Tiny Bit of Crazy

A chronical of the laughter, revelations and transformations that are possible when you embrace the crazy

If You Can’t Beat ’em… April 16, 2012

I had a little run in with Chris’s crazy neighbor the other day. Remember her?  Well for the last year she’s gone out of her way to avoid talking to me, even as she went out of her way to talk to everyone else, including Chris’s daughters and their friends, routinely holding them captive on the sidewalk or half inside their cars.

But apparently she’s had a change of heart.

It started small – one day last week I passed her on the sidewalk and she made a random comment about something to do with her kids and playing in the parking lot.  I offered an unconvincing laugh and something along the lines of “oh… hmmm” as I continued walking. She called something else after me as I turned the corner so I gave an even less convincing head nod and vague hand wave as I continued on my way. (At that point it occurred to me at perhaps Chris and his girls simply aren’t rude enough.)

Then this week, as I walked up the sidewalk toward Chris’s house, she came out of her house, her gaze locked on me, and I knew with certainty that we were going to have a conversation.

Part of me was a little excited that I was going to get a “Neighbor Lady” story of my own to share when everyone else told theirs.

As we came face to face in front of her car, she reached out to put her hand on my arm, surprising me so much that I froze in my tracks, thus eliminating any small hope of escape that might have existed.

“Can you talk to Chris about,” she said, and my brain immediately shifted into slow motion and several things moved through my mind:

“She has a problem with Chris?”

“How can she have a problem with Chris? Nobody ever has a problem with Chris.”

“What could this bitch possibly have to say about my boyfriend, and why does her tone suggest I’m his mother?”

“Should I set my bags down in case I need to scratch her eyes out?”

And then I realized she was still talking, so I clicked my brain back into gear and rewound the tape so I could get the rest of her sentence. Which was:

“…about recycling.”

Ok, so I should explain. Chris doesn’t actually recycle. I know, its shocking and you’re probably suddenly worried that you’ll be guilty by association for reading a blog by a person who is in a relationship with a person who doesn’t recycle. (Don’t pretend you weren’t doing it.) I don’t want to get sidetracked from this story with a meta discussion about social shame and recycling, so I’ll just say that I asked him why he doesn’t recycle a few months ago, and what I took from the conversation is that he’s not adamantly opposed to recycling like some right-wing nut who thinks it’s another way for the government to control us. It’s more that he sees it as just one more thing to coordinate and deal with on top of all the other things he has to deal with and coordinate in his life. I got the impression that if someone else wanted to take responsibility for it, he wouldn’t object.

So back to my conversation with the Neighbor Lady.

Once I process her statement, I realize she’s staring at me waiting for a response. My liberal shame and social guilt is quickly replaced with glee as I realize she’s giving me blog content.

Me: oh yeah…um, well… sure…

NL: Because really, he should recycle. Why doesn’t he recycle?

Me: Yeah…I don’t know. He’s quirky like that.

NL: I can get him a bin. I think if we just make it really easy for him, we can get him to do it.

Did you see what she did there? “If WE just make it really easy for him.” WE. Apparently she and I are now a team. Apparently since she couldn’t get rid of me, she’s going to partner up with me.

My personal opinions on recycling are replaced by my desire to not be a team with her.

Me: ah? uh huh…

NL: I went through his garbage the other day and I noticed that it’s mostly plastics and so if he even just started with that…

Yes, she said that. Unabashedly. I had to contain my glee at how good a story this was going to be.

Me: yeah…he does use a lot of plastic…

I say this just to have something to say, but I then immediately feel disloyal. Saying something like that is not going to demonstrate that I’m on Chris’s team, not hers.

NL: I mean, if he just did plastics and maybe some cans…

Me: yeah, that would make a difference

Crap! I’m the worst teammate ever. I’m torn between getting away and getting more material.

NL: But really, why won’t he recycle?

Me: ahh, yeah. I don’t know…he has a thing about it…?

I know it doesn’t sound like it, but this is actually me being a good teammate. I’m not going to explain to her why he’s not recycling because that will reveal too much about him. But I’m also not willing to engage her in a conversation about the reasons against recycling because that will make it look like I care what she thinks.

NL: You know, if he doesn’t start recycling its going to make the trash pick up cost more. You need to talk to him! For everyone’s sake. They’re already doing it in Alexandria. 

Me: Oh really? I’ll tell him that.

Part of me is shamefully, secretly, enjoying her presumption that I have power over Chris – a presumption based in a recognition of my legitimacy as his long-term girlfriend. She’s gone from inviting Chris to the singles group at her church, to assuming I’m the kind of woman who is in charge of her man. I have this urge to go with it, to let us be those suburban women who stand on the sidewalks of their subdivisions, possibly with a glass of wine in the early evening, talking about “our men” and how hard it is to keep them in line.

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Worst. Teammate. Ever.

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NL: You know he has daughters? Who are educated!

Her tone implies this could be new information for me. I hate her again. I start to walk away.

Me: yes, he certainly does.

NL: They are going to college. They understand…

Me: yes, they do go to college…

Now I’m laughing. I’m suddenly giddy with how ridiculous this conversation is, how much material she’s feeding me. I want to ask her again about going through the garbage, but instead I keep walking.

NL: Tell him to recycle for them! So they are proud…

Unmoved by the argument, I keep moving, not looking back at her.

NL: They’ll get married some day! I assume. They are going to have babies. And those babies are going to want a grandpa who recycles!

This makes me stop, and I look at her for a second, tempted to tell her that of all her arguments, that’s her worst. There are few topics more likely to agitate Chris than talking about him becoming a grandpa, and all that that implies.

I try to stop laughing long enough to give some sort of appropriate response. But then decide that laughing is probably as appropriate a response as any.

She’s yelling things after me as I walk away, things about how she teaches recycling in the schools and can teach him. I offer a vague wave of my hand as I continue walking away, trying not to skip in my excitement to tell this story to Chris.

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Of course, I’m sure you all now realize that as long as Chris lives there, he can never, ever, start recycling.

Sorry Earth, but seriously, what did you expect?  I’m a terrible teammate.

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Another Day in Paradise July 20, 2011

When it comes to my current living situation, I am aware that I continue to choose a path of crazy.

I say this because I want to be clear that I am aware that I make choices – choices to get upset, choices to make a stand about stupid shit, choices to let my weird-ass roommate bother me – and that these are choices which lead me down the crazy path.

Which isn’t to say he isn’t hell-a weird.

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The other day the caulking in my shower started to fall off.  Actually, it wasn’t caulk so much as grout. As in, the same grout he used between the tiles on the shower wall were also used to secure the tiles to the plastic part I stand in with the drain.

Sections of the grout suddenly started to break off and litter the floor of the shower and each day it was as if those pieces mated and reproduced while I was at work. After about a week of this I finally had an opportunity to tell Bob.

Minutes before I knew Chris would be picking me up I walked upstairs, and as I appeared at the top of the stairs he turned his head from his perch on the couch and said “HEY! HI!” with so much excitement I felt a pang of guilt that I wasn’t there to socialize.

And then I felt pity for him for getting that excited.

“The caulking in my shower is coming off,” I said (after returning his greeting politely, though less enthusiastically).

“Huh?” He said as if I’d spoken in a weird language.

“The caulking at the bottom where the tiles meet the shower pan (technical term Chris taught me for the plastic part you stand in),” I said, miming the shape of the pan with my hands for additional clarity.

He looked at me as if the words “Caulking” and “Shower” were not words he’d ever heard in the same sentence.

So I tried again. “Yeah, its breaking off in like, chunks? And I’m worried about water getting in there and… doing some kind of damage…so…yeah…”

Then he says in his mock serious voice, which is like nails on a chalkboard to me, “Did you break it?”

I refrained from saying “No, you dick head, you used grout instead of caulk. YOU broke it.” Instead I said “Don’t see how I could have,” annoyed smile, “Anyway, just wanted to let you know….”

He says “Ok, I’ll take a look at it.”

So I said “Ok, bye,” and started down the stairs toward the front door, and he made this sound, sort of like a laugh and said “Ok, bye” in a sarcastic way, like he was holding back on saying “go ahead and leave, it’s all you ever do anyway.” I went outside to sit on the front step to wait for Chris instead of going back up and punching him in the face.

When I got home a few hours later, it was clear he hadn’t fixed it yet. I closed the door and started to pee, at which point I heard him come down and start moving around in the hallway outside my bathroom.

I hate thinking people can hear me pee. I’ve developed chronic UTI’s because of my aversion to public peeing, and its only worse when it’s supposed to be a private bathroom. I finished peeing as quickly and quietly as I could and then started brushing my teeth and doing my other bedtime tasks, all while listening to him just beyond the door making noises like he was playing with tools.

I braced myself to come out and have him make an inappropriate comment about what I was doing in the bathroom.

He was standing in the laundry/utility room messing with a caulking gun with his back to me. I stood in my bedroom doorway for a minute before saying “Hey…”

Looking over his shoulder, but not turning around he said “Hey,” and then went back to his gun. “I’m trying to see if this stuff is still good, so I can fix your shower tonight.”

“Will I be able to use it in the morning?”

“Yeah, sure,” he mumbles while shoving a pin into the nose of the gun.

Unconvinced, I say “I can shower at work, I was debating going to the gym anyway, so it’s no big deal…”

“eh, I think it’ll be dry, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I’m no caulk expert, but I’m pretty sure it takes more than 6 hours for caulk to properly dry. On the one hand I’m like “fine, its your shower, what do I care?” But on the other hand, I’m not about to take any chances with him withholding my deposit because of water damage in the shower.

When I get up in the morning I see that he has not caulked the shower overnight, so I skip the gym, sleep in and shower as normal.

The next afternoon I get a text from him saying he’s fixed the shower, and it will be ready to use that night. Again, I don’t believe him, which is backed up by Chris who maintains most caulk requires 24 hours to dry properly.

I get home that night around 7:30, and he’s standing in the kitchen when I come through the door, the one place where I can’t avoid him. He asks if I got the text, I say I just got it. “What?!” he says in his mocking, condescending tone. “I sent it hours ago! What’s wrong with your phone?!”

“I don’t get service at work,” I say irritably.

“OH, ok, because I was gonna say…” but I turn and go down the stairs to my room before hearing the end of his sentence.

A few minutes later I’m forced to go up into the kitchen to get a spoon so I can eat the yogurt I’ve brought home with me, kicking myself for picking such a high maintenance snack. What was I thinking? I have to get a spoon, and then wash it, but the bigger issue is where am I going to throw away the yogurt cup? This is not the kind of thing I can throw in my bedroom garbage and wait until garbage day on Sunday. I’m immediately annoyed with my whole situation, which is only exaggerated when I realize that he’s actually cooking a full-blown meal for himself, on the one night this month I was planning to use the kitchen  (to heat up frozen quinoa and veggies).

But I’m able to get the spoon and get back downstairs without conversation to contemplate my dinner options. I decide to go out rather than wait him out or risk a conversation about what an event it is that I’m using the kitchen. (Oh, and I put the yogurt in a plastic bag and take it with me and throw it out in a 7-11 garbage can. This is what I mean by the choices I make.)

I return home a few hours later and go into my bathroom for the first time, and notice dirty foot prints on the white floor outside the shower and on the floor of the shower.

I sit down to pee and as I finish I notice that my toilet bowl is sparkling clean.

Which I have to admit,  was not that way when I left it. That morning it had a ring at the water line because the little blue thing I bought to hang over the edge and keep the bowl clean didn’t work even a little (in fact I suspect it made it worse), a fact I’d only the day before come to accept.  I was planning to clean it that evening in fact.

But apparently he’d felt the need to do it for me.

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Umm….WTF?

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This leaves me with some questions:

WHY would someone voluntarily clean another person’s toilet, ESPECIALLY when they don’t use it?

Does he expect me to say thank you? Because I’m not going to. As with the time he vacuumed my room when I wasn’t home, I’m not going to thank him for a gratuitous invasion of my personal space.

Does this mean he used my toilet?

If he looked under the toilet lid, did he also look in my cupboards?

If he’s such a neat freak that he had to clean the toilet, why was he able to leave the dirty boot prints on the floor and shower?

Why does he talk to the girl he seems to be dating on speakerphone all the time? OK, so this doesn’t have anything to do with the toilet, but is a question that plagues me nonetheless. Chris says it’s because he wants to be sure everyone knows he’s talking to a girl. I resent having to hear his conversations because it makes me wonder what is wrong with that girl that she’s involved with him…

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But there is good news: It’s almost the weekend, which means I’ll be spending most of time with Chris, and then I’m going to Denmark for 9 days, so Bob is not going to be my concern for a while. He can clean toilets, talk on speakerphone, and do whatever else he does in my space when I’m not around, and I’ll never know. I hope.

 

Where Crazy Lives July 12, 2011

When I started looking for a new place to live last April, I had a short list of requirements:

1. Rent below $600 a month,

2. Private bathroom,

3. I wanted to stay in the general area of where I was currently living,

4. A relatively normal roommate,

5. A gut feeling I wouldn’t hate living there.

After seeing a few really scary places, I found a listing for a room at $595, in an ideal location.  It was technically a basement room, but it was at the front of the house and had big windows that let in lots of light. The private bathroom was across the hall, next to the laundry room. The rest of the basement was a movie room that I was told was only used 2-3 times a year.

So far, so perfect.

The rest of the house was bright and airy and clean. The kitchen was large and recently remodeled, with a huge deck complete with table and chairs.

Bonus.

Criteria 1, 2 and 3? Check, check and check.

The guy who owned the house, “Bob”, would be my roommate and he seemed pleasant and normal enough. After he showed me around we talked for more than an hour about all kinds of things, and he made it clear that he wanted me to feel welcome in all parts of the house.

Criteria 4 and 5? I’m gonna go with “Yes”.

That weekend I went back to sign the lease, and brought Chris with me.  Bob was again welcoming and gregarious… Very gregarious actually. I started to realize that this guy was a talker.  And, as he and Chris got into a discussion about internet security (Chris’s area of professional expertise and Bob’s area of self decided expertise), I realized he was also a bit of a know-it-all.

But no one’s perfect, right? So I signed the lease feeling confident that this was going to be a good place to live.

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Things started out fine. As they usually do.

In those first few weeks Bob would drop by my room frequently to “see how it was going”, or he would strike up (boring) conversations as I waited for Chris to pick me up on date nights. I quickly realized that my part of those conversations was to say things like “Hmmm!” or “oh wow” or “Really? I had no idea.” It was all fine, but heading down the road to over-familiar. Because while I wanted to be friendly with my new roommate, I did not want to be friends.

And not just because its fun to be bitchy.

I have plenty of friends. And a very busy life.  I don’t  need to have social obligations  when I was home.  So I quickly  started drawing boundaries to make sure bad habits didn’t start. Fortunately the set up of the house was such that I could go straight from the front door down to my room. In the first few weeks, Bob would yell a greeting of  “Hey!” from the living room as he heard the front door open, but when I only ever echoed his greeting without expanding on it, he eventually stopped.

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Occasionally I’d find myself with a night free, and I would usually use it to cook myself a nice dinner. Inevitably I would run into Bob while in the kitchen (it was becoming clear that he spent a LOT of time at home), and he would always begin the interaction with something like “WOW! Look at you! Actually using the kitchen!” or “Oh my god! You’re out of your room!”

Yeah… I really prefer that if we’re going to have sarcasm, that it’s coming from me, not directed at me.  That’s just childish.

Chris actually had a theory that Bob had roommates as much as a source of social interaction as for income. To which my response was something to the effect of  “Too bad, so sad. He’ll get my rent, but he’ll never get my social attention!”

But I started to feel like Bob was paying too much attention to my comings and goings, and was starting to resent me for how little time I spent with him.

I don’t need that kind of emotional guilt at home, that’s what my friends are for.

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Anyway, I started to develop a vague feeling of dread anytime I thought about cooking.

The kitchen rules didn’t help.

I had to immediately wash, dry and put away any dishes or pans I used. There was actually a clause in the lease (which I didn’t notice until after I’d signed it and moved in…who actually reads those things anyway?)  that said he could charge tenants $60 a month if they didn’t follow house rules, or didn’t contribute to keeping the house clean. I was not going to get a $60 slap on the wrist for a dinner plate and fork left in the sink…But since there was no drying rack and only one tiny sponge, doing the dishes was a bigger pain in the ass than I it needs to be. It should be noted too, that there WAS a dishwasher, but it was apparently just there to taunt me.

And when I did overcome my negative feelings about the kitchen, and endeavor to cook something, there was still the issue that no matter what time of day it was, Bob would appear to offer his commentary.

For example:

Him: What are you up to tonight?”

Me: My boyfriend and I are going to an outdoor concert at [local venue].

Him: Oh cool, I’ve never been there before. Its gonna rain though.

Me: We have tarps and ponchos and umbrellas.

Him: You can’t use umbrellas there.

Me: Actually you can.

Him: No…. I don’t think so (little laugh at how silly I am)

Me: (instead of reminding him that he’s NEVER BEEN THERE, I focus on the cookies I’m baking.)

Him: Are those cookies for tonight?

Me: Yup

Him: you’re only making a half-dozen? That’s not enough.

Me: It’s just the two of us.

Him: that’s not enough for 1 person! You have to make more.

Me: Well we have a lot of other food (I’m very careful to look anywhere other than his gigantic stomach which juts directly out from his body like an undeveloped conjoined twin)

Him: Still. You’ll need more cookies!

Me: Just because we COULD eat more cookies, doesn’t mean we SHOULD eat more cookies.

Him: (self-conscious laughter).

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Is it too much to ask to not have to be hassled or told what to do when I’m at home? That’s what work is for.

But I wasn’t ready to give up just yet. I still kept a little bit of food in the kitchen – mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, that I would eat when he wasn’t around, having turned avoiding him into something of a hobby.

But then a “Paper Only” label appeared on the lid of the kitchen garbage can.

I assumed this meant no food in the garbage, which seemed weird because…what else do you put in the kitchen garbage? But fine, whatever. I started throwing my organic waste in the disposal, assuming that was what he had in mind as the alternative.

Except his disposal sucked.

I started experiencing increasing high levels of anxiety anytime I did anything in the kitchen. On the rare occasions when he wasn’t home, sometimes I’d dash into the kitchen and try to whip up a vegetable omelet or something, but the anxiety surrounding what to do with the organic waste cost me precious minutes. I would do this dance between the sink and the garbage as I debated which was the less likely discoverable/fine-able offense: putting food in the garbage, or gunking up the shitty disposal?

Finally I just decided to stop cooking entirely and rely only on frozen meals from Trader’s Joe’s. I confidently assumed that “Paper Only” allowed for cardboard containers and cellophane wrappers.

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Then one day he came home while I was heating up a frozen vegetable lasagna in the microwave. He propped himself against the counter and started holding forth on some topic or other. As I took the lasagna out of the microwave and took the plastic wrapper off, he jumped up and said “Here -” and then pulled a grocery bag from beneath the sink and held it out for me.

Confused, I just looked at him with the wrapper in one hand, my other hand cupped under it to catch the drops of condensation.

“You can throw that in here, and so when you’re done, you can also throw the container in here too,” he said, as if this were the most obvious and normal thing in the world.

“Okay….” I said as I put the wrapper in the bag and turned back to my food.

“I’m the one who put the Paper Only sign on the garbage,” he said with a chuckle.

“I’d assumed as much,” I said with a half-smile as I sat down at the counter realizing my quick and peaceful meal was history.

“Yeah, I just prefer not to have any kind of food go in the garbage. It’s just easier this way.”

I shoved a forkful of lasagna into my mouth so I don’t ask “Easier than what? And what do you do with the shopping bag full of food containers?”

The problem, I realized, is that this is a man who doesn’t cook. As far as I could see the only food he consumed came directly out of either a cardboard box or a paper bag.

“This way you can just take the bag out to the outside garbage when you’re done. It’s just easier,” he said, as if reading my mind.

Again I swallowed my question: “Easier for whom exactly?”

To take the garbage out to the cans requires this bagging up of the offending item, then unlocking the door to the deck, which stuck and was actually really, really hard to turn. Then the sliding screen door was falling off the track and it was a contortionists’ trick to open it and get out without it falling off. Then I’d have to walk across the deck, down the stairs, across the patio to the garbage can, then reverse it all. We’re talking an extra 10 minutes minumum to my “quick” lunch.

This was my breaking point.

I started to wonder if he was just going to keep making up rules to make my life harder to punish me for not wanting to watch TV with him.

As a result my hobby now focused on me having as small a footprint in that house as possible.

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I started keeping peanut butter crackers and power bars in my room to sustain me in an emergency.

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One day he saw me filling up my 16 oz. water bottle from the filter on the fridge – the second time  I’d done that in four months – and he commented that he was about to replace the filter. The next week when he gave me my utilities bill, he had charged me $15 for “water filter”.  So now when he’s not home, I sneak up to the kitchen and fill large bottles full of water so I can get my money’s worth, but make him think I never use the water filter. Which totally makes sense in my head.

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In the mornings, sometimes I hear him getting ready to leave just as I’m getting ready to leave, so I stay in my room until I see his car pull away.

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Every time I leave my room, even if just to go the bathroom across the hall, I check to see if his car is outside, because it’s always important to know the movements of your opponent. Sometimes if I knew he was just upstairs in the living room, I would make extra noise downstairs so he knew I was home and NOT coming upstairs.

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Occasionally I can’t avoid buying food or bringing it into the house. Like the other day, I was sick and craving apples for some reason. So I bought a bag of pre-sliced apples (thinking it would avoid the whole organic waste disposal issue), and after I’d had my fill, I put them in the fridge, and then forgot about them and they went bad.  I wanted to throw them away before he said anything  (or fined me), so in the morning, I waited until he left, then ran up into the kitchen, got them out and then took them to work with me and threw them away in the garbage at work with a certain sense of satisfaction that I was avoiding his outside garbage system.

Its possible I’m operating less from a position of principal and more from an irrational position of childlike stubbornness…

But on the other hand, he misled me about criteria 4 and 5, so as far as I’m concerned, its game on.

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To be continued…

 

Reunited. And it Feels So…Obsessive February 2, 2011

Filed under: Home — Meredith @ 12:54 pm

You know how sometimes you have a really important relationship in your life, like a central relationship, and you assume it will always be there, always provide the same satisfaction, the same level of support, the same path toward escape?

And you can’t imagine anything getting in the way, anything in your life possibly changing in a way that would threaten that relationship?

But then one day, you look around and realize its gone? You aren’t even sure of when or how it ended, and as a result aren’t sure how, or even if, you can get it back?

Yeah….

Well, that’s what happened with me and reading.

Reading has always been special, primary relationship in my life almost as long as I can remember. I can mark most milestones and life transitions by a book I was reading at the time.  I had always prioritized reading over friends, work, sunlight.

Until one day, it was just…gone.

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One of my favorite childhood memories is of going to the book mobile with my mom. We lived in a rural area, without a local library and so every so often (once a month maybe?) this little library on wheels would drive into town and my mom would walk me and my little brother the couple of blocks to where it set up shop. We’d often see neighbors there, and it had a festive atmosphere outside on the macadam parking lot. I would climb up the rickety drop down steps into the cool, dark interior of the bus. The stale, slightly acrid air smelled like possibilities. 

My mom let me pick out whatever books I wanted. I loved giving my library card to the driver/librarian. I felt so independent, so powerful.

My parents were both avid readers. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and if she wasn’t actively engaged in an activity of homemaking or child wrangling, she was reading. There was always a book open on the kitchen counter. She’d stand and read for a few minutes while water was boiling, while eating breakfast or lunch, while watching us play in the yard, while waiting to see us coming home from the neighbor’s. 

My dad passed weekends and vacations with a book in his hand, and was usually the one who read to me and my brother each night when we were little. My parents made no secret of the fact that they wanted my brother and I to be readers, no doubt out of equal parts concern for our literacy skills and a ploy for us to develop quiet hobbies.

Totally worked for me. But with my brother…not so much. His relationship with books was more tangential. He used them to create art. While I would sit reading quietly, my brother folded the pages of paper backs to create geometric objets d’art. To me it was sacrilegious, but to my mom it was a no-brainer – once she realized he’d sit quietly folding pages of books for hours, she bought used books in bulk.  

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My love of reading grew into an attachment to books. By junior high I started holding onto books that had made an impression on me – (the first being The Outsiders).  

When my parents sold their house a few years ago and I had to clean out my childhood bedroom, most of what was left at that point was books. Fiction, non-fiction, text books from college, books I’d loved, books I’d wanted to love. I was able to part with some, but most were boxed and stored in my brother’s basement.

Except my brother lives 500 miles away from me, so even as I filled up an entire section of his basement with my books, I knew I wouldn’t have easy access to them. And yet for some reason keeping those books seemed important, seemed comforting…but you know what? This isn’t about my irrational attachment to objects. It’s about my relationship with reading. So let’s just stay focused, on that, m’kay?

So, two years ago, I moved from a one bedroom apartment into the master bedroom of my friend’s two bedroom condo. In an effort to avoid being crushed under a literary avalanche while I slept, I was forced to get rid of almost all of my books.

I think that was when reading and I started to drift apart.

At first I felt great for having gotten rid of 90% of my personal library. I felt so totally NOT like a person who would one day be on Hoarders. It was wonderful.

Until the first night I crawled into bed and realized I had no book to read. But instead of panicking and running out to find an all night book store, I simply vowed to go to the library the next day, and flipped on the TV.

The library was my only choice for books because of my commitment not to acquire more books. But I always forgot to go, so I rarely had books, and when I did, it took me forever to return them, and I spent so much in fines I was basically buying books and then throwing them away. 

Plus, I was usually rushed and so usually picked based on cover art and spine color.  A strategy I’d employed to much success as a child. 

I’m not sure if children’s sections have fewer bad books, or if my standards have gone up, but…that strategy mostly yielded crap.

Reading crappy books quickly became a chore, something I did out of obligation and habit more than true interest or affection.

I became resentful of trudging to the library to pay a fine on a book I’d neither enjoyed nor finished.

This was when reality TV sauntered into my life. Though, I don’t really believe in blaming the mistress: had the door not been open, she wouldn’t have been able to enter in the first place.

At first it only happened once in a while… I’d climb into bed and look from the mediocre book I was reading to the TV where an episode of Tabitha: Salon Make-Over, or Millionaire Matchmaker, or  Toddlers and Tiaras was beckoning me. I’d only succumb if it was a new episode, or looked like something really awesome was going to happen.

Slowly, little by little, those reality TV minxes won my attention more often than not. But come on, they have 19 kids! And COUNTING!! And that one hoarder had a POSSUM living under all her junk. A POSSUM! Who can resist that? Seriously. I’m only human. I have needs…for mindless entertainment.

The better part of a year passed this way.

Then, one night, finding only re-runs, I realized, with a vague sense of shame, that perhaps this was a good opportunity to spend some time with my book. I looked to the nightstand and…it was empty. I was momentarily frozen in my shock at realizing there was no book to be found. Thinking back, I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d spent any quality time reading. I didn’t even notice its absence until I needed it.

I was disoriented.

And guilt ridden.

Until I realized I also couldn’t remember the last book I’d enjoyed reading. Reading had let me down, and as a result, I’d wandered. It wasn’t my fault.

TV always delivered. I mean, sure, sometimes I had to lower my expectations a bit.

Or a lot.

And yes, sometimes I had to turn off certain functional areas of my brain, or remind myself that it was just something I was doing, not who I was…

But there were also times when it was…magical, when it was fun and satisfying and emotionally rewarding. I mean, obviously, or the relationship wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did, right? 

And then…

And then I got a Kindle for Christmas.

But perhaps more importantly, my Kindle was linked to my mom’s Kindle so I had instant access to her archives – over 350 books.

It was like walking into a digital book mobile. But without that acrid smell of old books.

I was giddy with excitement. Giggly with anticipation.

My Kindle is beautiful. Small, light, sleek,with small soundless buttons that I can press and conjure any book I can image in seconds. SECONDS.

Its like the bookmobile and the internet had a beautiful love child.

Before I knew it, I’d fallen madly, passionately, head over heals, back in love with reading.

I devoured my first book sitting on the couch in front of the fire at my parent’s house, snacking idly on christmas cookies and sipping tea. It was, as far as reunions go, perfection.

I’ve read more books since Christmas than in the last two years combined. I can’t put my Kindle down. All I want to do is read. I’m forever trying to squeeze a few minutes out of my schedule just so I can read a little more. I’ve resorted to tricks of my youth – reading while I blow dry my hair, reading while walking, reading while eating, reading while cooking. I’ve debated taking public transportation JUST SO I CAN USE THE TIME TO READ. I fear it won’t be long before I’m whipping out my Kindle in line at the grocery store, or while pumping gas.

Boring dates? You might come back from the bathroom to find me curled around my Kindle.

It’s just so easy with the Kindle. I don’t have to find clever ways of propping the book open while eating or blow drying. I don’t have to worry about dropping it and losing my page. I can make the type as big as I need so I can set it on the floor and keep reading while I tie my shoes and fold my laundry…

I realize now that my relationship with reading suffered mostly because of the books. They were too often bulky or too heavy to carry around. The titles were visible to anyone who cared to look. Sometimes I want to read The Pirate and the Wench, or Obama’s Wars, and not be judged, you know?

What I learned from this experience, is that sometimes relationships, especially long-term relationships, need help to stay on track. Sometimes they need the aid of a new device to re-discover lost passion. Does it feel a little different than doing it the old-fashioned way? Sure. But you get used to it. You might even come to like it better this way. I know I have.  But whether you love the device or just accept its role, you can’t argue with the results.

So if I’m slow to return your calls or emails, or turn down a few of your invitations to happy hour, don’t take it personally. You know how it is when you fall in love…

 

Just Drop the Presents and Back Away Slowly… December 22, 2010

Filed under: Home — Meredith @ 3:37 pm
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The other day I was reading a post on my friend Tara’s blog about how her son is suddenly afraid of having Santa come into   their house. And I completely empathized with her son, because when I was little  I’d   had the exact same issue.  Although no one offered an alternative, like Tara did for Declan…I was expected to simply suck it up. But then it WAS the late 70’s, before parents got all coddling and super sensitive to their children’s phobias.

When I was little, we had a ritual for Christmas morning. My little brother usually woke up first, and then would wake me up, and then we’d wake our older sister up, and then we’d go wake up mom and dad. Once dad was up, we had to wait with my mom in their room, while my dad went downstairs and did…stuff. I never thought to ask what he was doing, because I assumed I knew. He was obviously first checking to make sure that Santa had in fact come (I recognized that mine was just one family, one house, among millions, and it was conceivable, perhaps even reasonable to expect that mistakes could be made, homes over looked); and second, assuming Santa had come, daddy was checking to make sure he’d also LEFT (I recognized that Santa had a lot of work to do in one night, and it was conceivable, perhaps even reasonable to assume that at some point, he might want to sit for a bit, and being old as he was, could easily nod off.)

When daddy came back upstairs and gave the all clear, we would line up at the top of the stairs in order from youngest to oldest, and then run down the stairs taking a sharp left at the bottom into the living room with the tree and all the presents.

The Christmas I was 4, when I entered the living room, I saw the blanket from the couch drapped over part of the wing back chair and covering a large and suspicious bulge in front of the chair.  The wing back chair was exactly the type of chair a man of Santa’s stature might choose to sit in, should he be so inclined to “set a bit”, while visiting our house.

I looked at that blanket covered bulge, and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Santa had in fact, chosen to set a bit and had fallen asleep. Daddy had then addressed the issue by covering him with a blanket, clearly hoping I would not notice. I decided to go along with the plan, and carefully avoided the area.

After I had opened all my presents, my mom said “Wait, there’s one more!” I looked around, wondering what box I’d missed. Then she said “How about you look under that blanket?” I. Was. Horrified. Several questions ran through my head: WHY would I want to see what was under that blanket? Was he holding my present on his lap? Had he fallen asleep mid unloading? What if he got mad because I woke him up?

I shook my head, declining the offer and picked up a new toy to play with.

“Come on!” My dad said cheerfully. “Look under the blanket!” Had my parent’s lost their minds? Did they think that just because I hadn’t cried at the mall in a few years, that I was somehow over my fear of Santa, and to the point that I wanted him to become a house guest?!?

“NO!” I said and tried to move further away from the blanket.

“Oh come on. Just peek under there,” my mom encouraged. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Why, I wondered, did Santa have to pick THIS HOUSE to fall asleep in? Why not a home where they wanted him? And now I was convinced, not only that Santa was there, but that my parents had been brainwashed by his elves and could no longer be trusted. In a tearful panic, I crawled onto my sister’s lap and begged her to be the voice of reason, and possibly my new guardian.

To be honest, I don’t remember what she said, but I remember everyone laughing at me, and me not caring, but starting to wonder if maybe they didn’t realize Santa was under there. Then my sister said “How about if I take the blanket off?” I had a wave of panic, and immediately got out of her lap and hid behind her as she leaned forward and started to pull at the blanket. I covered my face.

“LOOK” my mom said, and I hesitantly moved my hands and saw…

.

a beautiful, blue and white Holly Hobby kitchen set, all assembled and ready to play with.

And with that, I wish you all a Very Happy Holiday, with just a tiny bit of crazy in it so you’ll have stories to tell 🙂

 

Holiday Memories December 16, 2010

Filed under: Home — Meredith @ 3:51 pm
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You know how a specific song will evoke a specific memory?

Like, Little Drummer Boy always reminds me of Christmas Eve when I was really little, because my mom would play it on the record player while my little brother and I marched up to bed to wait for Santa. 

Which is a nice, warm holiday memory.

Then there is I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause, which also evokes a specific memory from when I was around 7 or 8. It came on the radio while I was with my mom and I started singling along and then my mom said “Ugh. I hate this song.”

Me: Why?

Mom: Because, its sick.

Me: uh… whaa?

Mom: It’s about a kid spying on his parents doing grown up things.

Me: But its funny because it’s his dad and not Santa…

Mom: Maybe. Or its a special friend of mommy’s. But that doesn’t really change anything. Mom and whoever are having a little holiday fun, a little role play, and the kid’s watching. That’s sick. But not as sick as writing a song about it like its funny.

Me: uh…whaa?

.

I’ve thought of this conversation every time I’ve heard that song since. Every. Single. Time.

For 26+ years.

.

And you know what? It kinda makes the song more interesting. I see a little movie in my head while I listen. A movie that has… evolved as I’ve gotten older.

.

 And you know what? My mom was right. No child should witness that kind of thing.

 

Not Your Go-To Girl November 30, 2010

Filed under: Home — Meredith @ 1:00 pm
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My senior year of college I lived in an on-campus apartment with my three best friends. We all had unique strengths and personalities: Katie was the house-mother of the group who kept everything and everyone in order and on track. Jamie was the free spirit/drama queen who kept us entertained, Beth was the earth mother who was nurturing and emotional. And I was…well, I suppose Katie, Jaime and Beth might each have their own answer to that question (and probably have their own characterizations for themselves as well), but I would characterize myself as the…child. I was the one who laughed hysterically as a drunken Jaime molested a soda bottle, who relied on Katie to make me clean up after myself and announce when dinner was over and homework time had begun, and who turned tearfully to Beth to kiss my boo-boos, both physical and emotional.

You’re probably wondering why they kept me around. It’s a fair question, and I’m pretty sure the answer had to do with my tendency to always have chocolate or similarly decadent desserts and late night snacks.

But regardless of what I what role I played, it was very clear what I did not play. And that was the role of the person you turn to in a crisis.

This was rarely an issue because in almost every situation we had Katie, who definitely IS the person you turn to in a crisis. As a result, I managed to get all the way to senior year without having to show how useless I am in any high stress, high stakes, or high emotion situation.

One spring afternoon of our senior year, Beth and I were home alone, and Beth put a mini-frozen pizza in the toaster over and then went back upstairs to her room. I walked into the kitchen a few minutes later to find flames shooting out of the top of the toaster oven.

I immediately started screaming – actually, to be honest, it was probably more like shrieking: “FIRE! FIRE! BETH!!! THE KITCHEN IS ON FIRE!” I may have said something about how we were all going to die…but that might have only been in my head. Meanwhile, I’m still standing right in front of the flaming toaster oven, frozen as I was with my fear.

Within seconds, Beth comes flying down the stairs holding the industrial sized fire extinguisher that she ripped from its wall mounting at the top of the stairs.

She was wearing a robe and I will never forget the image of her coming into view brandishing the fire extinguisher with a panicked look on her face like a bizarre, adult film star version of a fire fighter. She turned the corner from the stairwell into the dining area and toward the kitchen with the nozzle of the fire extinguisher pointing ahead of her saying “Where is it? Where is it?” as if hunting an elusive enemy.

The sight of her was so startling, and comical, that I immediately snapped out of my panic and said “oh, it’s not that bad,” and gestured toward the toaster over where the few measly flames flickered out the top of the door.

Beth, confused and still hopped up on adrenaline, brought the hose of the extinguisher down to her side and looked at the toaster over for a moment and then back at me.

“The flames are sorta, a little bit close to reaching the cupboards…” I offered in my own defense.

Beth set the extinguisher on the floor, walked over to the toaster oven and unplugged it. To my amazement, the flames immediately disappeared. Turning back to look at me Beth just shook her head and said “oh Mer,” as she picked up the extinguisher and went back up stairs.

And it’s the same in my family. Around this same time I was home for a holiday and one of my nephews was playing with my brother’s puppy, Brandy. And suddenly Brandy is laying under the kitchen table whimpering. I was the first to notice, and after I brought everyone’s attention to it: “OH MY GOD. WHAT’S WRONG WITH BRANDY?!” everyone moved away from the table as my mom got down on the floor to investigate. As we stood watching my mom feel along the Brandy’s limbs and listening to Brandy’s whimper, I burst into loud tears and saying “OH NO! WHAT’S WRONG? OH MY GOD….OH NO! SOMETHINGS REALLY WRONG! SHOULD WE GO TO THE ER? I THINK WE SHOULD TAKE HER TO THE ER VET!” My sister Allison turns around and yells “KNOCK IT OFF!” in the verbal equivalent of a slap in the face and then orders me to leave the room because I’m upsetting the, thus far, calm children.

My autistic nephew, who doesn’t naturally understand emotion, started imitating me as his version of what “sad” is for months – every time he picked up cues that someone was sad, or something remotely unpleasant occurred he would say “OH NO! Boo-hoo-hoo! OH NO!”

(And BTW, the puppy was fine. We never figured out why she was whimpering, although as she grew up she had many more episodes like this revealing her to be the only person in the family with fewer coping skills than I had.)

I have many stories like this, and very few where I was actually useful. Or even just didn’t make a situation worse.

When I make new friends or join a new group, one of the first things I tell them is: “I’m useless in a crisis. Just so you know.”

Worse than having to deal with a physical crisis, like an old lady falling off a curb in downtown traffic or some guy getting his hand caught in the metro doors (they were both fine eventually. I think), is an emotional crisis.

I honestly lay awake at night worrying about the day when one of my close friends will suffer an emotional trauma. I try to think of different scenarios that could occur like the death of a parent, a horrible disease, or a child that turns out to be a religious fanatic, and I try to script the right things to say and do. I compulsively study how other people handle these situations, hoping maybe, like my nephew, I can learn to mimic the right reaction.

And like my nephew, at best I usually mange a vague approximation delivered unconvincingly and slightly out of pace with the situation.

But I do always bring chocolate.

 

 
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