadership: basic and advanced. Basic leadership is when a leader brings together a group of people to start something they couldn’t have begun themselves, individually or collectively. Advanced leadership is when a leader has the skills to turn-around an organisation that has lost its way and is spiralling into destruction.

In his words, “Both types require a decent amount of EQ, but the second type requires much more humility and the ability to listen.” Another person added advanced leadership also includes the foresight to develop other leaders, as well as devise a succession plan for the organisation to ensure its continued success. 

My peers, astute, peeled the rind from the fruit with proficiency, spotlighting the juiciest part all great leaders encompass. This blogpost might prostrate eyes as toady, but how often does a subordinate take the time to boast about their superior? In public? And mean it? I work closely with Ed everyday, enough to see all of his sides.

My job as assistant isn’t sexy. In Scott Galloway’s words, “My mom lived and died a secretary.” Pretty sure that’s not a brag. But Scott’s words ring true. I have felt the sting of derision cast my way at the mere mention, as if my intellect is surely stunted, as if I am “that girl” who exited the bathroom, sloppy drunk, returning to the table at the Inn [of Little Washington], while trailing a half dozen squares of toilet paper under her heel. (This hasn’t happened…yet.). Setting that aside, it’s worth mentioning even piles of shit have peaks, and my parachute floated to the tip of the top. Colloquially, I landed the best of the worst.

My boss is an exceptional leader and an exceptional person. He likes, and truly cares about, all people. Every single one of them. He has an uncanny ability to view situations from the other person’s perspective, as easily as he must rise from sleep every morning. He cares, so much so, he personally pens a note to every employee, in their annual birthday card. 

He writes 240-plus birthday cards a year. 

Without fail. 

There was that one time, when a month’s worth of cards disappeared in the mail-service vortex, during the height of the pandemic. Ed called each person on their birthdate instead. 

This year, my birthday note from Ed said:

Jenn,

Thank you for always taking good care of me! AND introducing me to your buddy—Scott Galloway. I really enjoy him. Jenn, You’re the best!!

Ed

Okay, for those sitting in the last row of the bleachers, let me say it one more time, LOUDER, so you don’t miss a single word:

JENN,

THANK YOU FOR ALWAYS TAKING GOOD CARE OF ME! AND INTRODUCING ME TO YOUR BUDDY—SCOTT GALLOWAY. I REALLY ENJOY HIM. JENN, YOU’RE THE BEST!!

ED

I am almost famous. Seriously, this counts. It’s likely the closest I will ever come to smooching fame, or meeting Scott, so I am grabbing this one by the tail and swinging it. I did this. I introduced one great mind to another, igniting synergy like a matchstick. This journey has come full circle. I already live and breathe Scott’s words through Section4, Pivot, The Prof G Show, and the erudite discussions with my peers in Section5. Now my boss, and my mother, both quote Scott to me as well. 

This weekend, besides serving bloody eggs, Russ and I are gifting the newly-engaged couple with a pair of crystal champagne coupes. Trying to keep step with fashionable trends, coupes (versus flutes) are vintage resurfaced as stylish chic. Versatile, they can also switch hit for martinis, when bubbles won’t do.

We thought it was important to share a meaningful gift. Russ and I are sure to celebrate success, any win really, major or inconsequential, with champagne uncorked. Life is hard. It pitches a lot of curveballs, unexpected, sometimes only dashed with a divot to the forehead. Being sure to celebrate with arms intertwined, bubbles cradled between fingertips, is a habit worth mastering for any marriage, especially a new one.

Russ and I know, as do others who’ve lived long enough to withstand the gamut, not every day sparkles with champagne. Some days are relinquished to bloody eggs served in a pickle jar. But every now and then, a day emerges unlike any other, a welcoming apparition, posted with special delivery. This year, it surfaced only days before my birthdate, my best gift to mark the day.

It’s good to be almost famous.