Eighty Percent of Nothing is Nothing

I mailed a box of shoes, boots mostly, to Linda’s Stuff. My sister recommended the service platform for rehoming any neglected articles in my closet for a return. Linda’s business is to sort it, market it, and sell it, sending the owner up to eighty-percent of the proceeds. They make it easy from the very beginning, providing a free shipping label to mail your box.

I am somewhat consistent culling my wardrobe, but my shoes fall outside of that purview. Rarely do I ever part with them. My reluctance was further fortified recently by the search for my Birks. Did I really part with those well-worn failsafes from college, after carting them around for the last twenty-five years untouched? It appears so. One hot second of miscalculation has left me jonesing for those gasping keepsakes once embedded in the corner of my closet, like crusts of toasted wheat pared from tea sandwiches, grown stale with decades in the dark. 

Despite the blunder, I press on. I have a lot of boots. Too many boots. It’s like looking at a handful of ponies in an otherwise useful string, that never grace the field, every time I walk past them. They had to go. I groomed them, polished their edges, and packed them carefully, bidding farewell. Seven pairs in all. 

Ten days later, I received an email listing my inventory with a sale price attached to each item. The numbers were almost eighty-percent lower than what I had configured in my head, which was already fifty-percent lower than the cost to purchase them new. (High inflation is apparently limited to used cars…not shoes). The coup de grace was the two pairs listed “Unsellable-Low Resale.

Note to self: Eighty-percent of nothing is nothing.

The reminder was a colossal swallow of feathery sediment, floating in the murk of cider vinegar.

Five years earlier, when I moved to DC, I stumbled upon a resale shop not too far away.  The sight of it sparked a pruning spree, which resulted in a heap far too heavy to deliver on foot. I ordered an Uber. After rolling out of the car and into the store, arms bent like a towel rack, the layers overflowing, I waited as the clerk sifted through the pile. She removed each item from under its plastic sheath, peeling it slowly from the hanger, before holding it up like a young woman gazing uncertainly at someone else’s toddler, placing each one on the counter wordlessly, one after the other. When she finished, she mewed like a kitten, her voice soft and smooth. 

She said, “Thank you, but we can’t use any of this.”

For am moment I didn’t respond. I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly.

“I’m sorry…What?”

Well,” she said, “This all looks like work attire…Things you’d wear in an office.”

I did a quick mental inventory. Yes, there was some Brooks Brothers, and Ann Taylor, but there was also Joe’s jeans and cashmere sweaters. 

What I wanted to say was, “And??

What I did say was, “Really? … This is all work attire?” 

The surprise on my face quickly deflated into a flat crease. I surmised she must be twelve masquerading as twenty-five, a cheap salve for my smoldering ego. 

She shrugged her shoulders. 

Yeah, I’m afraid it doesn’t really go … Thanks anyway.”

The clerk moved from behind the counter, taking her exit, leaving me in the middle of the mangled wreckage spilled across the counter, strewn at my feet, and hanging from clothes racks like nooses patiently waiting for necks, amidst the gaggle of shoppers wandering at my back. Adding injury to insult was the unaccounted-for Uber back home, still laden like a modern urban sherpa.

I called my sister.

“Can you believe this shit?,” I screamed into the phone. “They wouldn’t accept anything! None of my stuff is C-O-O-L enough! It’s for the ‘office,’ like that’s a bad word! What the fuck do these people do? I live in Washington DC for fuck’s sake!” 

She laughed, though I doubt she was surprised. My sister has always been cool. I have not. 

The next day, I loaded the pile once more, straight into the car. Off to Goodwill I went. Here I am now, a handful of years later, and my “style” still isn’t cool, hold much value, sometimes even crossing into the realm of unacceptable. This truth is like ripping the scab off an old wound I didn’t even know I possessed. I thought I was average in most ways, but these experiences have illuminated the fact my fashion sense lies closer to my teenage niece’s most utilized buzzword, “irrelevant.”

I am already pooling items into another pile. Thinning the herd living in the big field once again. This time, I will load it straightaway into the car when there is enough to make the trip worthwhile. My ego is breathing a sigh of relief.

Denial is a useful strategy.

A Thimbleful

It all started with a fire drill. Not a real drill, for an actual fire, but a practice run. This happened once or twice a year in my office building—I can’t remember how often exactly—not since COVID and WFH (which I joked at the time was the acronym for What Fucking Happened?” but it is still applicable today). Everyone in the building knew how the day would go. First the piercing siren on every floor, then the blinding flicker of the LED bulb, like the hands of jumper cables clamped to a car battery at one end and frantically clapping with the other. It was a cattle call down the stairwell after that, the click-clack of heels, shoulder to shoulder, the slow exodus not unlike squeezing a hardened tube of dried toothpaste onto your brush. We slowly circled the drain.

There was plenty of time to imagine how this scene might go if it were truly an emergency. I envisioned a corporate mosh pit not unlike a Smashing Pumpkins concert; suits pushing past dresses; purses slapping passersby like welterweight gloves; the older, more feeble trampled or wedged into corners like the forgotten rinds of Swiss still lurking in the cheese drawer. Darwinism would surely rise to the surface in this situation, emerging victorious, just like turds in a toilet bowl full of water.

After fifteen minutes, we finally reached the lobby and exited the building. (See above: Practice). There was already a crowd gathered across the street in the park, standing like a waddle of penguins, hands in their pockets or folded across their chests (depending if they had pockets or not), shifting from one foot to the other, making small talk and nodding at each other conspiratorially.

Seeing them, my coworker said, “Hey, there’s this great coffee shop a couple blocks away. Want to walk down there and grab a latte? They make the best one with oat milk. It’s so creamy, I love it!”

This sounded a lot better than standing around with nothing to do but small talk with strangers.  I was all in. Normally I only purchase a cup of coffee at a shop, but she sold this Oat Milk Latte pretty good, so I splurged. We sipped and walked our steaming cups back to the corner across from the park. And it was a delicious latte. 

Eventually the crowd started to wander back towards the glass doors, queuing up in front like a  blanket of bees spread across a honeycomb. My coworker and I stood there a bit longer watching. We rationalised we could wait in the lobby to grab an empty elevator back up, or we could wait in the sun on a perfect spring day. When we finally reached our suite my coworker said, “Well if you liked this, you might like the oat milk creamer I found at Whole Foods. It’s really good!” This enticed me. It sounded like a nice treat, an inexpensive one, and one I would allow since I rarely purchased coffee from a shop, choosing to brew my java at home instead.  

That weekend, I tucked an insulated bag inside my backpack, and walked the mile to Whole Foods. I had visited this location in the past, back when I did yoga at the studio next door, before the classes became so packed it began to feel like a giant petri dish, my face dodging the sweaty feet waving in front of me, as I wobbled on one leg in Warrior Three. So I knew this Whole Foods well enough to know exactly where the dairy—and the tiramisu—sections were located. They were both strategically placed. The dairy was stacked against the back wall, and the tiramisu sat in formation on cold shelves, next to the checkout line at the front of the store. It was impossible to exit without sauntering past all those ladyfingers soaking in their glorious bath of coffee, cocoa and mascarpone. (You should be having serious FOMO right now if you’ve never tasted WF’s tiramisu).

This visit, I headed straight to the back, and found the oat creamer tucked among the sea of other non-dairy creamers lining the refrigerated racks. It was the size of a small milk carton, and it cost five dollars. Hmm, I thought. I can buy a gallon of milk for less than that. Now I was the penguin, shifting from one foot to the other, holding the small container in my hand, deciding what I should do. Should I buy it? It’ll only last a week. Back and forth I went in my mind.

It’s only five dollars. 

Yeah…it’s five dollars!

I walked out without it (and the tiramisu!). I couldn’t pay that much for what was basically a condiment, and one that would only last a week. I headed to South Block next door. Instead of heading home with oat creamer stuffed in my backpack, I picked up a bottle of watermelon juice, what SB calls Hydrate, for nine dollars, and drank it on my walk back home. (I know, my spending rules are complicated, my math somewhat convoluted, thanks to middle age, which is an apt euphemism for what happens in the middle of the middle).

That next Monday, I stopped by my coworker’s desk. I said, “I found the creamer, but it was five dollars for this little container,” demonstrating how small it was my hands for dramatic effect. Grimacing, sucking air though my teeth, I admitted,“I just couldn’t do it…”

She looked into my eyes for a second before responding. I wondered what she was thinking. Was she was thinking about me? The kind of person I was? The kind that won’t spend five dollars at the grocery store for a carton of creamer?

She said, “Well, if you just use a little thimbleful, it should last you a while.”

Hearing this, my face screwed into a question mark. Now I was the one considering what kind of person she was. How does she even know what a thimble is? She was only in her early twenties.The last time, and only time, I thought of a thimble was playing monopoly as a kid, long before she was born. It was one of a few of the game-pieces I avoided at all costs. It was…totally…not…cool. I always dove into the box headed straight for the dog or the race car. Besides, who uses a “thimbleful” of creamer in their coffee? Who uses a  thimble to measure… anything? Is that even a thing? Have you ever heard someone say, “I’d like a thimble of cream, please?” Or, “Can I get a thimble of Woodford Reserve, please? Neat.” 

As if there was any question to how it would or could be served. 

What was the point? Might as well go without. I mulled her words over before replying. 

Well,” I said, “I’m more of a shot-sized girl…even in my coffee.” 

She shrugged her shoulders, before looking back down at the papers on her desk, the conversation now over.

I walked away with fresh eyes for my coworker.

I thought to myself, “Only a psychopath would think a thimble of creamer will do.”

Get to the Hot Tub!

The Plastic Banana

There is a person a couple floors down in the building next door squatting. Not sure they have any clothes on.

I could hardly see them in the dark space. It was only when they shifted I realised I was seeing skin sitting cross-legged behind the jumble of clear plastic covering pieces of furniture and random stuff. The apartment resembled a set on an episode of Crime Scene Investigation

Are you looking out your window?

Sitting at the desk. Writing on laptop. Oh wait. There are two of them. They have clothes on. 

It was a Sunday morning in New York City. I was texting with my sister in the hotel room next door. We were both waiting for the coffee to finish brewing. 

There is a person above them. 

I see her too, Susie text back. 

Ha! We were both looking out our window at the same thing. The lights had popped on in the apartment above the crime scene. Was the woman in a white nightgown getting ready to walk her dog? Nope! There wasn’t a little dog attached to the end of a leash pulling her to the door; That’s a mop! The leash was a handle instead, and she pushed it back and forth in front of her while walking backwards, from the front door all the way to the kitchen. Then the tv blinked bright on a wall. She plopped down on the couch out of view to watch the news. Who mops first thing on a Sunday morning?, I wondered. 

Coffee is ready, I texted to my sister.

I sipped mine from the clear plastic of a Solo cup. This is what they brought to our room after I stopped at the front desk the previous night to ask for coffee cups. 

There’s no coffee in your room? he asked.

There’s coffee, just no cups. 

He looked at me quizzically, but said, Sure thing. We’ll send some right up.

It was clear whoever had last checked out of the room had swiped the paper cups, sans lids, before vacating the room. A few minutes later, knuckles rapped our door. A young guy stood there with a short stack of Solo cups in his hands.

Uhh, sorry. This is all we have, he said handing them to me. 

Seriously? What hotel doesn’t have a single coffee cup to its name?

I wanted to say this, but didn’t. I wasn’t going to sweat ‘the small stuff’ on vacation, but realized even then this could be a problem come morning. Solo cups do not sweat it either; they melt. 

A couple of days before departing for New York, I called the hotel to inquire about the coffee in the rooms. 

Oh yes, there is coffee in the rooms!

Ok, that’s great. What kind?

What do you mean?

Is it k-cups?

Silence.

Is the coffee in pods?

Oh yes, you just call and we will bring more to your room!

Ok, thank you!

I crossed ‘coffee maker’ off my list as I loaded it into the car. There was nothing worse than starting any day, especially on vacation, with shitty coffee. Now I was sipping good coffee I had brought with me, in a disposable cup shaped like a banana, one side shrunk like a thick torso leaning over, the rolls of fat stacked against one other. The mangled cup was a cheap metaphor for a televised pitch of erectile dysfunction. All while watching two shadows languish in a crime-scene lair covered in a sheet of plastic, as the girl above mops her apartment and watches tv, wondering who these people are and what they do here in New York City.

(Am I writing at the desk, or just watching out the window?

Get to the Hot Tub

Just get to the hot tub … 

Right from the start. 

A student blurted this edict as a beacon for writers to strive towards when tumbling through the cosmos of story. Minutiae is the invasive weed Kudzu entangling writers’ minds for centuries everywhere. Later, cackling, we revised it to “Get to the hot tub, and take off your pants!” We were discussing another writer’s piece. She wrote a colourful backdrop about a recent trip to Wyoming to visit friends, before getting to the nuts and bolts of her story.

The truck broke down nine miles from the house one night when they were checking cows. They hoofed it back in the dark, encountering a creek several feet deep along the way. It was either remove their pants, or continue with wet bluejeans clinging to their skin, like plastic wrappers glued to a melted bar of chocolate. They stripped down. My mother’s words rang in my head: Always wear fresh drawers, because you just never know, she had said repeatedly growing up. This was in reference to the possibility of an unforeseen ambulance ride on any given day, made more likely by my chosen sport and subsequent career. Anyway, we suggested scrapping the soliloquy at the beginning, and to go straight to the action. 

I am so grateful for my writing class. This was the second session of the summer. Same class, same teacher, same students as the previous session. I know each person well enough now, when I read their stories the night before class, the words sound off in their own voices. It’s absolutely phenomenal. So far, there is only one drawback to class: all the book recommendations. My petty cash is negatively correlating to my expanding book stash. The slide downward is further greased by the fact Amazon sells used books from third-party vendors. That’s more book for the buck. (My struggle between paying artists what they are due and subscribing to sustainability [by recycling books] is real. It’s a two-headed snake.)

I can’t blame class alone. I started listening to a new podcast: the Ezra Klein Show, after Kara Swisher hosted an episode of his on her own podcast Sway, while she was on break. He ends each interview by asking the guest for three book recommendations. My latest purchases are: Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick; Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang; Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith; and Middlemarch by George Eliot. Right now, I’m reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; The Penguin Book of the Modern Short Story; and E.B. White’s On Dogs

Last night was my last writing class for this session. It was bittersweet. Will everyone sign up for another class with the same teacher this fall? Will we be able to replicate this same experience and keep it running for a while? I sure hope so. The teacher is supposed to keep in touch, check in with us to see where everyone is at the beginning of September. She can count me in, even though I’ve already registered for other classes this fall. I’ll make it happen, because finding a group that meshes organically is difficult and rare, all of us trying to get to that hot tub, hopefully wearing clean drawers…at least some of the time.

Frankie Valli was a Poodle

How did the subject of dogs even come up? I can’t remember. One minute we were talking about pancreatic cancer (she was diagnosed with it before being cleared after multiple tests), and the next minute she was swiping the screen of her phone looking for a photo.

There he is! That’s my baby!

Aww, he’s darling! What’s his name?

Cookie!

I laughed. The image of my own hard little biscuit sprinkled with sugar crystals popped into my head. 

Cracker. 

Robin handed me her phone. Cookie was on the couch, almost upright, his front paws resting on the armrest, looking back at the camera. He was a Toy Poodle, cotton ball white, a little powder puff of a dog. He looked annoyed, the way I used to as kid, whenever Dad pulled the Kodak out of his coat pocket at the dinner table in the middle of a restaurant. Smile! He would chirp before we all heard the click of the shutter. Inevitably, the fork in every hand would be mid-arc headed north, laden with a mound of sticky carbohydrates in varying hues of gold. There are stacks of family albums in a closet, somewhere in Texas, chock full of decades-worth of awkward photos revolving around cutlery.

How old is Cookie? I asked.

He’s ten.

Five years younger than Cracker was, I thought to myself. In his absence, Cracker had become the measuring stick all other dogs were observed by; a paragon in perpetuity. Like dog owners everywhere, Robin had a lot of photos of Cookie on her iPhone, flipping through them incessantly.

Let me show you a better photo, she said taking her phone from my hands. When he got haircut. 

Robin is Korean. She speaks English with proficiency, but our conversations sometimes resemble run-on clauses of clipped phrases with no end, until we understand each other. She stopped scrolling, thrusting the phone back in my face.

Look here. Isn’t he cute?? He look like teddy bear! 

She took the phone back as if the distance from my hands to hers was just too great. Robin stared at the image of Cookie with a smile on her face, her finger petting the glass like she could feel his soft coat beneath it. 

Have you had Cookie the whole time?

She looked at me quizzically.

For ten years? I asked.

No, no, no. I rescue him. 2019. Before the pandemic.

You did? Why?

My friend. She said he have no home. He go to shelter, and no more. He sleep forever. 

She snapped her head back and forth, flustered.

No, no, no! I could not let that happen! Cookie come home with me.

I laughed. 

Have you always had dogs?

Nooo! Neverrrr! First dog!

This surprised me. I presumed Robin was around my age. It seemed unusual to dive into pet ownership at this stage of the game.

Really? First dog?

Oh yesss! First dog.

Look here, she said, handing me her phone again. Just got haircut. Looks like teddy bear. Sooo cute!

Cookie was perfectly white, covered in a smooth, short afro. He looked like a puffy cloud in the sky with no edges.

He is so darling! How do you like having a dog?

Ohh, he’s my baby! I take him everywhere!

What a lucky dog!

Ohh yesss. I bought him backpack, she said, trying to describe it with her hands, but I already knew what it looked like. One made specifically for dogs with mesh panels to keep them cool. Cracker had to make do with my generic pack the color of limes from LL Bean.  

He fit inside and go everywhere!

I laughed again. I recognised that smitten smile and the sparkle in her eyes.

But not at beginning, Robin said. 

What do you mean? What happened?

Cookie pee everywhere. Shaking her head she said, I told him, ‘No cuddling!’

Oh yeah? How long did that last?

Two days! she said snickering. 

I laughed. Another dog breaking the rules, and an owner who loves him despite it all, I thought secretly.

I try to give him haircut when he came, but terrible!

This made me laugh, since Robin was cutting my hair, a consummate professional who had made a good career out of it.

What do you mean? Why was it terrible?

I cut over here, then I look. Uneven. So I cut a little more. Back and forth, back and forth. I cut, I cut. Then Cookie have no hair! Terrible! I say, ‘Next time, groomer.’

I laughed picturing Robin on the ground with scissors, hacking away at Cookie’s fluff. I had done the same thing to ‘Pierre the Pandemic Poodle’ last year. He arrived with the quintessential poodle-do, but the cuffs left poofy around his ankles inevitably twisted into tightly-knit dreadlocks here and there, a lodged shred of leaf or a thistle of burr quickly spinning a cocoon around itself. Stupid cuffs!, I had thought at the time. Who ever thought this was a good idea?, I grumbled as I hacked away at them with scissors.

I wait for hair to grow. Then I take to groomer and he say, ‘What kind of haircut you want?’ I say I don’t know. He ask, ‘Do you want poodle cut?’ I say, Okay. Poodle cut. 

I didn’t know there was poodle cut!, Robin said to me, gasping.

Oh yesss. There definitely is!

She’s flipped through her phone again.

I pick him up—Robin shrieks at this point—Aaaa!, I say, Cookie look terrible! I say, No! No! No! What happen?!

She hands me her phone. There is Cookie looking back at me, perfectly coiffed with his poodle-do, a tiny red bow on his head.

He looks like a poodle! I said looking up at Robin from the swivel chair. That’s how a poodle should look!  

Robin’s eyes got big before her head started to swivel back and forth slowly.

No, no, no, she said. This is terrible! He look like 1960 rock star! 

I howled with laughter. Robin was shaping an imaginary peak above her head with her thumb and forefinger.

Like Frankie Valli!! she shrieked.

I doubled over, tears threatening to spill over. Once she said it, I couldn’t un-see it. Frankie Valli was a poodle.

It was the pompadour!

Robin was still shaking her head vehemently. 

No, no, no! I like teddy bear! No rock star!

I laughed. I remember having the same conversation with Pierre. I didn’t use the words ‘teddy bear’ or ‘Frankie Valli,’ but I said, If you were my poodle, Pierre, you wouldn’t have this silly haircut, where everything stuck to your cuffs like a fly glue stick!

Pierre stood patiently in the kitchen that day while I snipped away the tangles. He was used to all of this incessant grooming, being a poodle, even if he was now the recipient of a hack-job, wielded by a hand uneducated. When I finished, I walked to my closet and dug out the old green backpack, crumpled and stiff, from the back of the corner. Pierre folded into its belly without protest, just like Cracker used to in his day.

What more could any dog want, than to be carried by their owner, as they head out the door?

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.