Friday, October 28, 2005

a portrait of the artist as a young 'un


Possible explanations for the Liberace suit: 1) Everyone looked like a gay musician in 1982; 2) I thought I'd try Christmas on for size; 3) I was preparing to run away and join the circus (not the first time, not the last); 4) this getup was a hand-me-down from one of the clowns who worked the birthday party circuit for my mother's entertainment agency. Really there's no excuse for this outfit; let's just throw it on the what-was-I-thinking pile and walk away. As for the haircut: My mother claimed it was "chic" and "French." She's always been obsessed with French stuff, I think that's why she named me Danielle. I still can't stand to hear my name issue from her mouth or my own, but enough men have cooed, growled and whispered it to dissuade me from becoming a Jennifer or Samantha.

But this is not about my French name or my red polyester jumpsuit or the haircut that necessitated daily earrings until I sprouted breasts and people stopped mistaking me for a Daniel. It's about my relationship with the piano. Recently I was inspired to start playing again after a year-long hiatus, and I was relieved to discover that I've still got it, even if I'm a little rusty. I guess after 23 years the music is embedded so deep in my subconscious, even if my brain forgets a few bars my fingers can pick up the slack.

I was seven years old when I first was plunked before the upright Wurlitzer in my parents' living room. At that age I was painfully aware of my differentness in the Northern Virginia community where we lived; I was the only Jew in my class, the only girl with cropped hair and strange green eyes and a bedtime ritual that often included falling asleep to the Puccini duets my mother and her opera friends rehearsed in the living room downstairs. Some part of me knew that embracing classical music in the second grade would widen the gap between my classmates and me, but my desire to fit in was not as great as my yearning to become a bona fide musician.

It took only a few lessons for the flashcards to sink in and pretty soon I was reading music and playing "Wheels" at breakneck speed. "Where's the fire?!" my mother would shout, stomping in from the kitchen to slow me down. She meant to scold but couldn't help grinning at the sight of me, brow furrowed in concentration, fingers dancing across the keys, little feet dangling inches above the pedals. After a year, once my legs had grown longer and my parents were sure it'd be worth the investment, a 1906 Steinway baby grand arrived in our house. It was beautiful like a movie star, all smooth curves and polished shine. Eighty-eight copper wires tensed precisely for the perfect pitch. Eighty-eight ivory keys, elegant as a string of pearls. It was the first time I fell in love.

The Steinway had what's called a "stiff action": The keys didn't feel loose like a new Yamaha, they demanded that my fingers work hard and responded with rich, resonant tones. Within a few months my hands had grown strong and nimble. "Look at those instruments!" gasped one new piano teacher, marveling at the long fingers that must have looked out of place on a little girl's arms.

Once I'd settled into my relationship with the Steinway my teacher began to introduce The Men: At age nine I discovered Bach and Mozart; by ten I was flirting with Handel; and then, finally, Chopin arrived in my life. Frederic Chopin, my beloved, my soul mate. I started with his simpler waltzes and worked up to the nocturnes. The concertos were out of my reach but I fantasized about them often (with full orchestra).

My grandmother always said I understood Chopin's music best because we were both Polish. "It's the passion," she would declare with her chin held high, and point out that the "Oriental" kids who won all my piano competitions didn't know from passion. "They play like machines." (Tact has never been my grandmother's strong suit. Her entire view of world is colored by stereotypes and she fails to see the irony.)

Year after year I was schlepped to a statewide piano competition at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. Year after year, through guilt and promises of extravagant Hanukah presents, I was made to play. And year after year I won the number-two spot, which was just fine by me. I hated to compete. Actually I hated to perform at all; I just wanted to make music. But the validation was important to my parents -- it was, after all, their investment that paid for my education and the stunning instrument that few other 12-year-olds had the privilege to call their own.

A different young pianist claimed first prize at each competition I entered. Except for one they were all Asian-American kids. I suppose it was a matter of culture: Their parents had instilled in them a discipline that just wasn't part of my family dynamic. They practiced two and three hours a day and turned out technically flawless performances for which they deserved nothing less than a true blue ribbon. Honestly I felt a little guilty; my performance was never perfect. It was sort of a travesty that I came in even a distant second after I'd practiced for 20 or 30 minutes each day before sliding quietly off the piano bench in pursuit of books or television or something to eat. My grandmother insisted that even though I missed a few notes here and there the judges took a shine to me because I could feel the music. "You play it from here," she'd say, pointing her tiny index finger into the middle of my chest. Be that as it may, I wasn't above learning from my peers. From my seat in that sterile conservatory classroom I admired my competitors' brand of passion -- more precise than mine but equally artful -- and it always inspired me to go home, plant myself in front of the keys and really get to work.

At least until snack time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

there's no assistive listening device for the selectively hearing-impaired

Mom: So when is your article coming out in the Washington Post?

Me: What article?

Mom: The article about the cookies.

Me: I didn't write any article.

Mom: You said you were writing a review of that cookie recipe you made with B a couple weeks ago.

Me: I said we were testing the recipe.

Mom: But you were going to write about it. And it would be published. You said so.

Me: No, I said our names would be mentioned. All we had to do was tell the food people at the Post if the cookies tasted good.

Mom: I don't know why you're so afraid to promote yourself. Just tell them you'll write the article, I'll bet they're dying to have young people do some writing for them.

Me: It's a paragraph, Mom, not an article. And they already have people to do writing for them. They're a newspaper.

Mom: (deep sigh...) Fine. Just sit there and play with your blog all day. See where it gets you.




I cannot win.



Here's the recipe, not in the Post (don't know when that's coming out) but the one in Leite's Culinaria Update is the same, I recognized the photo. Sure, I could have iced mine to resemble precious little lime wedges like the ones in the cookbook, but honest to God people, who has the time? Do you own a piping bag? If you did, would you know how to use it? I didn't think so.

The cookies really are divine, with or without the icing. Don't try to roll the dough without parchment or wax paper, it's very sticky.

Enjoy, and save a couple for me.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Most of today was spent designing a book for my organization's newest domestic abuse program, which included a section of quotes from battered Jewish women. None of them were terribly dramatic; actually they were quite concise and matter-of-fact, which somehow made them even more powerful. I've met most of these women before - spoken to them at the domestic violence conferences we run every couple years - but to see their stories in stark black and white, sitting alone in my office with no distractions, that brought it home for me.

At first I was sad. And then angry. And then I started to shake a little because I remembered how easily it could have been me.

Our first inclination is to shake a finger at these women and ask, "How could you let it happen? Why didn't you just walk out the door?" We don't understand that it's impossible to see a situation as a "situation" when you're looking at it from the inside. Good God, I thought again and again today, it could have been me. I am so strong, so aware, my take-no-crap policy is so firm... and still it could have been me.

All the times my ex-boyfriend S snapped at me for singing in the car, when he squeezed my arm too tight and pulled me too hard while we were crossing the street, when he put me down with subtle comments only someone tuned into my deepest insecurities would know to use... His explosive, hair-trigger temper with strangers in shops, at the movies, on the street. The way he pushed and manipulated me the first time we had sex - I never said "no," but I didn't really have a chance to say "yes." Even when he would tickle me too hard and too long until I couldn't breathe, until I was begging him to stop. And of course there was the biting. Beneath all his affectionate gestures was an undercurrent of resentment and anger that came up slowly as our relationship wore on. From the outside it was a clear pattern of aggression -- made worse, I think, by the fact that he was nearly twice my size -- but at the time, in the thick of it, I couldn't see the forest through the trees. I wanted so much to make us work.

S works in law enforcement, and while we were dating he was involved in prosecuting a man who brutally murdered his girlfriend. I saw the photos; it was horrific. In the months he spent preparing the case S would wonder aloud, over and over, "I just can't understand how a man could do a thing like that." The more I got to know him the more I could hear what he really was saying: "I understand how a man could do a thing like that. I could do a thing like that, and I hope to God I never will." I think he finally broke up with me because he realized what he was capable of and it terrified him.

So why didn't I leave? Why did I try harder and harder to make it right when I should have just walked out the door? The same reasons all women stay: We had as many good times as bad and he could be so sweet, so charming. My family adored him. I adored his family. I felt responsible for him, almost maternally so, and I thought that with enough nurturing I could lead him to the inner peace he so desperately wanted to find.

And there was his dream of this "perfect life": With his connections (he had many) and my...whatever he thought I brought to the table, he envisioned us as a team that would send poor kids to college, end world hunger, and be the D.C. Power Couple everyone expected us to become. "You'll be the brains of the operation," he used to say, "and I'll be the face." (This is the danger in socializing children to desire a lifestyle, instead of a life of their own creation.) Most of what he promised didn't much appeal to me, but his ambition was infectious and I eventually warmed to the idea of a number of things, most of them material, that I've since cleared from my vision of the future.

S is not an evil man, he has a big heart and a serious behavioral problem, not unlike a hyperactive child. Last winter I agreed to meet him for a drink but he canceled at the last minute saying it was too painful for him to be in the same room with me knowing we couldn't be together. Last spring I again agreed to see him for a few hours and things quickly became uncomfortable. (I know, you're wondering what the hell is wrong with me, but understand that it's very easy to want to make peace with an ex when you're 100 percent confident that you will never, ever, ever want him back. Ever.)

I curled up in a chair at Starbucks. S sat next to me with his hand resting on my foot. He ran down a list of all his friends and what was new in their lives: Engaged. Married. New House. New Baby.

"I'm going to be 39 this year," he said, tracing my ankle bone with his finger. It turned my stomach. "I want to have a family. I think about you a lot and I know nobody will ever take care of me the way you could." I couldn't bring myself to say 'You must be fucking kidding me' -- he looked so vulnerable it kind of broke my heart -- so I let my silence speak for itself.

He kept smiling but I could tell he was hurt, and on the way out the door, when nobody was around, he started to tickle me. The mean way. He dug his fist into my armpit and didn't stop until my eyes stung with tears. A half hour later at home, I sat down on my bed and touched the tender spot he'd knuckled into my side, wondering why I hadn't thrown my elbow into his ribs, crushed his toe with my heel, something. The answer is the difference between S and me: I may have a wicked temper, I may think nasty thoughts from time to time, but when it comes down to it I just don't have it in me to willfully damage another person.

S called last week to wish me a happy new year and ask if I'd like to have lunch. "No agenda this time," he swore, "I just thought it'd be nice to see your face." I told him I was busy, but of course that wasn't true. It's simply time to stop playing this game. He's no longer my responsibility and no longer my problem. And let's not forget -- let's not ever forget -- it could have been me.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

this is why your browser comes with parental controls

Mom: What's a bong?

Me: Where did you learn that word?

Mom: In the comments on your blog, from the squirrel story.

Me: It's something you use to smoke marijuana. You put water inside and hold your finger over the hole and... Never mind.

Mom: Oh, I thought it was a phallic thing. I got a little upset because I thought people were writing sex comments on your website.

Me: Nope. Just drug paraphernalia.

Mom: Okay then, that's fine.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

In my last year of college I shared a house with friends in a quiet College Park neighborhood near the University of Maryland. We didn't throw loud parties and we considerately limited our pot smoking to the interior of the house, so most of our neighbors -- families and a few elderly couples -- went about their lives as if we weren't there. But there was one fortyish man named Earle, living with his parents down the street, who would sometimes stop by and chat with us while we lazed on our porch swing on weekend afternoons. He was harmless, if a little odd, and he liked to talk about the squirrels in our yard -- particularly the albino that lived in the tree out front.

As the weather turned cold we'd watch the squirrel out there every day, working hard for his acorns -- find, dig, bury, dig, chew, chew, chew -- day in and day out. I don't know if it was his milky coat, his admirable work ethic or the fact that a snow-white squirrel is simply captivating when you're twenty-one, bored and high as a kite, but we took a shine to the little guy and adopted him as the unofficial mascot of our happy home.

Sometime in late winter the white squirrel up and disappeared. We noticed, it was briefly discussed, but we were too busy with our studies and social lives to give it much thought... until one day in February when a storm stranded us at home, classes cancelled, with nothing to do but get stoned and play in the snow. When Earle spotted us outside he walked over to ask if we'd noticed the squirrel was gone. We said yes, as a matter of fact we had noticed. Did he have any idea what had happened?

Earle's eyes got kinda shifty and he kicked at the snow a moment before confessing that he'd found it lying on the ground in our yard one day when no one was home. "Must've fallen from the treetop," he said.

We bowed our heads in silence but Earle continued, "Nothin' to be done, he was already dead, so I took him home and put him on ice."

"What do you mean you 'put him on ice'?"

"I stuck him in the freezer." He said it casually, as if he was talking about a steak he planned to thaw and grill up for supper next week.

"You mean our white squirrel is sitting in your freezer at home? Right now?"

"Yep."

"You're full of shit, Earle."

He shrugged and walked away, seemingly unfazed by this bizarre exchange.

Ten minutes later Earle came trudging back up our walkway holding a plastic bag with a fluffy white tail poking out the top.

"See?" he said, and when he dropped the bag on the porch it clattered against the floorboards like...well, like a frozen rodent falling on a two-by-four.

There it was, our little white mascot, now a squirrelsicle in a grocery bag shroud.

We cut back considerably on the dope after that, and stopped hanging out on the porch altogether. I wish I could say the squirrel is in a better place now, but Earle took him back to the freezer that day and for all I know he's still there, chillin' out, waiting for a new class of half-baked college brats to start playing in the snow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

If you want my opinion...

I'm the girl to whom everyone comes for advice. Friends, relatives, colleagues, strangers... Everybody wants my opinion: "Does this need more garlic?" "Do I need weatherproof paint?" "Should I leave my husband?" "Does this mole look like cancer?"

I don't know why they do this. Maybe I have an honest face, or my glasses create the impression that I'm learned and wise - what my father calls an "optical illusion."

Lately I've been corresponding with a guy in another state who reads my blog. At first he said he'd gotten in touch with me because he'd seen a few of my posts about shyness and my chronic verbal paralysis and/or spastic flailing around some persons of the male persuasion. He told me, "I read those essays about the lunch place guy and I thought, Great! Another 30-year-old just like me who also has no idea how to talk to members of the opposite sex." (You know, I didn't think much about that remark at the time, but now I have to say it isn't exactly true. I know how to talk to them, I just avoid it sometimes because it makes me very uncomfortable. And it's not specific to men, it's all humans, plus some of the larger-breed dogs.)

The funny thing is that within a few days this guy shifted from relating to me as a socially dysfunctional kindred spirit to mining this wisdom he's projected onto me for advice on his love life -- specifically a budding relationship with a woman in his town. I was amused and flattered by his confidence in me, and began to dispense tips that seemed to make sense. Nothing too profound, just "You don't have to wait four days to call," or "Take her to dinner next time, it's enough with the sports already." At first I held my breath waiting for his social life to implode, but so far it seems to be going pretty well.

Of course, this guy seeks fairly basic guidance. But what of the others? When solicited for counsel I always have something to say, but what if I say the wrong thing? I don't know from painting a shed. Who am I to say if your marriage is doomed? Do I look like a dermatologist to you?

I want to be able to help these people. All of them, from the hypochondriac in my aerobics class to the drag queen at my bus stop who asks how I make my lashes look so feathery and long. So I'm thinking maybe I should start my own advice column to get some practice, hone my skills. Kind of a Dear-Abby-meets-Carolyn-Hax type deal. Come tell mama your problems; she'll make you feel better, even if the advice she pulls out of her ass ultimately ruins your life.

It'll take some time to iron out the details. For now I'm working on the look and feel. I'll need a headshot that portrays me as accessible but strong, maybe in the middle of a hearty laugh, or gazing off with my chin in my palm. And I'm playing with a few titles that'll capture the essence of the column -- let me know what you think: "Write On," sort of an affirmative high-five approach; "Always Something," which feels warm and commiserative; or -- actually I think this one really speaks to those who'd trust me with their major life decisions -- "Hey, It's Your Funeral."
7:30 p.m. last night, my phone rings with my mother's cellphone number on the Caller ID.

me: "Hello?"

my grandma: "Hello?"

me: "Hello?"

grandma: "Hello? I can't hear anything. It's not working. Hello?!"

highway sounds. click. dial tone.

fifteen seconds later the phone rings again.

me, annoyed: "Hello?"

grandma: "Hello?! I still can't hear."

me, shouting: "Grandma! I'm here!"

grandma: "Helloooo? Are you there? Why can't I hear anything? Celia, something's wrong with the phone."

my father, in the background: "Did she push Send? Let me see it..."

rustling. click. dial tone.

ten seconds later the phone rings. again.

me: "WHAT?!?!"

my mother: "Hi honey, we're in the car with Grandma. She wants to talk to you."

rustling, fumbling.

grandma: "Okay. Hello?"

me: "Hi Grandma."

grandma: "Hello? Helloooo?!?! I don't understand what's wrong. Celia, your phone is broken. Fix the phone, Celia. HELLOOOO?!?!"

more rustling and fumbling, then my mother, in the background:

"Ma, you're holding it backward!"

Sunday, October 09, 2005

My parents are a lot like Abbott and Costello: My mother, short, round and impulsive, is always pulling some stunt that leads my taller, leaner, more sensible father to chastise her for the fine mess she's gotten them into this time.

Yesterday Dad recounted an incident from their summer trip to San Francisco: During dim sum in Chinatown they shared a table with an Italian couple visiting from Rome. An incurable eavesdropper and master of schmooze, my mother recognized their accents and began a conversation using the rudimentary Italian skills she picked up studying opera 40 years ago. Most people would have realized after 30 seconds or so that the couple's English was close to perfect, but my mother was on a roll. She pelted them with questions in English -- punctuating her slow, overenunciated shouting with the grotesque sign language that only confuses foreigners and makes them hate Americans that much more -- and met each of their increasingly nervous answers with "assolutamente!" or "molto buon!" Eventually they became so uncomfortable that they packed up their food and left. "I wanted to crawl under the table," my father said, shaking his head. "I kept kicking her foot but she just wouldn't take the hint."

At that moment my mother arrived and caught me cackling over the tail end of the story. "Oh, you're telling that one," she scowled. "I'll just leave you two alone to exaggerate about me some more," and she walked off in a huff. My father chuckled and shrugged. "There's nothing to make up here, she's totally self-exaggerating." It's so true; The woman is like a cartoon. She's not bad, she's just drawn that way.

I should explain that we were all together yesterday because we were working: My mother runs a small entertainment agency -- she hires music, magicians, clowns, etc. for parties and such. Whenever one of her commercial real estate clients asks her to orchestrate a seasonal event she turns it into a family affair, recruiting my father to set up the deejay equipment, my sister to play the music, and me to paint hearts, flowers and small woodland creatures on the cheeks of children who walk by. Cheap labor, I guess; We're like a low-budget Partridge Family. It's not a bad way to earn some fun money. I do it once or twice a season and get to play with paint and meet a few babies, which is never a bad thing.

When the event was finished my father left to run an errand while my mother, after handing me a check for my day's work, pulled her station wagon up to the curb. Predictably, she overestimated the turn and swiped the yellow concrete post that was probably placed there to protect pedestrians from drivers like her. (With my mother behind the wheel you're guaranteed the ride of your life. Possibly the last one.)

The scrape itself was less hilarious than the fact that Mom didn't even notice it and had to ask why my sister and I were cracking up when she stepped out of the car. When we told her what she'd done she insisted we were full of crap. "Look at the bumper!" we cried, and she glanced over and dismissed the blemish as a mark from a similar run-in two weeks earlier. "But there's yellow paint all over the place!" we screamed, now clutching each other to keep from falling down, we were laughing so hard. She bent down for a closer look and sucked air through her teeth ("whoops..."), looking only vaguely troubled until she discovered the yellow paint would rub off easily. Then it was okay. "Why would they put bumpers on my car if they weren't meant to be bumped?!" she exclaimed with wide eyes, as if it was the most obvious and logical question a person could ask. (And you know, it kind of is.)

Then she skulked over to me -- The Evil One, the one she thinks is always out to get her -- and she begged me, "Please don't tell Daddy. If I put one more dent in this car he's going to send me away." I smirked at her, remembering the last time I found myself in this position, and then I handed her the envelope with my check inside and said, "It's not too late to add another zero."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

My good friend B, of the unexpected birthday floral arrangement, either volunteered or was goaded into testing a soon-to-be-featured cookie recipe for the Washington Post. She invited me to join her because I know my way around a kitchen and she trusted me to do right by the recipe. More than she trusted herself, apparently, because I mixed, rolled, cut, baked and frosted the cookies and she washed the dishes. But it's all good; I got to lick the bowl.

We'll both be mentioned in the Food section next week or the week after; If you can find us, you win... I dunno, a picture of me licking the bowl. (It's not as hot as it sounds.)



one of these is in my tummy now

Friday, October 07, 2005

play date

Act 1: Introduction
On my way out to lunch the handsome fortyish man who always smiles at me on the elevator crosses my path and says, "Hi. I always see you on this floor. I just wanted to introduce myself, my name is Jason. What's yours?" He's charming and a little bit goofy, so sure of himself in his cowboy boots and hands buried casually in the pockets of his jeans. He seems sweet. Genuine. Like he's sensed my shyness and made it his business to coax me out of my shell.

I answer with just my name. "Nice to meet you," he says, "I should warn you I'm terrible with names. I'll remember everything about you except what to call you. Don't get mad." "I won't take it personally," I say, and grin more broadly than I mean to.


Act 2: Drama
A week later I'm late for the bus when I dash past Jason in the empty lobby. I smile politely and half-wave.

"Do you have any idea how much it brightens my day when I see you?" he calls as I sprint by. It should sound trite since we've only met once before, but for some reason it doesn't. In fact it's not the words but the sincerity in his voice that makes me stop in my tracks, pluck out one of my earbuds and cock my head in his direction.

He raises his right palm in mock defense. "I'm not coming on to on you," he says through a grin. "You just should know that you have an incredible spirit about you. It's really amazing; You shine. And you always make my day."

For a moment we're locked there staring at one another -- me stunned by his brazen, possibly (but not definitely) romantic gesture and him waiting to see whether I'll step toward him or break and run. Then elevator doors open and the clack of heels on marble breaks the daze, and without taking his eyes off me he puts his finger to his lips and whispers, "Shhhh."

My face flushes, probably light pink but it feels like crimson. This time I don't grin, I beam, and say "thank you" before I run out the door. I smile and blush and tug on my lower lip (I do that when I like someone; it's my tell) all the way home.


Act 3: Finale
The next day I'm running again, this time to the gym. Jason is walking into the stairwell just as I turn the corner. He holds the door for me. "Going to exercise?"

He asks which office on our floor is mine and what we do there, where I'm from, if I was caught in the rain today, do I have anything fun planned for the weekend... It's that verbal hopscotch we all play while we're scheming, building nerve or making our way to the point. His gaze doesn't break for a single second; It's unnerving and entrancing. I'd like to learn to hold eye contact that way.

He adjusts the stack of papers he's carrying and something catches the light. Plain gold band, left hand; It's hidden again in half a second but there's no mistaking what it was. At this time yesterday all the blood was rushing to my face; It's amazing how fast the tide can turn.

I've been through this test before and I won't fail it again. My last few syllables -- "...nice weekend" -- are still on their way out when I turn on my heel and bolt down the stairs.

The End.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Dad, don't read this one

Continuing the belated celebration of my 30th birthday, one of my girlfriends presented me with a bag of books. Grownup books. Immediately I reached for the candy: Life's Too Short for Tantric Sex: 50 Shortcuts to Sexual Ecstasy. Concisely written and stunningly illustrated (I was especially stunned by pages 41, 73 and 99), this little volume is a show and tell of everything -- and I mean everything -- you ever wanted to know (and a few things you didn't) about pleasing yourself and another in bed. Or in the kitchen, or the backyard, or the IMAX theater at the Air & Space Museum. Whatever launches your rocket.

Now all I need is a study partner to go with my new textbook. That's what the weekend is for. (Kidding! I don't pick up random men in bars. I pick them randomly from my little black book, that way I know what I'm getting. Kidding again! I have no such book. It's all digital. A joke! A joke! But it would be nice to have a few in the stable... Please, somebody stop me.)

This naughty birthday offering was no doubt inspired by my friend's own recent sexual awakening. On the cusp of her 38th year, still steadfastly single and loving every minute of it, she's arrived at this deliciously indulgent state of body and mind in which there are no substitutes or compromises to be made when it comes to great sex. If you are sleeping with my friend A, do not be selfish, do not be lazy and for God's sake do what you're told. You will give her what she needs or she will cut you loose. No discussion.

Now, I'm a bit younger and less experienced than A, so I tend to be more forgiving in this area. I believe in working on it (up to a point) because it's rarely as simple as good sex or bad.

Take, for example, my ex-boyfriend S. His skills were few but well-honed and he always followed the law of Ladies First. But he was only generous so he could be greedy: My satisfaction was something to sweep out of the way so he could focus on his own pleasure unencumbered by the pressure to make me happy while he was enjoying himself (which, really, is the point of sex, isn't it? to do it together?).

Of all the things I learned from S the most memorable was that foreplay can be dangerous. That was a lesson that stuck with me -- for a couple of weeks, in the form of a bite-shaped bruise on my right butt cheek. S had a little problem with self control and...well, he wasn't a leg man if you know what I mean, and he just got carried away once. Or twice. After the third time I stopped enjoying sex with him altogether because I was always on edge, waiting for the next time a playful nibble would escalate into a vigorous chomp. "This must be what people mean when they talk about using sex as a weapon," I thought. His empty apologies did nothing to console me; Teeth on the tushie is the sort of pain you don't easily forget.

Wow, I've aired some laundry before but this is by far the dirtiest. I wonder if I'll regret it in the morning. Whatever: As my friend A would say, "Check your inhibitions at the door or get the hell out of my bedroom." You have to respect a woman who doesn't mince words.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

gut buster

Three times in the last week I've eaten at my mother's house, and three times I've come home with a stomach ache.

Please understand, my mother is a gifted cook: Like Jackson Pollock she flings ingredients around the kitchen and somehow yields astounding culinary art. But as with all items of her creation -- children, macrame housewares, the "I'm Not Fat, I'm Pregnant" sweatshirt she wears to aerobics class -- she has a hard time letting go.

Leftovers enter my parents' refrigerator and ripen there until they literally grow their own vocal cords and beg to be returned to the earth whence they came. It's like orchestrating a prison break to throw away food: We need one person to distract my mother, one to guard the kitchen door in case she escapes, one to extract the plates and Tupperware from the back of the fridge, and one poor sucker to open the containers and sniff out the offending remains. Teamwork has been difficult lately, what with my father at work all day and only one kid still living at home, so the fridge has devolved into a petri dish teeming with microbes that wreak havoc on an unaccustomed gut.

At the heart of the matter is an ongoing debate about the definition of "edible": While my father's delicate palate favors what's fresh and healthy, my mother operates on the more basic principle that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, if a little queasy.

But I have to give the lady credit for being resourceful. Bananas gone black? Bake 'em into bread. Bruised peaches on sale at the farmer's market? I smell a cobbler... Cucumber rotted to a milky pulp? Hope you like gazpacho!

Okay, I exaggerate. A little.

The top five phrases uttered in my mother's kitchen:

  • "Just scrape if off."
  • "It's supposed to smell like that."
  • "I know it's not rotten because I had it for lunch today!"
  • "When did you make this brisket?" "Hannukah." "Which year?"
  • "(sniff sniff) Phew! I'll make this into soup."
You see, my Mom lives in an alternate reality; A world in which no food is ever past its prime, and there exists no foul flavor that cannot be vanquished with copious amounts of garlic and whichever herbs and spices are on hand. To her credit, she makes everything taste fantastic. But I've learned the hard way that it's my responsibility to eat around foods not fit for human consumption. So next time you notice me sniffing my soup, or inspecting my salad, or peeking between the layers of my lasagna, please don't think me odd or tell me to "just relax and eat it already." This is one habit I don't intend to break.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

fortune garden

Rosh Hashana starts a couple days from now. It's one of my favorite holidays: A time for self-reflection; for family; for gossiping in temple under the watchful eyes of God and Rabbi Gold.

So I was thinking, "What better way to mark the start of a new Jewish year than with a bit of life-affirming wisdom from the mystical scrolls of my people's most cherished cultural symbol, The Chinese Fortune Cookie?"

(I'm not kidding; Jews love Chinese food. You stay open on Christmas Eve, you make a friend for life.)

(Click to view at full size.)


I don't know why I hang on to these, let alone display them on my fridge; Aside from shoes and neuroses I'm not in the habit of collecting things. Most of the fortunes are silly ("A nice cake is waiting for you"), but there are one or two that, though they're kind of obvious, might kindle some deep thought or inspiration.
Peruse, reflect, enjoy.

I wish you all -- boys, girls, babies, puppies, kittens, goldfish and even squirrels -- a happy, safe and healthy year.