Category Archives: Musings

Getting my Cardio on

Male doctor sitting with female patient by window, side view

I once had a music teacher, a professional concert musician, who told me that her doctor was concerned that she didn’t work out, that he thought she needed some kind of physical, aerobic, activity.  Her response was, “Have you seen me play?”

He hadn’t.

“You should. You should see me perform.”

1-pianist

Olga Kern

He did, and promptly retracted his statement that she was not active enough. After seeing the fervor with which she played the most complicated, extended, and beautiful music, witnessing the amount of control she exhibited to transition from flashy virtuosity causing her to angrily rise from her bench, to quiet, sweetly melodic passages Continue reading →

Debt and STDs, a Comparison

 

AHS

Because for some of us, nothing is scarier than paying bills.

Somehow, while paying my bills — which takes so much longer than it would if I had more money — but I digress . . .  I started thinking about debt and sexually transmitted diseases. Don’t ask me why.  So, here, without further ado, is a list of how debt is like an STD.

Perp Walk

1.  You’d rather people not know about it.

Really, no one starts a date with reaching under the table to scratch and saying, “Sorry, but I really itch down there. It’s supposed to stop in a few days.”

or

“Can you pay if my card gets declined? I think I have enough left on this card, but if I don’t, they might confiscate it.  But it’s probably cool.”

George Bailey Considers Suicide

It’s a Wonderful Life: George Bailey, faced with financial ruin, attempts suicide.

2. Both can, literally, drive you crazy.

Untreated Syphilis can lead to dementia.

Stress from debt can lead to depression, and even sometimes suicide.

Seriously, it’s not funny.

3.  Both could have easily been avoided by a little self-control and pre-planning:

Elaine

Elaine, from Seinfeld.

Don’t do it with anybody or everybody or buy anything or everything just because they are just sooo cute.

Use the available precautions, like stopping at the store to buy condoms before screwing, or checking your balance before swiping.

Ask a simple question, “How much is this?” or “What is that sore?”

4.  Treatment can sometimes take a while

STDs may require a course of antibiotics, then retesting, sometimes a change in medications, and retesting, etc. Rinse, repeat.

It can takes weeks, months, or years to climb out of debt, one payment at a time. Pay, Rinse, repeat.

5. Both conditions require a period of abstinence.

Keep your pants on (and mouth closed)  until further notice.

Keep your shopping cart empty and put your plastic away.  Step away from the mall.

In other words, keep your ass home and offline and enjoy simple pursuits — like pain-free peeing and going to mailbox without breaking into a cold sweat.

6.  You can get both from people you love.

Out of Africa

In Out of Africa, Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen, who just found out she got Syphilis from her husband.

You can make an informed decision to be intimate within a loving, monogamous, trusting  relationship and SURPRISE!  Your Bae has crabs!

You can, after careful consideration, co-sign on a loan with a trusted friend, lover, relative and SURPRISE your friend / lover relative never had the ability or intention to make the payments..

Bottom line: You can get screwed by your loved ones resulting in a rash or low credit score.

Friends VD

7.  You can inherit both an STD and Debt.

Sadly, a baby can be born with an STD if the mother had one.

Thanks, Mom.

Sadly, a spouse can die and leave you with his or her debt.

Thanks, Babe.

8.  STDs and Debt can  force you to have uncomfortable conversations.

dowisetrepla

Lily confesses her huge credit card debt in “How I Met Your Mother”

“Um, I tested positive for chlamydia and um, you should be tested too. Kthxbye.”

“Um, I didn’t make the payments and um, they took our car last night.  I am so so sorry.”

9.  I doesn’t matter how you got infected with an STD or fell  into crippling debt,you have to do something about it or things could get uncomfortable, or downright ugly.

 

Antibiotics don’t judge.  You might need them because you were a indiscriminate, stupid, dirty whore who decided that the open sores, puss, or  little bugs on your lover you met in line at the clinic were cute, or, you could be a faithful husband or wife who got screwed (literally and figuratively) by your healthy looking spouse who happens to be infected with — something.

Same with debt.  You might be in deep debt because you indulged a shoe fetish or like to hang out at the race track or casino, or, you could have gotten divorced, sick,  fired, ripped off by a stranger or family, either way you have to do something about it to clear your record. Now.

judge

I think that personal finance folks should back off the blame train and offer concrete ways to deal with a situation without too much talk about how you got there, because debt is like an STD, if you have it, you don’t like it, and you don’t want again.  People are more likely to seek help or advice for lifestyle changes faster for personal credit card debt — or gonorrhea — if they don’t risk being reprimanded, scolded, or ridiculed for suffering from a condition they already do not enjoy.  Sure, offer tips to avoid a repeat exposure, but do so with the assumption that the person doesn’t want to deal with this again.

Lesson has likely been learned once  you experience that first itch or open sore in a private place, or get that first red letter in the mail.

Ignoring either problem can get ugly, trust me.  Go ahead, Google Images for Syphillis, Gonorrhea, and Homelessness.  I dare ya.

Just Me With . . .   a debt comparison. 

 

 

 

The Joys of Being Single During the Holidays

Fatal Attraction Opera Night

It’s that time of year when singles of all ages and backgrounds lament about being alone.  It’s holiday time, right?  People tend to couple up and cuddle or enjoy family traditions. For many folks one tradition is being asked, “Are you seeing anyone?”

(My family never asks this, by the way, as if such an idea is just crazy talk.)

But there are things that are really cool about not having a significant other during the holidays.

Here comes a list.

  1. No splitting holidays!

How many have done the — “Okay, we’ll spend Christmas Eve with your parents, Christmas Day at my Grandma’s and Christmas dinner at your sister’s.

Or this year we’ll go to your family and next year we’ll visit mine — as if your respective families have some sort of court ordered visitation schedule forced upon you. Children of divorce have been during this for years.  Once you are half of a grown up couple, you’ll find yourself doing it again.

Single?  You can sit at your own mom’s house — or your own damn house.

“I ain’t going nowhere.”

The Holiday

Cameron Diaz, home for the night in “The Holiday”

2.  Less Gifts To Buy

AKA save your money for something for yourself, charity, or pay off credit card debt you racked up when you had a honey to buy for, his/her family to buy for and back when you bought all the crap to make you look good 24/7.  It makes sound financial sense to be single, particularly from Black Friday until right after President’s Day.

The money blogs tend not to encourage break ups, but they should, and say:

Ways to build wealth:

First, cut up your credit cards,

Second, cut loose your BAE.

(Yes, I said BAE, I’ll show myself out.)

3.  Less Gifts to Receive

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane

From What Ever Happened to Baby Jane

I’ve gotten some bad ones.  When I was only a mere 19 year old a future brother-in-law gave us a gift card — to a hotel!

A HOTEL GIFT CARD AS A CHRISTMAS GIFT TO BE OPENED IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE FAMILY!

(awkward)

And then there was a time when slim, young,and I thought pretty damn cute me was given a pink nylon track suit.

The kind you see worn in nursing homes.

Wait, what?   Have you seen me?  I mean I’ve never been a slave to fashion, but I’m not completely devoid of  .. of . . .giving a shit what I look like!  C’mon, now!  

And then I had to find a way never to wear it, or claim that it didn’t fit and return it.  (I believe I returned it, although it was clearly a one size fits all situation.)  And I still had to endure the disapproving looks from my husband.

humbug

Later on my my marriage we used to go to a white elephant Christmas party where everyone brought ugly, useless, yet nicely wrapped gifts to exchange for laughs.  I had a seemingly endless supply of tacky items that had actually been given to me — lighted moving flowers in plastic cases — that was a crowd favorite.

Anyway, when you’re single you get less —- crap.

4.  Your decor, or lack thereof,is your own

 

Christmas vacation

It doesn’t matter if somebody is allergic to real trees.  You can get one.  It doesn’t matter if you’d rather hang lights on your potted plant or toilet.  It doesn’t matter if you would prefer not to decorate anything at all.  It doesn’t matter if a lapsed Baptist girl wants a Menorah.  You don’t have to start or maintain anyone else’s traditions or preferences. It’s all you, baby.

5.  No work party discomfort

You don’t have to convince a significant other to go, and  you don’t have to explain why your significant other is not there with you (“He’s working tonight.” This was my favorite work party lie.)  But when you are single, you can show up on your schedule, make the rounds and leave whenever you damn well please. (All the big stars leave early.  Look at the talk shows.)

1 dustin_kramer1

Or, if you’re having fun you can stay until the bitter end without having your date do the raised eyebrow, tap the invisible watch, shoulder shrug combo which means,“You promised we wouldn’t have to stay long.  I want to go home and watch Die Hard.”

6. And the best one?   

You have no idea what things will be like next year.

1 boob graze 7509.0.570.359

Boob graze in The Holiday

Being uncoupled, you haven’t promised to honor the same — time-sharing, lame gift giving and receiving, fake tree, awkward party-duty, 24 hours of A Christmas Story — Christmas simply because that’s what you did with your partner last year, and every year.

Nope. You’re free.

Next year, you might try something different.

Next year, you might be someone different.

Next year, you might be with someone new, or not (remember to consider cleaning house mid-November, your bank account will thank you).

The possibilities are endless.

Just Me With . . . no one. And that’s alright with me.

See also Annual Holiday Christmas Party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Won’t Do Gift Cards for Teens This Year

1 Gift Cards

I know how it happens, that little kid people have been buying gifts for over the years, and who used to jump up and down at a stuffed animal or fire truck or blocks or books, hits the double digits age.  Adults know, from experience, that it is difficult to buy for teens and tweens, that they are probably chasing ever changing trends of which the non-parent is unaware, or that they have particular tastes that are as fiercely adhered to as some fundamental religions, “But I don’t like that.  No one wears that.

In the old days when adults got tired of trying to figure out what the kid will actually like an Aunt or Uncle would get one of those cool money cards and put cold hard cash in it for youngin’ to, “Buy yourself something.”  No further instructions necessary.  Now, when adults transition from giving the nicely wrapped and thoughtful shopped-for gifts, they skip the cash and pick up a gift card at the mall, or grocery store, or convenience store or almost anywhere these days, for a store that they’ve heard that teens like.

But I’m over it.

Here are the reasons why I will not give gift cards anymore, and why I will ask my loved ones not to give gift cards to my kids this holiday season.

Disclaimer: There may be some kids who do not have the issues I’m going to talk about below.  My decision is based on what I’ve seen my kids and some of their friends do.

  1. They  Don’t Use the Cards

The gift cards are sometimes not used for weeks, months, years, or not at all.  Kids collect them, forget about them, take months to decide what to do with them, or lose them.  Your hard earned money is doing nothing, except contributing to the bottom line of the store.

2.  They  Teach Kids to Spend Money Only at Expensive, Specialty Stores. 

You are telling a kid that they must go into a certain store and buy something only from that store.  And if they don’t have enough on their gift card, they have to find some way to make up the difference — Mom?  This is all to buy a sweater that might cost $60.

Why, I ask you, are we encouraging kids — minors with no jobs — to buy a $60 sweater?  Why are we normalizing it?

Because it benefits the stores.

It gets the kids in the stores where they play all the cool music (my sister calls it jeans-buying music) and then they want to come back.  And, because many of these cards can be bought elsewhere, adults might not know that their $25 dollar gift card merely gives the kid a discount on a $60 sweater.

And even if the kids would consider buying elsewhere,  where they might find the same or similar sweater for less — they can’t — because your gift card only allows them to go to the $60 sweater store.

So, if you want them to have a $60 sweater,  buy it for them. You’ll be the favorite Aunt/Uncle and if they don’t like it, they can exchange it. But don’t get them used to buying it.  Don’t let them feel entitled to it. Don’t normalize it.

3.  Gift Cards to Discount Stores Aren’t Much Better

Giving them a card to a discount store doesn’t always help.  See number 2, the kids have already been socialized that it’s cool to buy at the other stores.  “I hate that [insert discount or department] store” and “I don’t like anything here” are words I’ve heard uttered when we are barely through the front doors.  When a kid feels that way before even looking at the stuff I guarantee they won’t find anything there and your gift card will sit unused, see Number 1.  Oddly enough, if I buy something from Marshall’s or TJMaxx and bring it home and put it in my closet, then it is suddenly wearable. They borrow it and I never see it again. (I have my own marketing tricks, thank you very much. . . heh heh heh). My girls are currently wearing two of my jackets — one from  Kohls and another that I got from a Thrift store.  But if they had a gift card to those stores it would sit unused.

The shopping experience at less expensive and more inclusive stores is quite different — there is merchandise not just for teens and gasp — they see people buying it that are not their age, or gender, or size, or their perceived economic group (teens tend to believe they are wealthy).  They refuse to do it. The gift cards to the discount stores simple tell them that they aren’t allowed shop at their favorite stores, and that makes them angry.

Snape is displeased

My girls are sitting on Target and Old Navy cards that are almost a year old now.

 

4.       It Normalizes Use of Plastic

1 Rachel Green Spending Habits

I know, I know, we are in a paperless society.  I use my credit, debit cards all the time.  It’s convenient.  But I’m grown.  And I have other bills to pay and in every job I’ve ever had I got paid in money, not plastic.  And if you look at any consumer debt article it will talk about people, largely Americans’, reliance on credit, specifically on credit cards to buy things they cannot afford.

Gift cards now look and feel just like credit cards.  If that’s all your kid gets for birthdays or Christmas, he or she will start to normalize paying for things with plastic and without thinking  about how much they spent, or what they are spending this money on. Instead, if they think at all, they ponder only,

“Do I have room on this card?”

Scary.  This is not something kids should be conditioned to think.

When this kid is finally old enough to get a real credit card — and at stores they can get them at 18 years old, they have shopped for years with plastic without consequence.  A recipe for disaster.

You have to learn how to manage money before you learn how to manage debt.  Gift cards train kids to manage plastic.

Notably, people who have debt or spending problems are often  encouraged to use cash exclusively even just as an exercise for a defined amount of time.  This is so that they see where their money goes and it is obvious when it’s gone.  I’ve also heard that people tend to spend less and more thoughtfully when they use cash and have to see it dwindle away.  I think teens should be encouraged to spend with cash, just like the credit-challenged — so they have a visual of their spending habits — and limitations.

5.  Gift Cards Discourage Saving

1 Harry Potter Bank

Banks become something that only appear in fantasy books and movies.

When you give that store gift card, the kid is unable to put money away for a rainy day, or plan to work to add to it in order to buy that big ticket item that is so important to him/her but that is only sold at a different store, or available on Craigslist or eBay.

In this sad economy the kid might only make a penny in interest if the money sits in a bank.  But the gift cards?  They make nothing at all and some even lose their value over time.  And, again, see Number 1.  They might sit unused or lost.

6.  Gift Cards Take Away Spending Ability and Decisions

1 mad money

Okay, this was stolen money in Mad Money, but still, they could decide how to spend it.

If the kid has gotten a handful of great store gift cards at Christmas and then their friends call them and ask if they want to go to the movies, or out to eat or — gag me — Starbucks — (again, the prices and marketing of Starbucks to people without jobs is a topic for another post), this kid has no money to do so.  Then it’s all, “Mom, can I have $20?” while they are sitting on $200 worth of gift cards.  Whether or not Mom or Dad pony up the money, the kid can’t pay his or her own way.

So what happens is, kids believe they are entitled to use or hoard their gift cards on speciality items of their choice and without regard to price, but all other expenses they incur are the obligation of parents.

Huh.

Or, more importantly, the kid is not able to designate it for use toward a wonderful experience they hope to do — something small like being able to go to a game and buy food at the snack bar with friends or something big, like saving for that trip to Italy that is offered at the school.  And, they can’t donate to charity or use any part of it to buy a gift for someone else.

Sure, if they received an actual gift they couldn’t put it in the bank, but they wouldn’t be told to shop without thought, either.

7.  Visa/Mastercard Gift Cards Aren’t Much Better Either

See number 1 (they often aren’t used). See Number 4 (kids are encouraged to buy things with a credit card).  See Number 5, they can’t save it, See number 6, though it gives them more spending decisions, they still can’t use it at a fair, or to buy something they are selling at school as a fundraiser or at a snack bar, and they probably can’t decide to use the money to pay for something themselves — like their prom tickets.

Plus, you’ve paid a fee of $4 or $5 dollars that goes to the company.  This is for the privilege of giving a gift of plastic to a kid.  Wouldn’t you rather give the full $30 to the kid rather than a $25 gift card plus a $4 surcharge to the company?

8.  Giving Cash is Not Tacky

There are times when giving cash is a no-no — to a date, to a judge, to a addict.  But to a kid?  It’s perfectly okay. As I said in the beginning, this was the norm for years — Uncle Ben would hand out money envelopes.  Grandpa would sneak a kid a $10.  But that changed. I believe it was just a marketing thing. The stores want us to think we shouldn’t do it, and that the kids would rather get a $25 gift card to a store than $25 in cash.   But see 1 and 2, that benefits the stores.  When we have been convinced that giving cash is bad, but giving a gift card for the same amount is somehow better, we have directed business right where they want it — in their store. And, with their jeans-buying music and slick ads with gorgeous, young, thin models, they have created a loyalty to that store. If we gave cash, the kid could shop whereever he or she wants — even unwisely, or save, or use it for spending money.

 

9. Giving a Gift Card to a Store That Is Beyond Their Parents’ Means Can Cause Problems

1 Tiffany

Think about that.  Using extremes, say you give a kid a gift card to a Luis Vuitton store.  He/she buys some beautiful leather expensive thing. Loves the store, the service, how special he/she felt going in, the looks of approval when he/she carries the real LV bag.  You’ve now trained a kid to only want real designer items, that may cost as much as her parents car and mortgage payments combined.  But the kid doesn’t appreciate how much the thing costs, and when they need a new backpack or wallet, they aren’t going to want to go to Target or Marshalls, because they’ve now been trained, socialized to buy new designer items in specialty stores. This, even though they have no job and they are items that their parents could not or would not buy for them — or even for themselves.

It works the same with the $60 sweater from the trendy store.  Let the kids save, combine cash they have received as a gift or earned babysitting and buy that sweater if they so choose, but don’t make them buy it, don’t train them to buy it, especially if it’s something their parents cannot afford.   Teaching them that it is perfectly normal to to buy a  $60 sweater when her parents can’t afford such items, or who have debt problems of their own, is kind of unfair.  The next time the kid needs a new shirt, they will only want to shop at the designer stores, and it’s the parents that have to say no.

If you want to give an expensive, special present, please just buy the gift. Don’t gift the “shopping experience” that the parent cannot sustain.

 

10.  A Word about Victoria’s Secret

1 The Social Network

Love this scene from The Social Network when Sean Parker explains that Victoria’s Secret grew from a man wanting to buy his wife some thigh highs.

Yes, the catalog has clothes.  And some clothes are in stores.  And they have very nice $60 bras that go on sale twice a year.  And they have cute underwear and $75 bottles of perfume and also have the $10 lip gloss, and key chains, and body spray, etc. But unless you are comfortable with a 12 year old girl combing through panty bins looking through bejewelled thongs, crotchless or furred panties alongside grown ass women and sometimes men, you might want to skip sending a kid to that store. One of my daughters got a Victoria’s Secret Gift Card and I told her to to wait until the sale to use it.  When she saw all the people digging through the bins of panties (all types of panties thrown in together — the regular ones and the sex clothes)  she said, “This makes me uncomfortable,” and left the store.   We ended up quickly buying perfume just to use the gift card. Of course, I have other daughters who got used to buying in there with their gift cards and don’t want to even look anywhere else. Sigh.

Call me old fashioned, but I think that when a woman is at a point in life when she needs or wants to buy sexy lingerie,  she should be old enough to pay for it herself, not with a gift card from Uncle Bob.

In addition, somehow, the brilliant marketing people at Victoria’s Secret have convinced teen girls that paying twice as much for a T-shirt or sweatshirt that says PINK than they would for a T-shirt or sweatshirt that says literally anything else is perfectly normal.

Perhaps as adults, we shouldn’t encourage that.

I’ve decided that if I’m going to purchase an expensive sweatshirt or hoodie for my kids, it will be one with a college name or their high school spiritwear.  The girls really like them also, and the inflated price is at least going to a good cause. Plus the girls are advertising something meaningful, rather than simply the word “PINK,” a brand for Victoria’s Secret.

Just to be clear . . .

I don’t mean to sound preachy, this is from experience. I’m frustrated.

I’m so tired of my kids not appreciating the cost of items, or their gifts, that a splurge is a splurge or special gift, not an entitlement, and that if someone thought enough of them to give them a gift card, they should use it.  I’m tired of my kids complaining that they don’t have any clothes or money and asking me to buy them something, yet refusing to use their Target, Old Navy, or Macy’s Gift Cards because they don’t like those stores. I’m tired of the Christmas lists that simply list stores that the kids like to shop in but that I can’t afford.  If they got cash they could still shop in those stores with cash, or window shop and choose to buy elsewhere.

Or, have actual presents to open on Christmas morning.

huh

 

Just Me With . . .  cold hard cash, but not enough.

And by way of full disclosure, I think all but one of my bras are from Victoria’s Secret. And I have one purple shirt that says, PINK, inexplicably.  But I’m grown and know how to shop for sales, and, in past years have used gift cards to purchase my goodies.  About two years ago I asked my family not to give them to me anymore.  And I no longer wear the PINK tee.  I do, however, wear t-shirts with my son’s college name on it and the names of my daughters’ championship sports teams.

1 High School Musical Wildcats

From High School Musical — Go Wildcats!

Related:

Keeping It Simple At Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Refrigerator Broke. Do I Really Need a Fancy, Stainless Steel, New One?

roseanne-2

So . . I was awakened by words no homeowner wants to hear,

“Mom, the refrigerator’s not working.”

Yes, sometime during the night my refrigerator just stopped.  Slipped away quietly in our sleep. Peaceful, really. We should all go like that, except for that pesky spoiled food, two days after I’d gone grocery shopping for actual perishable food.

Oh there’s a chance of revival, of resurrection.  But it will come at a cost. Possibly a deal with the devil, financed by American Express, or MasterCard, with a ridiculously high APR.

Now, I’ve made it clear how I feel about Open Floor Plans.  And I don’t have one anymore, don’t want one.  In my most popular post to date I only listed some of the reasons I don’t want one. There are more.  And in many of my comments readers have pointed them out.  But the reason that affects me right now is that because of HGTV and the Open Floor Plan we have all been conditioned — brainwashed — to desire and require fancy, shiny, state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances. Indeed, The Open Floor Plan, Granite Counter-Tops and Stainless Steel Appliances are the Holy Trinity of home improvement.

(I’ll wait for the moment of silence and for those religious folks to make the sign of the cross.)

Amen.

But I just need a working refrigerator.  The purpose of refrigerators is to  keep some foods chilled and others frozen. That’s it. Now I know many refrigerators also serve as dispensers for water and ice. Okay, that’s cool (no pun intended). But other than that .  . . we really just need them to keep food cold.  The magic happens when the food comes out of these beasts and the chef, host, or hostess then does his or her thing.

Is it because so many of our kitchens and the ones showcased on TV are open for all to see that now we feel we must have costly granite counter-tops and state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances?  And even worse, have we been conditioned to buy more than we need or spend more than we have even if we don’t have an open floor plan?

Now, it seems, we are supposed to want to show off our refrigerators, not just serve good food and make our guests feel welcome. We want to be the envy of our family and friends who should salivate over our appliances, not our dinner.

stainless steel kitchen

I get that some of the fancy refrigerators have neat features — don’t get me wrong — like keeping your drinks at a different temperature than your fruits or vegetables, or if there is easy access to the most used items  . .  . etc.   But really?  Those are amenities that happen inside a refrigerator.To show them off you have to have someone come into your kitchen –which happens automatically because the kitchen is now in the family, living, and dining room –  open the refrigerator door and show off all the many ways that you can chill your stuff.

These days when someone walks in your home you don’t just offer them a comfortable seat and a beverage, you usher them to the appliance that chills the drink as if to say,

Look at me, I’m getting your drink out of this beautiful thing. Pay no attention to my decor, artwork, hell my spouse or children.  And for the love of all resale value do not sit down! Come here. Watch me get your drink. Only then will we perch on stools at the granite countertop island and later you can watch me put the bottle back in the stainless steel refrigerator! This thing cost me two thousand dollars so please show some respect. How is your juice?

hmm

And then you close your refrigerator doors and immediately buff your thumbprint off the stainless steel shine of the thing while reading the digital display that gives you further information about how your refrigerator is doing its job —  information that you, apparently, must have.

I mean, if you are a gourmet cook, having a six burner gas stove and two ovens, etc.  those would be functions that directly lead to a desired result — a great meal. But a refrigerator?  Its job is to keep the food cool so that when when take it out to cook, prepare, or serve it, it does not kill you.  The refrigerator is a middle man.

It all seems a throw back doesn’t it — from a time before my time, when housewives of the 50’s would invite ladies over to show off their new washer dryer and yes, their Frigidaire?

Happy Housewife

hmm

Plus, gone is the Refrigerator Art of days long past — the report cards or prom pictures or “Things To Do” List that had traditionally been affixed to the refrigerator to give you a smile or a reminder. I wonder — Are kids these days getting dumbed down because no one would dare to put magnetic letters of the alphabet on a stainless steel appliance?  Are little feelings hurt because Mommy no longer hangs a school drawing on the refrigerator?

Even impossible neat Jerry Seinfeld had stuff on his fridge. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Even impossibly neat Jerry Seinfeld had stuff on his fridge. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It seems that the refrigerator itself, not the food that comes out of it, not the “Number One Best Mom” card your kid made you, not the latest picture of your new niece or nephew, is what is showcased.  And let me tell you, the show does not come cheap.  I have a (currently non-working) fancy, three door stainless steel refrigerator.  I didn’t pick it out.  I didn’t really pay for it.  How I got it is a story for another post, but it’s legal, I assure you. Suffice it to say I had no idea how much this thing costs on the open market.

And guess what, these  digital stainless steel refrigerators are quite expensive to repair, I’ve since found out, sadly.  Hell, tragically.  Something about a mother board.  (I ask you, did I need a motherboard to keep my milk cold?) But . . . I digress . . .

The repair guy said that these high end refrigerators often break down and the repairs are neither cheap nor guaranteed.  If I can live without the look and features of the current refrigerator, he suggested, I could buy a brand new one for only a little bit more than the cost of the repairs.

hmm

My first response in my head was — I don’t need another high end refrigerator.  I don’t need to show it off – I don’t even have an open floor plan.  The water dispenser hasn’t worked in a year anyway. I rarely consult the digital display.

But why, I ask, does it seem like a step down to purchase a large, white, two door refrigerator? The large, white, no frills, freezer on top models (which seem to hold more food) are now considered garage refrigerators suitable only to chill your beer. They are not to be seen by the general public, not ready for prime time, as they say. Maybe you’d have one at a beach house, or rental unit.  But they are not presentable enough to chill any respectable homeowner’s milk, butter, and eggs.  They are that cousin that gets seated way –WAY — in back at family weddings.

hmm

Right now, my beautiful large digital stainless steel refrigerator is useless, empty.  Truth be told, it’s not even that pretty.  It has two dents from two incidents with a bass drum (don’t ask).  Dented Stainless Steel is like a pregnant prom queen– unfortunate, because there had been so much potential.

Also, my stainless steel is not even completely visible. I felt as though my children and I were not doing enough accidental or subliminal reading of things important to us, meaning important to me. Visually, we only see what is fed to us on TV and social media, we don’t hang up enough calendars or maps or pictures or words with which we should be familiar.  Why can my teens spell Toshiba and Netflix?  Because they see those words all the time. But they don’t see the months of the year or school announcements or reminders from me and reading a map is — unthinkable. They see what’s new on Netflix as soon as they turn on the TV, but when they went to the fridge to get a cheese stick they were met only with their distorted reflection. Oh, don’t get me started.  Long story not really short, I defiled the gleam of my dented stainless steel and hung pictures and stuck word magnets on my refrigerator. One side English; the other side French.  I mean it can’t hurt, right? And it made my kitchen feel like a family kitchen, the heart of the home like at my Mom’s house — where she has photos of all her grandchildren to enjoy on her refrigerator. It gives me the warm fuzzies to be able to look at vintage baby pictures of my kids as they scowl at me in real time. My kitchen was no longer a showroom of gleaming appliances.

(Oh, the HGTV people would have my head on a spike, a stainless steel spike).

Bottom line:  I just don’t see spending my limited funds on a fancy refrigerator.  It’s an appliance.  It’s supposed to work for me.  I’m not supposed to work for it. It should give me features that make my food maintenance and preparation easier.  It does not define me; nor do I expect it to be beautiful, just functional.

We’re not going to hang out in it. We don’t sit on it.  It doesn’t entertain us.

But . . . still . . .

It seems like such a step down, in defeat. Did I drink the HGTV Kool-Aid, the properly chilled inside a stainless steel appliance HGTV Kool-Aid? I wondered (well my Mom pointed out) — What about resale value of my home?  Will people not buy my house if the refrigerator isn’t stainless steel?  Will they walk away from my home — not because it only has one bathroom, or because it’s on a busy street, or because there are sofas on the side of the road —  will the deal breaker be that the kitchen is not open and does not show off matching state-of-the-art stainless steel digital appliances?

These are questions I asked myself, as I ate canned soup for dinner, because my top-of-the-line stainless steel refrigerator stopped doing its job, making my job as head of this household much, much harder.  You just don’t realize how few meals you can prepare without milk, butter, and eggs until you have nowhere to chill your milk butter and eggs.

But one to three grand to keep my milk butter and eggs cool in the matter to which I — we — Americans — HGTV –have become accustomed?

Seriously?

As my teens would say, “Can we just . . . not?”

Just Me With . . .  warm bottles of Gatorade.

Postscript: During the preparation of this overly long post, my refrigerator was partially repaired. It keeps food cold now, but the digital display and the interior are dark. The controls do not work.  I’m told the front board needs replacement.  There are no small repairs on these types of appliances. While he was there I had the repairman look at my stainless steel top-of-the-line two drawer dishwasher because it hasn’t been feeling well. My dishes came out dirty, crusty and the inside of the thing is corroding. (But on the outside, it looks good.)

I received bad news and will have to replace that appliance. The repair would cost more than a new one.  My fancy HGTV approved appliances (that I did not pick out) are turning on me, one by one.

The microwave, stove, and oven are still working like champs, though.  (Knock wood. Actual wood.)

The Sofas on the Side of the Road Are Killing My Property Value!

Couch

Not my neighborhood couch.

I’ve been in my former hoarders fixer house for a while now.  And, as was always the plan, I will sell it — if the universe and my credit score allow– upon or just prior to or just after my youngest kids’ graduation from high school.  I have a couple of years, but I’m thinking ahead.    I probably won’t see  a dime in return on investment for all the improvements I’ve made to my little hoarders home. There are a lot of reasons.  But for this post I’ll focus here on my neighbors’ damn sofas sitting on the side of the road because that’s what’s bothering me today, every day.

Sofas, couches, easy chairs.  Whatever you call them.  Indoor furniture that is banished outside to publicly decompose for all to see  —  it’s the worst lawn decor ever.

It’s the modern day real estate equivalent to the head on a stick.

It’s crap like this that will lower my property value and keep it low — which is good for the contractors who want to buy low and rent or flip high — but bad for  me. There are plenty of regular folks looking for an affordable houses in a nice neighborhood in a good school district, but because of the ever present sofas on the side of the road, it makes my neighborhood seem, well, not so nice.

Have you ever wondered why people put sofas outside which stay there for weeks, months, even years?

I have my theories.

1.  They got a new couch.  So they put the old one outside.

2.  The old couch had something nasty happen to it — of the urine or vomit variety –that they just couldn’t get out.

3.  The old couch had something smokey happen to it — the old cigarette in the cushions . . .

But wait!

This only explains why the couch leaves the house, not why it stays outside.

Here are my theories on why they stay outside.

1.  There is no (free) bulk trash pickup in the neighborhood.

2.  Bulk trash pick-up is costly and low income (poor) people can’t  or won’t allocate their money to pay for it.

Paying extra for trash removal can be a hard pill to swallow if you are having trouble paying regular bills (Query:  How much money was shelled out on the new sofa? Perhaps the $25 bulk trash fee should be built into the cost of getting the new couch?)   But regardless, there’s a solution.  If you are able bodied you can save the $25 by breaking up the couch and putting it in the regular trash.  I’ve done this.  I’ve seen other people do this. It’s actually kind of fun it you want to get out some aggression. And another option is, if the sofa is old but not ruined, put it on Craigslist for free. Someone will take it.  Craigslist people won’t pay a dollar for something, but if you say it’s free? They’ll take it.  They’ll even take it from your house.  If you don’t want strangers in your house, just plan to put the couch out on a sunny weekend, post the ad, and it will go away — for free.  I’ve done this.  More than once.  If it’s truly trashed, this isn’t an option, but it’s worth a try.

The Bermuda Triangle on

The Bermuda Triangle on “How I Met Your Mother”

3.  I’m waiting for bulk trash pick-up.

But dude, how long are you going to wait?

Once a year,  our Township provides dumpsters for people in my neighborhood to use free of charge for whatever they need to get rid of.  But it’s once a year.  In the Summer, I believe.  It’s Winter now.  Will the sofas sit here until July?

A variation on this excuse is:  I put it out and wanted to see if the trash guys would take it.  Okay, I get that.  Because sometimes they might actually take it, or somebody might.  This only justifies having an outdoor sofa for a week, though, tops.  After a week has gone by of the regular trash people not picking up the sofa, it ain’t going nowhere.

4. Another reason proffered by well-meaning people is that the residents must not be physically able to get rid of the couch.

Well, I call bullshit on that one.  If a person had the means and muscle to get the couch out of his or her house, they have the means and muscle to put it somewhere where it might get picked up.  Obviously there are  elderly or disabled (mentally or physically) who cannot maintain their property.  I get that.  But I’ve seen grown, strong, working men coming and going from these houses with the lawn couches.  I call bullshit on them.  I know people may have ailments that are not readily visible.  I withdraw my calling of bullshit if that is the case.  But if not,  just putting indoor furniture in your yard and leaving it out in the rain, sleet, and snow until starts to stink, disintegrate, become the nesting ground for vermin and bugs, and just look plain old tacky —  I just don’t get that.

Right now there are two couches I see every day. Every day.

Every damn day.

Couch Number One.  It’s in a  back yard, which backs onto my alley and my back yard.  I see it from my kitchen window, as I said.  Every day.  As do at least four other houses and all cars that drive along this back alley.  Lovely. This  placement is curious to me, because their trash gets collected from their front yard.  Why put the couch out back, inside their fence, on its side, cushions and all?  Why?  It won’t get picked up there by anyone.  Maybe they are planning to have bulk trash pickup or somebody with a truck come later — but it’s been about a month now.  And why leave the cushions? They could certainly go in the regular trash or recycling and this would cut down on the bulk of the sofa in the yard and also make it less inviting for bugs and rats. But no, the couch is outside.

Couch Number Two. This one is on the edge of a front yard of a house  on the side of the road. Now this house has always had a messy porch.  I  don’t know the people, personally, but I’ve seen them come and go.  Not elderly or infirm.  Driving, working, healthy looking people.  It appears as though they are doing some sort of home clean out now because there is more junk outside than usual.  Again, having gone through extensive clean outs and renovations I understand that while work is in process, there will be debris, because — it’s a work in progress.  But, the couch and cushions have been out there for again, about a month. I don’t see any evidence of home repairs or renovations going on.  It appears as though someone decided to get some crap out of the house so — they just put it outside. Other large trash items have joined the sofa. These other items could have been put out in the regular trash.  But, for some reason, the residents are just piling it up on and around the couch.

There’s a school bus stop nearby.  Lovely.

These abandoned sofas are like announcements to people, whether they are passing through or coming home.  It gives the appearance of,

“You have crossed over into a bad part of town.”

The Good The Bad and the Ugly

When people come to see me, or drop off my kids, they have to pass by one or both of the sofas. It’s far from inviting.  It actually repels. And it seems that as soon as a rotting sofa is finally removed, another appears.   I remember when we were still in the marital home when it was on the market, as we drove by what is now my neighborhood, my kid said,”I’m not moving over there.”   She didn’t know that I had already purchased my little hoarders home.   I told myself at the time, “I’ll make it nice.”

And I did.

I worked my butt off making our home as nice as I could, but I can’t do anything about the neighbors who allow upholstered furniture to rot outside their homes.

I think there’s a psychological reason why people do this.  There are some people who are  — interior.  Most of their relaxation time is spent indoors.  They only think of their yard, their porch, and front door as something to pass through to get inside.  I guess then it becomes easy to make whatever changes you are making inside the house, and put the debris outside. After all, you’ve gotten it out of the house.  It’s kind of like how an apartment dweller can throw things in a dumpster and go back inside, oblivious as to whether the dumpster is ever emptied.

But still . . .

These couches make me sad.  It feels like people have just given up and don’t care.  And what’s worse?   It’s contagious.  I would never do the couch thing, and I  maintain my yard, but I’ve lost the will to garden or create an outdoor space for entertaining.  I mean, why bother?  I don’t want to sit outside and look at a rotting sofa while roasting marshmallows.   I plan to garden and landscape more this year, to enhance curb appeal, but my heart’s not in it. I confess.

Just Me With . . . plenty of outdoor seating . . . on rotting couches  . . . on the side of the road.

It just irks me.  And it may cost me.

Related:  Piss, Puke, and Porn — My Hoarder’s House

That Hoarder’s Smell — How to Get Rid of It

Goodbye Hoarders

The Landscaper Guy Freaking Part IV

Gas Station

I have written about this guy three times before.

Three. Times.

1.  The Landscaper  Guy — Not Digging Him  — I meet a man.

2.  The Landscaper Guy and the Female Chandler Bing — I give him a shot.  (I shouldn’t have.)

3.  The Landscaper Guy and A Phone Smarter Than Me — I shoot him down, and miss. I have to take better aim and shoot again.

Well, I ran into him today. Again.  Seems he has a vehicle now, a vehicle that needed gas, as did mine.

At 7:45am.

He was, again,  wearing white but topped it with a blue jacket.   No head scarf this time.

I said a passing hello like I would to a stranger, a stranger who looked somewhat familiar. He said “Hi” back with a look that said, You don’t have anything else to say?

I smiled at him, being polite, but not starting any kind of conversation.  It was, after all,  7:45am.

He followed up with a “Hellooo” drawing the word out, raising his eyebrows at me.  It was that kind of ‘Hello’ that wasn’t a greeting but rather a complaint of some sort.  It said, You got nothing else to say to me?

I gave the ‘I’m just being polite‘ smile and thought, “Shoot, I’m supposed to know this guy.  I have no idea who he is.

He said,  reading my mind–  or my face, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

“I’m sorry, no, I don’t. Are you a neighbor?”

“Yeah,” he humphed (Is that a word?  Because that’s what he did.  He humphed.).  Then he said, “Yeah, a few houses down. You live on Maple Street, right?”

“Yes.” I was starting to remember, but not his name.  “Um . . . Oh yes, we talked a couple of times.”

“What’s wrong with dinner? You didn’t want to go to dinner?”

“Um . . . ”

“You still feel that way?”

“Yes.”  What the hell? 

“Why?”  WHY DOES THIS GUY ASK WHY?  WHY WHY WHY????

“I’m just not going out much lately.”  This was the response that had failed me previously. It was all I had at 7:45am.

“But dinner? What’s wrong with that?” And he let out a humph again,  “Just you and your dog . . .” (I ask you — Why’d he have to bring my dog into this?  Oh, my dog was in the car, looking at him, probably judging him, I hope.  Woman’s best friend and all . . . )

“I mean, you’re single, right? ”

“Yes.”  I refused to lie, and he refused to STFU. As discussed in Where Did I Put My Fake Boyfriend there are some aggressive men who only accept the reported presence of another guy as an acceptable reason to decline a date.

“Well, I don’t get it.  What’s wrong with dinner? I’m not talking about a relationship or anything.  Dinner,” and he wasn’t done.

He added, incredibly,  “I mean a woman like you shouldn’t be alone — for years — like this.”

WTF

WTF?   I cannot believe he said that to me.  

“I’ll be alright,” I replied and offered a purposely fake smile, one that I hope really conveyed, ‘You, sir,  are an asshole.

He laughed. “Well.”

“Well. You have a nice day, now,” I said.  This is the way Northern US women say the Southern US women’s ‘Bless your heart‘  which really means, ‘I’m done talking to you. Kiss my ass.’

“Alright,”   he replied, shaking his head, which probably meant, ‘Bitch’ and truthfully,  I don’t give a shit.

Just Me With . . . a full tank of gas, next to an ass. 

 

For other run-ins with the men in my neighborhood, see:

I Turned Down A Date With An Ex-Con

Another Encounter With The Ex-Con

Wait, Am I Supposed to Miss Him — Already?

Animal House

I finally got my oldest child off to college.   He lives hours away from home now.  It’s been a process.   Depending on how you I calculate it the process began 18 years ago when I started talking to my growing belly, taking prenatal vitamins and playing music for my unborn child, reading and talking incessantly to him as a baby,  or the process can be measured in the last year of making college visits, college choices, buying dormitory bedding or the untold joy of filling out financial aid forms. My particular journey was salted by the sudden yet not completely unexpected visual appearance of my ex-husband —  just in time for the graduation celebration and going off to college festivities.  See The Unspoken Pain  of Sharing Celebrations. Despite the extra anxiety, the kid is safely enrolled on a residential college campus.  He won’t be home until Thanksgiving.  Going Away To School — And Staying There.

Now that he’s gone I am often asked, “Don’t you miss him?”

And sometimes, I  say, “Oh yes, yes, I do.”   But I’m faking it.

Really, I’m thinking, “Oh crap. Wait!  I’m supposed to miss him?  Already?

He’s only been gone a couple of weeks.  I’ve been so focused on getting him ready for college and out of our suffocating suburb and the stupid visitation schedule — I had not counted on the expectation that I should miss him — so soon.   I mean I cried the traditional tears when I said goodbye and left my boy to live elsewhere, with people I don’t know.  I’m sure I sported the vacant, almost Zombie-like  look that the freshman parents had wandering around campus and in the bookstore having been separated from their precious babies.  I did all of that.

But then I came home

—  and rearranged his room.

Apparently many other parents and loved ones are really grieving about the absence of their college freshman.  People are asking me how I’m holding up.  And how the siblings are doing.  And I am reminded of the episode of Sex and The City when Miranda, who is pregnant, finds out the gender of the baby and everyone expects her show excitement at the fact that she now knows she’s having a boy.  After a while she just feigns a show of excitement to satisfy the general public.    “I faked a sonogram,”  she admits.   Sex and the City, Season Four, Episode 15 “Change of a Dress” 

Miranda faking her sonogram.

Miranda faking her sonogram.

And then there’s me.   I love my son. I am so ridiculously proud of him.  And his absence is felt, that is true.  It was kind of weird on the first day of school when there was one less child I had to beg to allow me to take a picture of.   But I admit, I am not the face of  mother grieving over temporary absence of her son, though I sometimes play the part.

My son, who I sometimes refer to as The Arrogant One, has always been fiercely independent, while simultaneously relying on me to support his endeavors, get things taken care of, and sit in the audience and bleachers and watch him do what he does.   He’s been away from home before — going on an annual week-long vacation with a friend’s family and traveling  to Europe for eleven days.  I remember preparing for the Europe trip, going to a meeting where many parents were asking how they would be able to contact their children while they were away.  Other than in the event of an  emergency, I hadn’t considered needing to talk to my son during his eleven day trip.  It was only eleven days!  But back then I started to panic — Was I supposed to be in contact with my kid all the time?  Was I missing some sort of mom gene?  I’d help raise the money so he could go. Now weren’t we  supposed to let them go and have fun without us?  Why did I never even consider needing to call him while he was out of the country for less two weeks?

I figured that I’d hear about it when he got home.  Turns out I was wrong about that . . . but I digress.

Me:   “How was the trip?”

Him:  “Good, really good.”

And that was that.  Oh I probed him for some additional details, but  . . . it was his experience, not mine.

I’ve been feeling that same kind of panic lately when people ask me how I’m “holding up” since my son’s departure.  (Wait, I’m supposed to be falling apart?)   And when my daughter, the one I refer to as The Quirky One, the one who is very sensitive — almost a Star Trek level Empath, burst into tears saying she missed her brother, I was taken off guard.  I consoled her.  I told her I knew it was weird not having him here and that it’s okay to miss him and he’ll be home before we know it, but I thought to myself — “He’s really not that nice to you, he told you that you were worthless.  Why are you crying for him?”  He’s not very nice to his sisters.  That’s a fact, and an issue I’ve tried to address.  So to the people who feel sorry for him for being the only boy, well, I’m not feeling that. He has stated out loud  that he’s more important and smarter and a better person than his sisters, who, in his mind, do not deserve any attention. )   And sometimes, him being a teen person, he wasn’t very nice to me either.  (I’m the safe parent, you see, the one who gets the crap because the child is comfortable that I’ll be here regardless.  Sigh.) So there are things — like his assertions of superiority —  that I definitely will not miss.  Now he’s dealing the fish/pond thing — everyone on his campus is a high achiever like him and he won’t have his little sisters to belittle to make himself seem more important.  And I think it’ll be good for him.  Necessary for him.

And my failure to pine after my college dwelling son might also be a big family thing — one less kid to feed, or who needs to be picked up or dropped off somewhere, or requires  some sort of supplies, etc.   One less kid to start an argument with the remaining kids.   And to me, someone who is the only adult living in a little house full of teens, having one less home means having one less person to ridicule and ignore me, and one less person who has no problem vocalizing the assumption that I know absolutely nothing.

So, do I miss him?  

I know I’m supposed to say, “Yes, God yes.”  I know I’m supposed to well up and tell you exactly how many days it will be until I see him, and the last time I talked to him, but . . . as my own mother used to say when we went away,

“Yeah, I miss them, but it’s a good miss.”

The last thing I said to my son  when I left him on campus, when I said goodbye to my baby through tearing eyes was, “I am so so proud of you.  I love you. And you know I’ll  always have your back.  Have fun and learn.”

And,  upon my return, one of my daughters asked the definitively more important question,

“Do we still have to wear pants  now that the boy is gone?”

“Yes, yes, you do,” I answered.  But it’s  not because of him.  It’s not about him anymore.

In Sex and The City Miranda did have a quiet moment when she first felt her unborn son move — it brought her to her knees, and that was her first moment of connection.  Quiet,  and unexpected and not when people thought she should have it.  I assume at some point there will be something that triggers me — something that makes it painfully clear to me that my first-born will never really live under my roof in the same way again — if things go well. Then  I’ll acknowledge the reality — that this first step into  pseudo-adulthood  is actually a natural progression to full adulthood, that one day  I’ll  end up being the mom to call from time to time with news, for advice,  and someone to visit on the holidays — maybe someday with his own family.   And I suspect, that like with Miranda, it’ll be a private moment of reflection when I’ll truly feel my son’s — move.

But in the meantime, as I sit in his room writing behind what used to be his closed door –with my pants on while relishing in the fact that in my now all girl household  we could go pants-less any time we damn well please  —

Do I miss him?

Not yet, but . . . it’s early.   Give it time.

 

Just Me With . . . One less child under my roof — until Thanksgiving, anyway. 

 

Raise Your Hand — What I learned from The Paper Chase and Sheryl Sandberg

The "Lean In" I'm more familiar with.

The “Lean In” I’m more familiar with.

I confess. I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” but I get the gist. I did view her successful Ted Talk that inspired her to write the book. In that talk she made a point of saying to women, “Don’t leave until you leave,” suggesting that women pull back from workplace opportunities long before they have children, simply because they plan to have a family — some day. That’s a valid point. No use preparing to leave the workplace for your family years before you even have one. But I’m taking it even farther back. I’m taking it to school. I’m suggesting that women and girls should not let others do all the talking and just freaking raise their hands in class . . . and say something. It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure if you ever want to run a Fortune 500 company or even whether you like the class. If you’re in school, raise your freaking hand. The corporate world is tough. In many ways it is not an even playing field. In some professions you’re not even allowed to speak if there is someone more senior in the room. So while you’re in school? Before you get out there in the real world? Dang it — if you’ve paid your tuition and you’re going to sit your butt down at the desk for the next two hours, you might as well say something.

The Paper Chase

The Paper Chase

As a child I remember accidentally seeing the movie The Paper Chase on television. The Paper Chase is a 70’s flick about a first year student at Harvard Law School. I was a kid. I had no dreams of going to law school. I’d never met a lawyer, to my knowledge. I guess in my ultimate laziness I didn’t feel like changing the channel, so I watched the movie. It stuck with me. In the film, the main character noticed that everyday in class only a few students raised their hands, only a few volunteered answers to questions posed by the imposing professor. Of course, the professor called on unwilling participants via the Socratic method, but only a few dared volunteer. They were the Upper Echelon.

At this point, I think it’s important to note that law school exams in the first year are usually anonymous and not given until the end of the semester. There are no extra points for prior class participation.

So why bother speaking in class, then?

First, because it helps to learn and analyze the material.

Second, it establishes the student as being in the Upper Echelon, and

Third, it makes the student think of herself in the Upper Echelon.

Fourth, being in the Upper Echelon might get a student noticed, and some perks.

In The Paper Chase, the main character made a conscious decision to “jump in” and raise his hand, to join Upper Echelon. Once he did, he was viewed — and viewed himself, differently. Other students sought him out for assistance during the study period for finals. He eventually got an “A” in the course, if I recall.

I’m not sure why seeing this movie about Harvard Law students had such an impact on me whilst I was in the 6th or 7th grade or so, but it did. There was something about the guy deciding to jump in with the other students who had the bravura to do it from day one.

Fast forward a decade and then some. I found myself in Law School (not Harvard).

Like the main character in The Paper Chase, I noticed that there were only a few people who volunteered answers in class. And it was always the same people. The Upper Echelon. Most of Upper Echelon were men. I think there was one woman. She, no surprise, was not well liked.

The second tier was comprised of those students who spoke when called on and would speak voluntarily on occasion — on very rare occasions. These students were sitting ducks, waiting to get called on. If the professor was not teaching the Socratic method they were quiet, relaxed ducks, passively letting the material wash over them. (Well, wash over us. I was with them, with my highlighters and colored pencils and markers.)

And then there were The Quiet Ones — the ones who never volunteered to speak, and would even “pass” when called upon.

The Batman

The Batman

In law school, there was a saying, “Beware of The Quiet Ones” as they were often the ones who, when grades came out, seemed to have pulled a 4.0 out of their asses. With that 4.0 they could get on Law Review, and continue to collect academic credentials that would yield many, many opportunities in the legal profession or other any chosen professional career. When grades came out, suddenly The Quiet Ones were the cream of the crop, yet no one had ever heard them speak or even noticed they were there. In my years at my school, The Quiet Ones were women. Reluctant geniuses. Secret weapons, possessed of powers unknown to man (literally). Statistically, however, there are only a couple of those kinds of Quiet Ones. Most silent students were left crying or shaking their heads when grades come out. The straight-A Quiet Ones were an enigma. There’s only one Batman . . . but I digress . . .

I’m not really talking about grades, anyway, I’m talking about perception and learning and opportunities. We learn by engaging. We are perceived to be knowledgeable by engaging. We show what we’ve learned and how we think — by engaging.

So I decided. I would jump in. I would raise my hand. I would talk. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a conscious decision. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a decision that would take me out of my comfort zone. The thing about it was, I was there anyway. I was doing the reading anyway. We were all students. No one had any grades yet. Might as well jump in. If those guys (and one woman) could throw themselves into the Upper Echelon from day one, why not me? I would be just like that guy in that movie I saw when I was an impressionable youth.

I admit, in the night before I decided to jump in I was a little more attentive to my reading. My array of notes was a colorful masterpiece. (It was the markers and colored pencils, you see.) I didn’t know in what direction the professor would be taking the discussion, so I simply vowed to say something about . . . something.

He spoke.  The Paper Chase.

He spoke. The Paper Chase.

And, the next day, just like in the movie — I raised my hand. I don’t believe I had ever spoken voluntarily in class before.

Heads turned. I was no longer invisible.

After I spoke that first time, I raised my hand again. I argued. I answered. I wasn’t always right, and since it was law school, there wasn’t always a right answer, but my words were heard, my point of view considered, and even when I had no real point of view, I practiced taking a side anyway. I became one of the Upper Echelon, just like in The Paper Chase. I’m guessing that I also joined the ranks of students other students disliked, but whatevs. I walked a little taller.

One day after class a Professor asked to see me. Admittedly, this dude scared the crap out of me. He was not the Professor I had a crush on. See Another Embarrassingly Moment, Another Crush. No, this professor was a classic unapproachable (or so I thought) academic whose pearls of wisdom often seemed to float out of reach above my head. This was the professor who made me nervous, and though I spoke in his class with an unsteady voice, I was always convinced that what I said — or what anyone said, for that matter, was just — not quite right. I didn’t know why this professor wanted to see me, but I dutifully went to his office.

To my surprise (utter shock, actually), the professor asked me to be his research assistant.

Me.

Not one of the original Upper Echelon members.

Little old me.

The music student who was really just acting out a scene in a movie she’d seen by accident as a kid.

I accepted his offer, and my research (for which I got paid work-study money) contributed to his book, in which he gave me credit by name when the book was published. He also became a mentor and a professional reference, and my work with this professor, who was a former clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, certainly didn’t hurt me in securing my own Federal Clerkship, a position coveted by many.

All because I raised my hand. All because I decided to raise my hand.

If I hadn’t starting talking in class, he wouldn’t have known who the hell I was, and the research position, along with the opportunities and experience that flowed from it, would have gone to someone else.

But it didn’t. It went to me, because I raised my freaking hand.

I’ve tried to explain all of this to my kids, especially my girls, but they don’t get it.

I’m all, “Did you raise your hand?” And they’re all, “No way, I don’t talk in class.

And I want to kill myself.

Time to break out the old movies, methinks. One of my daughters has seen The Paper Chase (thanks, Netflix), but I don’t think she got it. I must try again — on her — and the other kids.

One of these days somebody will listen to me.

Hermione Raising Her Hand

Hermione Granger. The Best Student Ever.

Just Me With . . . my hands in the air, waving like I just don’t care . . .

I just had a horrifying thought. Much of this was triggered because I happened to see the movie The Paper Chase on television when I was a kid.

Think of the things kids “happen” to see on TV these days. I shudder at the thought.

Bad Girls Club

Bad Girls ClubRelated

Related: Tales From The Bar Exam

Happy Birthday to My Ex-Husband’s Ex-Girlfriend

Monk, the Obsessive Compulsive detective

Monk, the Obsessive Compulsive Detective

I remember dates. It’s a gift, and a curse. It used to drive my ex-husband crazy. This, from a dude who forgot my birthday — twice — when we were still together. But me? I remember numbers for some reason, always have. I can rattle off his land line phone number from high school. I know the birthdays of people I haven’t had any contact with in years.

Recently, it was my best friend’s birthday. I’d never forget that, of course. But it also reminded me of the Other Woman (well, the original other woman was his teenaged lover before her, . . . but I digress . . .). Let’s call this Other Woman . . . Penelope Homewrecker, shall we?   (I don’t really blame Penelope for wrecking my home, though.  Though she certainly made choices I would not, my ex-husband did not have to honor her — requests?)   Anyway, Penelope’s birthday is two days after my best friend’s. I know this because years ago, when I first discovered their affair, I did my fair share of research, as did my work colleagues at the time. I was working in a law office — enough said. Before long I had her full name, her address, her real estate records, current and prior addresses, etc. , and — her birthday.

I remember sharing the information with my best friend. She responded with one of those completely irrational comments only a true friend would say. She almost growled, “How dare she have a birthday near mine.”  My friend was right, by the way:

How dare Penelope have a birthday close to my very best friend’s special day?

How dare Penelope have a birthday?

How dare Penelope even exist?

It reminds me of a scene from Sex And The City when Carrie realizes that her on and off boyfriend Big has chosen a woman named Natasha over her — and he is actually happy. Carrie tells her friends she’s ready to accept it. For a beat the women were silent, but then they gave, an irrational, nonsensical, yet incredibly supportive response.

Natasha. What a bullshit name.

Totally.

Stupid.

Complete bullshit.

Sex and The City

Sex and The City

I just love that — showing support in such an subtly obvious way, via a frivolous statement.

So thanks to my best friend for expressing outrage that my husband’s mistress dared to have birthday near hers.

How dare she? Indeed.

When Carrie found out about Big's new girlfriend, Miranda offered support.

When Carrie found out about Big’s new girlfriend, Miranda offered support.

By the way, Penelope and my Ex didn’t last. (Long story, well not so long, but it’s a good one.  I may blog about it at some point, maybe.)

Much later, after Penelope and the Ex broke up,  my Ex announced he had a new serious girlfriend.   I did the required Facebook check on her, and I noticed that Penelope and the Ex’s new girlfriend were Facebook friends. When I checked again a little later, the two women were no longer Facebook friends.

Huh.

There was some kind of unfriending situation between Penelope and the new girlfriend.

Huh.

Perhaps Penelope Homewrecker didn’t want to see posts by her replacement.

Huh.

Heh heh heh

I wonder if later, Penelope, who had likely thought she’d become the coveted Mrs. Ex, was treated to posts about my Ex’s wedding and subsequent procreation?  I’m guessing that Penelope and the new girlfriend must have had some mutual friends. Yes?

Please, yes?

Heh heh heh

My investigation days are over. They’ve been over for a long time. Years. I never look at my Ex’s or his wife’s Facebook pages or his family’s pages. I really have no interest now. But those damn numbers stay in my head. As I said, it’s a gift, and a curse.

So, Happy Birthday Penelope Homewrecker!  I literally can’t help but remember the date.

Of course, Evil Me wants to ask: What’s your Relationship Status now?

Though, Regular Me acknowledges that Penelope Homewrecker dodged a bullet and may indeed be the luckiest woman in the world.

Celebrity Analysis

For those who follow celebrity gossip, think of it like this:  My Ex-Husband’s mistress  pulled a Penelope Cruz.  Let me explain.  For a long time (by Hollywood standards) Tom Cruise and his wife Nicole Kidman were a golden couple.

The Golden Couple

The Golden Couple

It didn’t last.    It was rumored that Tom  left Nicole Kidman because of his affair with another actress, Penelope Cruz.

 

When Tom and Nicole divorced, Tom and Penelope went public with their relationship.

 

Tom Cruise and one-time girlfriend, Penelope Cruz.

Tom Cruise and one-time girlfriend, Penelope Cruz.

 

But then they broke up.

Penelope  escaped becoming the  wife of  Tom Cruise, known to control and overshadow his wives.   And at some point, Tom Cruise went a little crazy.

Crazy Tom Cruise during his infamous Oprah appearance.

Crazy Tom Cruise during his infamous Oprah appearance.

Crazy Tom Cruise went on to marry once perky, but later suffering Katie Holmes, while Penelope Cruz ran free!  (Katie Holmes is now Ex Mrs. Tom Cruise, by the way, but they had a child together so she still has to deal with him.  She’ll never be completely free.).

 

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes when they were still together. She doesn’t look happy, does she?

 

And Penelope Cruz?  I picture her frolicking in a field somewhere.

Of course, in this scenario this would make me Tom’s jilted wife, Nicole Kidman, mother of the first kids.   And I’m okay with that.

Tom Cruise's Ex-Wife, Nicole Kidman

Tom Cruise’s Ex-Wife, Nicole Kidman

And I’d be okay with this, too:

Nicole Kidman and her current husband, Keith Urban

Nicole Kidman and her current husband, Country Music Star Keith Urban. She upgraded. By all reports, Keith Urban is supposed to be a nice guy, and Nicole’s career has soared once she was free of Cruise.

Just Me With . . . numbers in my head.    And a song in my heart, a country song, “Little Bit of Everything

See: Facebook Mutual Friend with the The Ex’s Girlfriend — Part One

and

To My Best Friend on Mother’s Day