Do I Feel Lucky?

"Lucky Supermarket." I don't know how to act in this store.

Shopping here reminds me of midnight runs to an old, unrenovated Safeway that lurked on a hill above my college: aisles empty of all but a few desperate programmers, serial killers.

Yet, in this slightly grim location, the Lucky store personnel are unflaggingly cheery. Like they might just, with a little extra banter about debit cards, tip you out of that suicidal depression or budding psychotic rage. It's especially out of place in Silicon Valley. No one has time for that.

Late one night, I was slumping in the grocery line trying to flog enough neurons to understand what I was looking at: a tiered display of gum in neon colors and horrendous flavors. I don't chew gum much. Like a war-weary visitor to a mystical retreat, I was trying to comprehend this world where someone would buy sage and acai flavor gum. Maybe the guy on the shopping scooter with the sparkly bracelet? Or the pained marathoner who looked to be in just a little too much of a hurry, late at night in a deserted store?

At that moment, The Friendliest Employee On Earth asked how I was, and after a pause and my unconvincing reply, she asked if I would like to move to the next checkout stand, since the person in front of me was taking too long to graciously extricate herself from the cashier's monologue on Lucky membership cards.

Another pause as I tore my eyes from the glowing gum wrappers and considered moving 3 cartons of milk to the neighboring conveyor belt and reconvening on the next garish gum display. I was pretty tired--a mom of two punishingly active kids, working as a kid therapist--and my mouth was a little out of synch with my brain that night.

"Thanks, I'm just going to zone out here and wait--take a little break," I told her, not realizing how bad that sounded until she answered, "I know how it is. You need a break when you can get it. Well, enjoy your break," she chirped, not unkindly.

Enjoy your break.

I laughed aloud, but... Jesus. Hold on to that pity. I'm not quite ready for it.

Negotiating Fashion

Some time around the age of 3, my child announced that from that day forward, she would be dressing herself. Hooray! And, in the most basic sense of pants-on-the-bottom, shirt-on-the-top, this was accomplished without my help. Inside out, backwards—these initial oversights eventually became fashion statements, as did the competing stripes, the dizzying color combinations, the layers of accessories. 

Unsure if this were the normal course of events (First Kid I’d Parented Syndrome), I turned to the mother of my child's preschool friend, who looked smartly coordinated in a way many preschoolers had yet to master. 

"Does your child dress herself?" 

This was, unfortunately, taken to mean your child looks like she dresses herself, and was met with indignation. In fact, I was thinking just the opposite. How does her child manage to match, and mine does not? We play "Go Fish," too. Doesn’t that get generalized to clothing, a little?

At age 5, my self-assured child informed me that she had her own Fashion Look, which was all that she would wear, at all times. The Look included sparkly, preferably tie-dyed, rainbow colors. There were lots of tutus and wings, and quite a few necklaces involved. None of it impeded her vigorous playing style—that was another of her criteria. I thought back to my first year in elementary school when I tried sartorially wow-ing my friends by showing them how far I could stretch the lettuce-edge trim of my kelly green polyester bell bottoms. Now I feel some guilt for passing along those genes.  

But—accentuate the positive—my child was dressing herself and refusing advice or assistance, which freed me up to look on in amazement, as defined by, I have literally never seen anyone wear that before. Which I kept to myself. Then she began giving me advice. I freelanced at home; what could it hurt, empowering her, as it were by following her recommendations? I did draw the line at tiaras. 

When she turned 6, the First Great Sartorial Debate began. It started slightly before Halloween with the arrival in the mail of a costume catalog containing “Racy Referee” and various thinly veiled sex games outfits. Sizing started in a Child's Size 3. Size 3 microminis and thigh highs. And sequined bustiers. Are the hairs standing up on end yet?

"Those look fancy," came her awed voice, at my elbow. They look ...something. 

"Look, I know when we dress up for occasions, we often wear skirts. And more sparkly clothing. But just because it has a skirt or spangles doesn't automatically make it 'fancy.' Anyway, these skirts don't cover enough," I tried to explain, obliquely. 

"But there's only that little part of leg showing, at the top."

"Yes, but it's the wrong part of the leg."

"What’s wrong with that part of the leg?"

Curse you, Tacky Catalog People for starting this conversation at age 6! 
courtesy The British Library.

And so, standing in the costume aisle of the party store, we negotiated the Fancy Geisha kimono costume, piece by piece. I agreed it would be OK if transformed—with the addition of wings, sparkly glam fairy wig, and leggings—into “Madame Butterfly.” Because Madame Butterfly had a formal and imposing-sounding name, suggesting to her someone powerful and important. Because Madame Butterfly is an opera--that infused the costume with class, she reasoned, and fame (bonus!). How much I should have resisted this costume is certainly debatable. The complete outfit had the merits of covering enough skin to suit me, and being quirky (read: sparkly and colorful) enough to suit her. Some day she'll probably see its namesake opera. Some day she'll ask why I let her knock on strangers' doors and tell them she's Madame Butterfly.
I, too, have unanswered questions from my childhood. I call that "tradition."

Go West!

Part 1

It’s the Great American Rite of Passage, driving across the US of A. Books—some good—have been written about it. Movies—some dreadful—have been filmed about it. There’s usually a yearning to see and learn and grow, or just escape. The journey becomes a Bildungsroman, in the right hands. My journey started less heroically: transporting stuff.

People tend to die after a while, and they can leave behind a lot of stuff. Living people sometimes cling to stuff as a way to remind themselves of the dead. Living people sometimes cling to way too much stuff.

I ended up with a lot of stuff, because for a third consecutive summer, I lost another relative: Great Aunt, Grandma, then Mom. Each death hit—literally—closer to home, and harder. At the end of Summer 3, I started to worry that I had become Death’s target demographic (female, related, next youngest). But before that paranoia fully dug in its claws, there was the grief to deal with. And the stuff. Chairs, tables, luncheon sets, familyabilia. 

Courtesy British Library.
In the bowels of Alabama was a small house full of mementos and furniture, which—split three ways—was still an incredible amount of mementos and furniture. My mom had always been good at packing and this applied not only to luggage, but to her small house, as well. It was too hard to make a wise decision on what to keep and what to part with while dealing with so much raw emotion, so my brothers and I divvied up the household, loading it onto rental trucks and trailers bound for various coasts. Recover, then sort, was the plan.

I was headed West, but first, apparently, I needed more stuff. Another relative in Louisiana had been hanging onto the jetsam from my grandmother and great aunt’s estates, and there I headed. In the day’s rental truck-drive between Central Alabama and South Louisiana, filled with curses and unannounced curbs, I developed a small appreciation for what lay ahead. Although I was a veteran of many, many long car trips; although I’d moved across America—even across the world and backI had not personally driven across America. With a load of curious and fragile possessions and emotions. I’d read Steinbeck, so I knew inopportune things and maybe some life-long bonding awaited on this cross-country trip to my new home in California. I just wanted to get through the trip without more relatives dyingin or on the vehicle. 

To be continued...

By Any Means Necessary (When Skill is Not an Option)

It was a brutal game of drought-fried mini golf. My scorecard was filling up with laughably high numbers when my attention turned to the Top 40 crackling over the weather- and fidelity-proof speakers. Was this dreck affecting my game? I wanted to win. 

The speakers began blaring music from the 80s, and more paranoid thoughts sprouted. It was making me lose. Those minigolf people are playing 80s music to taunt me. They're calling me old. 

Courtesy British Library.

Then I had a stroke. Of genius--I'm not that old. Maybe what I needed wasn't skill (actually, that would have helped), but my very own corrosive soundtrack to demoralize my opponent. I'd play innocent-seeming music that would waft its way into the subconscious, and defeat the enemy from within. 

Because it would kill me to lose to a 10 year old.

A truly successful playlist, I reasoned--or hallucinated, I'm not sure which: it was very hot--a truly devious playlist should conjure an endless series of mis-hits; physics-defying bad luck; deflating searches for golf balls; and the inevitability of defeat. My playlist (of Doom) would sound like this:  

  1. Cups/You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone -  Anna Kendrick
  2. Walk 500 Miles - The Proclaimers
  3. Heartache Tonight - The Eagles
  4. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - The Beatles
  5. The Bitterest Pill - The Jam
  6. Where Are U Now - Skrillex & Diplo With Justin Bieber
  7. Over the Hills and Far Away - Led Zeppelin
  8. Defying Gravity - Idina Menzel 
  9. Crying, Waiting, Hoping - The Beatles
  10. Living on a Prayer - Bon Jovi
  11. You Can’t Always Get What You Want - Rolling Stones
  12. Story of My Life - One Direction
  13. Best Thing I Never Had - Beyonce
  14. I'm a Loser-The Beatles
  15. I Fall to Pieces - Patsy Cline
  16. I Swear - All-4-One
  17. All Night Long (All Night) - Lionel Richie
  18. Help - The Beatles
  19. Another One Bites the Dust - Queen
  20. Desperado - The Eagles
  21. Good Riddance - Green Day
  22. I Knew You were Trouble - Taylor Swift
  23. Here, There, and Everywhere - The Beatles
It's possible the Beatles played a lot of golf. They had the right mindset.