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Traditions…

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Traditions…

Every year sometime after November 1st,  I watch Home for the Holidays. It came out in 1995 and was directed by Jodie Foster. This movie hits all the feels for me. It is perfectly cast – the writing is authentic, funny and heartbreaking at times. It is my favorite movie of all time. I usually watch it alone because this blend of humor and poignancy isn’t a hit with all of the humans here.

I make time for it every year since I discovered it in 2000 when I found a used copy on VHS at a store on Hollywood Boulevard. That year my twin brother moved to California and was sad to be so far from home at the holidays. I was single and kid free at the time, so I scraped up the cash for a ticket to LA. We hung out for a few days until I left late on Christmas Eve.

My family likes to watch Trains, Planes and Automobiles. It’s on a repetitive loop between late October and Christmas. This is one we all belly laugh to even though we know it verbatim. My kids are finally old enough that I don’t have to mute the scene where Steve Martin loses his sh*t at the car rental counter. It’s amazing to see how much some things have changed (no laptops, cell phones or tablets) and how the important stuff remains (being kind, family, dealing with adversity).

 

Of course we got sucked into the Elf on the Shelf scam about 5 years ago. My kids were young enough when we started that they believed in it for the first year or two. I’d fall asleep and wake up in a panic when I’d remember that I forgot to move Flash. In my mind I call him Jumpin’ Jack Flash because I feel like less of a dork for buying into the whole ridiculous scheme (humor me). Now my youngest moves it around because I’m lazy and tired most nights. We aren’t ready to let it go completely, yet.

Image result for elf on the shelf memes

We also adopt two children to buy gifts and clothes for during the holidays. We buy for one boy and one girl. I try to get kids the same age as my children. This one is sacred to me. The Christmas my brother and I were 7 years old, a Secret Santa made a delivery to our apartment.

I have never forgotten the kindness of that act and how happy it made me feel as a kid. I remember standing in the kitchen with my mother and brother as we emptied the overflowing hefty garbage bag. It was full of gifts – Candy Land, toy trucks and gastronomical delicacies, like Peanut Butter and Fluff. It was truly magical and I want to sprinkle some of that around and teach my kids through actions, not just words.

As for hosting, I get all the holidays. It’s practical as we have the largest dinning room. I have also taken on the task of serving seven fishes on Christmas Eve. It is a nod to my mother-in-law who passed away when my children were young. I didn’t have strong roots or family traditions growing up and I welcome the opportunities to give that to my kids. What I really try to give them is memories. That is the point of this entire holiday thing – making memories with your family and friends. Something that will last beyond a turkey carcass and some crinkled, torn wrapping paper.

Image result for italian christmas meme

Tell me some of your traditions….what do you love to do during the holiday madness?

 

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Not Today Satan.

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Not Today Satan.

I own my crazy, do you? Let’s face it we are all a little nuts and the ones who think they are 100% A-OK are usually the most F’ed up among us. Don’t ask me to back that up with science and stats, it’s a personal theory based on decades of life experience. The truth is sometimes my brain is an over ripe imagination machine that can make something enjoyable frightening as hell.

Perfect example, last night I took a steam shower. When we bought this house 8 years ago we did some renovations. Top of the list was pimping out the master bath. It’s my favorite room in the house. Travertine heated floors, a disco tub complete with whirlpool jets and lights – the only thing missing is a silver ball hanging from the ceiling. We also turned our shower into a car wash – multiple shower heads, barrel ceiling and a steam shower. In the time that we have lived here I’ve never taken a steam shower but last night I decided to give it a go.

It started out nice enough. I set the timer for 10 minutes and put the shower on to wash my hair before the steam took over. About 3 minutes in, the steam was on full blast and the thoughts in my head shifted from relaxation to Stephen Kingesque horror scenes.

First, I imagined a poisonous gas being mixed with the steam, it was hard to breath in there. Seriously, it was hot as hell and taking a deep breath took effort. I started to question why the hubs was so enthusiastic about me test driving the steam shower. Then I remembered that he still doesn’t do his own laundry and only gets his dishes to the sink about 20% of the time. He can’t possibly face the teen girl drama that awaits us for the next 7 years. Bottom line, he’s too cheap to replace me with a maid and a nurse and we still like each other most days. It’s not likely that he is trying to kill me, so I let that freak thought go.

The next gift from my imagination fairy was scorpions and deadly snakes. Keep in mind we don’t live in a climate where scorpions and deadly snakes are ubiquitous, my brain does not care. I knew the thoughts were ridiculous but that did not stop them from assaulting me. At one point I actually said “not today Satan” out loud and resisted the urge to stamp out imaginary deadly invaders.

Somehow I made it through the 7 minutes of terror with nary a bite or sting. I may have sweated off a pound of water weight so not an entirely bad experience. When we were getting ready for bed my husband asked me how the steam shower was….I made the mistake of telling him the insane thoughts that went through my brain. He just got a quizzical WTAF look on his face and I know he was wondering how his analytical mind underestimated my crazy two decades ago. Too late suckah!

This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record

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This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record

I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance policies. They are the policy makers equivalent of the parent driving in 1975 with their head turned sideways with two finger tips of the left hand barely grazing the steering wheel, and the right arm swinging wildly towards the back seat of the car while screaming “I don’t care who started it, I’m going to stop it. Now don’t make me pull over!” Stupid, somewhat dangerous, short-sighted and completely lacking in justice.

A few days ago my son was targeted in PE class (you can’t call it gym anymore, people lose their mind over that). They were playing “touch” football, my son was tackled when the ball wasn’t anywhere near him. This might be considered horseplay if the perpetrator wasn’t a notorious jackass. He put one hand on my kid’s face and the other on his collar bone near his neck. My kid started to push back and cursed at the thug wannabe who started it. Technically my kid could get in trouble for standing up for himself, that’s f*cked.

My son was lucky. Although no one saw the physical altercation, the PE teacher totally had my son’s back.  He pretended not to hear the curse words my son surely yelled. Why? Because my kid is a good student who has never (not once) been in trouble at school. He’s in 8th grade so that says a lot about his character, luckily the teacher recognized this. The other kid is on the dirty dozen list at school. He’s been a troublemaker since 1st grade everyone knows this kid is trouble, everyone. These are the people that lawyer up when the school tries to rein in their unruly child. So this kid continues to terrorize the good kids and gets the occasional metaphoric slap on the wrist. What he really needs is a punch in the gut and a kick in the ass, metaphorically speaking of course…..my tongue is so far into my cheek right now.

The system is broken. This zero tolerance stuff is ineffective – why – because you need to consider the facts on a case by case basis. I’ve heard horror stories about kids making pretend guns using their index finger as the muzzle and their thumb as the hammer. Kindergartners  have gotten expelled for this, expelled. I’ve heard of middle school girls getting suspended for bringing Midol in to ease cramping. It’s ridiculous the pendulum has swung too far my friends. Time to bring common sense and her brother good judgement back to school. I really miss those two.

This sums it up nicely –

 

 

 

Sober October #34

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Sober October #34

She knew I was home by the trail of vomit that started at the front door and lead to the bedroom where I slept had passed out. My mother, her fiance and my brother had been out all day. They did some family bonding outing that I had no interest in. Think vampires in sunlight enthusiasm, I did not want to go. I had better plans, with them gone for several hours, I could party.

Now the term “party” was pretty inconsistent. I didn’t have much money, a place to go or any kind of real plan but that did not deter me. I found some other bored teens to hang out with and we decided to find some trouble. So in our quest to “party” with no plan and no funds, we decided to hitch hike. Sad part is this wasn’t the first time we used this as a means to get high or drunk, it was “party roulette”. We never knew who would pick us up and what adventure awaited us. I cringe at the old memory, the sheer stupidity of it and the absolute lack of self-preservation. Pure insanity.

The details are a blur. They were a blur 34 years ago and they haven’t sharpened with the passing of time. I know I got drunk with strangers. I was in and out of a black out. I remember asking the driver to pull over so I could vomit. Somehow I stumbled up the steep wooden steps to our shabby apartment above the local hardware store. I don’t know how much time passed before my mother found me and insisted I was drunk.

I was a good liar then. I could think up shit on the spot like my life depended on it. I feigned the flu, a stomach bug, so many classmates had it. I convinced my mother’s fiance and my brother that was the case. Mom wasn’t having it. She took me to the Emergency Room to confirm her suspicions, I was busted.

My mother knew a thing or two about drunks, she was in the infancy stage of getting sober and it wasn’t her first attempt. I like to joke that my gene pool is polluted and it is, mostly with alcoholism and heart disease. At 15, I was pretty safe from heart disease but alcoholism doesn’t have a minimum age, that bastard.

Fast forward a few days and I was greeted with “you’re going to rehab” when I got home from school. I had 12 hours to say my good-byes and then I was off. I had no idea what to expect but I figured I could get some street cred from the experience. To say I was flippant is an understatement. I had no intention of getting sober. I was just doing time, garnering pages for my future memoir.

My mother drove me to the place which was a little more than an hour from where we lived. It was in Long Branch, New Jersey and was billed as an adolescent rehab, it formerly served as school for troubled boys. Part of it looked like an old house and part of it looked like a dorm. Guys and girls were separated by common rooms. There was a cafeteria in the basement with intake, detox and a nurses station on the second floor.

I remember getting asked a series of personal questions in the intake office. Based on some of the questions, I didn’t think I belonged. I mean I never lost a job or drove drunk (psst…still 15). I was focused on finding the “not me” which I later learned would be “not yet” if I continued on the path I was on. The place was only open about a month when I arrived, the smell of fresh paint still lingered in parts of the sprawling building.

I remember the first time I walked into the Day Room, “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash was playing. There were maybe a dozen residents there all between the ages 14 and 17. They came from a range of backgrounds and they all had way more experience than me. Most of them had been arrested for a variety of similar reasons and almost all came from broken families. It was misfit island for teens with a fairly structured daily schedule. We had job assignments, group therapy and some type of meeting, AA or NA. On Sundays a couple came in to bring us their version of Christianity.

The place was so new it was still working out the kinks. Kids were pairing up and couples could be seen holding hands in the Day Room. Most of the staff there were sober an average of 2.5 years and were deep into the zealot phase of recovery (that usually winds down sometime after the 5th year). I don’t know what qualifications they had beyond early sobriety. The counselors were more skilled and had some credentials.

I learned a lot in that place and much of it has followed me all these years. I remember reading the Twelve Steps of AA on a poster. Foolish girl, I thought I could get through a chunk of them just by reading them and giving them a moment’s thought. These steps provided a road map for living and I still abide by them.

THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. 

    Copyright  1952, 1953, 1981 by Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing (now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.)
    All rights reserved.

 

I know there’s a lot of God stuff in those steps. Relax, it’s a God of your understanding, a Higher Power (HP). I have heard some interesting spins on HP over the years….some people have used their home AA/NA group as their Higher Power. I once heard someone speak that stated Jack Daniels was their Higher Power because it was stronger than them. Another friend chose Good-Orderly-Direction as their God. I stopped judging this stuff decades ago and life got a whole bunch simpler.

About three days into my stay something remarkable happened. I was in the bedroom that I shared with a roommate but I was alone. I can still see myself sitting there with my white jeans and favorite scarf, a beam of light shone in through the window closest to my bed, near where I was sitting. People call it a spiritual awakening, for me it was an awareness that changed my life forever. In that moment, I got a clear picture of the destructive path my life was on. I also got an intense soul deep understanding that it did not have to stay that way. In that powerful moment I felt the presence of something greater than me and I made a decision to get sober. I have been faithful to that decision for 34 years now.

This longevity of sobriety is somewhat rare. What’s really exotic is getting and staying sober at such a young age. I can only take partial credit for that. That loving, crazy and ever vigilant HP that watches over me has done most of the heavy lifting all these years. I have also met a thousand sober angels along the way. People that guided me through different phases of my life. The ones that told me the harsh truths but always with a solution or helpful suggestion. I’ve also met people that determined I could not possibly be an alcoholic because I got sober so young. I don’t try to win them over with stories of the stupid shit I did for my brief time using. I do remind myself of something I learned long ago in that rehab….”it isn’t how much or how long you drank that matters, it’s what happens when”. When I drank I always put myself in harm’s way, always.

If I can pinpoint one thing that has kept me sober it’s probably the realization that being sober is actually the easier, softer way. That probably sounds nuts to people who aren’t familiar with alcoholism but it’s the truth. If staying sober was harder than being drunk, I would have gotten drunk long ago. Down to my toes I believe that this is the best path for me and that’s why I’ve stayed on it so long.

 

 

 

 

Self-Loathing Olympics…..

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Self-Loathing Olympics…..

Ten minutes into my starvation-laxative diet and I’m already hungry. Relax, I know eating disorders are real and debilitating….this is how I jokingly deal with trying to fit into a dress. We have a wedding to attend in 3 weeks and I’m in the “oh-shit-what-will-I-wear” phase. I already visited “oh-shit-what-will-my-kids-wear” and I’ll be circling back to that if Zappos doesn’t pull through. My husband will wear one of the two suits that he owns because, unlike me that bastard  guy can still fit into clothes from ten years ago. My biggest concern for him is that he gives me the correct shirt to take to the dry cleaners.

For those that aren’t familiar or have a different experience, fitting rooms are not kind to a lot of us. The lighting is harsh, you feel like someone’s watching you (they are) and you are in a closet box with strangers for neighbors, so sobbing loudly and cursing is frowned upon (ask me how I know). Trying on dresses, bathing suits and jeans could all be distinct categories in the self-loathing Olympics. I just made that up, but that needs to happen.

I know a lot of ladies like to shop. I’m not one of them. In fact, I fantasized about having a root canal when I was trying on the second round of dresses. First world problem indeed but there you go. In my quest to find a dress I thought about how this process was similar to the grieving process.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. The stages include: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. This is widely known for grief and grieving.  In all seriousness I have seen the stages in action in my hospice work. This post isn’t about that so just humor me for a moment.

5 Stages of Dress Shopping:

Denial – Oh surely I have something in my closet that I can fit into (wrong). Maybe I can wear sequins (you can’t).

Anger – This is all internal dialogue because, dressing room neighbors. G-damn it how did I get so fat?! I’ve worked out 3 to 4 times a week for over 30 years WTAF. Geezus.

Bargaining – Sends photo text to friend…”Am I too fat and old to pull this off?” Replies “The boobs look good” (see how she avoided answering directly, smooth). Wonder if I can suck my gut in for 9 hours continuously….probably not since I can barely hold a plank for 60 seconds.

Depression – I cry but only on the inside because, dressing room neighbors. I used to be so skinny….I was also 5 years old once.

Acceptance – Well the one dress looks less awful than the rest, I suppose I’ll get it. Determines that Spanx and a lack of sugar might help me shimmy into it in three weeks.

At one point I actually got stuck in a dress I was trying on. I shit you not, really happened. I was having panicked thoughts like – OMG what if someone has to help me get out of this. That’s it, this is ridiculous, I will rip it off like a bear and just buy this stupid f*cking dress and go home. I am going to die with half this dress on with fully exposed muffin top, unattractive underwear and white socks, so hot. I will be on the evening news, my family will have to move after my funeral. Damn it.

 

Middle School (pssst….it NEVER ends)

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Middle School (pssst….it NEVER ends)

Today I witnessed something that made me shudder and think….G-damn this middle school mentality never ends. I was visiting an elderly client, she isn’t quite 80 yet, so not that old (the definition keeps getting pushed back…..pretty soon everyone will be young or middle aged until they reach triple digits then and only then will they be considered elderly). I was slightly horrified to realize how much an assisted living facility (ALF – wait, wasn’t that a TV show…) can mirror middle school.

The hallways are filled with seasonal decorations. Each apartment door is decked out for whatever holiday is up next. Some of these people get carried away and I think there must be some kind of secret contest or perhaps it gets discussed at dinner. Dinner is a big deal. The time and table placement of the reservation reflects some kind of ALF hierarchy which I have not yet decoded. My clients aren’t regulars in the dinning room and I think it’s decreasing their stock.

There are popular residents and those that struggle with physical issues and/or social anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, some of the more outgoing residents deal with physical and social issues, they just soldier through it and show up at dinner and bingo every chance they get. The introverted shy gals like my friend can get lost in the shuffle. Pair a quiet  personality with a touch of dementia and the friend list gets anemic.

As we often do, Helen and I were playing table top shuffleboard in the lobby. We do this about twice and week and we both enjoy it. We were having fun, talking smack to each other and taking turns playing poorly, when a group sat at a nearby table. It started with just two people – Janet and Bob. Janet was talking about a recent hospital stay. She and Bob compared notes on blood thinners and MiraLAX. It was entertaining to listen to and not an uncommon conversation given the demographic.

Soon the two were joined by 3 more and the topic changed to a recent party. One of the ladies just had a blow out celebration for her birthday, a surprise party. Over 50 people attended and it took her more than an hour to read through all of the cards….she mentioned that no less than 3 times. I wanted to shout “we heard you the first two times Marge” but that seemed inappropriate. I could tell my shuffleboard partner was not happy. We played one more round, hearing details about a cake and how good the food was, then we headed upstairs to the apartment she shares with her husband.

As we were slowly shuffling out of there, my friend whispers “have you ever felt out of place?” to me. I knew she was upset about not being invited to the party. I got her upstairs and we talked it out a bit. I handled it the way I would with my kids who are both deep in the throes of middle school. First I validated her feelings. “Yes” I said, “I have felt out of place and it sucks. I’m sorry you are feeling that way.” Then I suggested a few things and gave the other people the benefit of the doubt. I said, “I don’t think they were discussing the party to make you feel bad. They were probably just rehashing the experience and not considering how it might make others feel.”

My friend was grateful but was still upset and I wanted to help her beyond this 20 minute conversation, if that is even possible. I suggested the same things I have to my daughter in similar situations. Insert yourself into the activities so you are not overlooked. Make it a point to go out and try new things. Go to dinner, bingo and think about focusing on one or two friends instead of trying to get into a larger social group.

The only thing worse than talking to your kids about the horrors of socializing in middle school….is talking to a nearly 80 year old about the same damn things. It broke me a bit but I kept it together. I gave her a hug, told her I loved her and that I would be back on Friday. Oh and I gave her a big bowl of ice cream because sometimes, ice cream gets you through the tough stuff.

 

Pump Up The Volume

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Pump Up The Volume

Things have been super heavy lately. Time to take a break from all the heartache, put on some party hats, turn up the music and dance on the tables….metaphorically speaking.

Pump Up The Volume by M/A/R/R/S –

 

As I’m listening to this song, I’m transported back to the late 80s when I had a part time job video taping weddings. Pump Up The Volume was played at 99.9% of the weddings I attended and we all did the electric slide to it. That was a fun job except for the 37.5 pounds of equipment that was attached to my body for 8 – 14 hour days depending on the wedding package the bride and groom settled on. Scratch that, depending on the package the parents of the bride were willing to buy. Actually the job was fun most of the time, it just lacked in consistency. The work was steady May – November but you never knew what kind of party it was until you got there.

Sometimes we taped the bride and her bridesmaids getting ready for the wedding. This added 3 to 4 hours to the day and maybe got me an extra 30 bucks so, meh. I was young and broke so I slipped into my pseudo tux (complete with black bow tie), set the alarm for an ungodly hour and schlepped to wherever I needed to be. It was usually a row house in Chambersburg. At the time Chambersburg was about 112% Italian and the weddings became somewhat predictable. We affectionately referred to these brides as “Burger Bits”.

There was always a Tony or a Vinny to greet me at the door along with duplicates of Lisa and Maria. There was always food – Italian bakery cookies, crumb cakes, fresh fruit and coffee. God bless them for having coffee at every hour of the day. The houses were small and the families were large. Cousins, blood and honorary Aunts and Uncles, “business associates” and neighbors galore. There was usually someone on the line from Italy kissing into the phone. The mother of the bride oscillated between being on the verge of nostalgic tears and ready to skin someone alive for transgressions like – not getting all the lint off of a suit jacket or bringing the wrong brand of milk to go with all of that coffee. It was….intense.

The brides were beautiful and sweet, all the time. I was amazed at their composure while I stalked them with a large video camera and a light that could double as a beacon for wayward coastal ships. They were poised, confident and radiated happiness. There were a few exceptions but nothing like the Bridezillas you hear about today. If they got the “getting ready” package their video inevitably included this song –

 

Dear Gawd I hate that song with the heat of a thousand suns. I don’t know how Phil, the owner of the company, didn’t off himself after editing his 7,341st bride getting ready to that song. I still have nightmares about it. After capturing the happy bride and her bridesmaids in all of their glory, I was off to the church to secure a good location.

Parking was always a bitch in Chambersburg. And having to park half a block or more away from the church was fine, if you didn’t have to haul half your body weight in equipment to and from the car. Add rain to the mix and well it just sucked. The churches and priests varied on their rules for video taping weddings. The alter was almost always off limits in Catholic churches and sometimes you could feel the resentment from the clergy. They didn’t consider us a value add to the holy ceremony. I wasn’t there to have a philosophical debate I just needed to shoot the damn wedding. I already had issues with the Catholic Church and this hostility didn’t help matters….but I digress.

After the ceremony and the inevitable humungous receiving line, there were always family photos in the church. I’d stick around for that and then get ready for the official “photo shoot” which would take place in a park or at the reception venue. The Photographer called the shots, I just hoped for some candid laughter and smiles among the wedding party. Something to make the video look different from the Photo Album.

After the Photo Shoot it was time to get to the reception. If I was lucky there was time to pee and eat a granola bar. By this point I was usually 8 hours into the day and in need of caffeine to get through the next 6 or 7 hours. The reception is where things got really interesting or really boring. I would bounce between the guest cocktail hour and the bridal party which was usually in a separate “VIP” room. The VIP room typically had it’s own bathroom, bar service and food. The wait staff was always on full ass-kissing mode around the bridal party so if you’re looking for the jumbo shrimp, that’s where it resides.

You could tell a lot about the future of the marriage based on the cocktail hour. Some couples were already pissed off at each other which wasn’t a good sign. We did have repeat customers for some second and third weddings, true story. Also, the way people treated the “staff” varied wildly. I was either treated like family or a piece of furniture, there was no in-between.

Some families had us eat at the parents table, which seems over the top to me. Um, we just met 10 hours ago shouldn’t I be in the back of the room with the co-workers that they “had” to invite? Other families didn’t reserve us a meal at all. A 14 hour day and no meal for the skinny video chick. The photographer always got fed, we were second class citizens until the boss finally added it to the contract. I’m sure for some people it just slipped their minds, so the addendum to the contract helped them to remember.

My job was to capture candid, happy moments when guests least expected it. It’s difficult to creep up on people when you’re sporting a 3 foot long camera, 12 inches wide with a blinding light attached to it. Good thing I was cute and friendly. Some guests simply weren’t having it and I got the “no, honey” look with hand gestures that sent me on my way sans coverage. I used to joke that some of these people were afraid they’d get ousted on “America’s Most Wanted” until I realized that some were likely mobbed up and that I should keep my mouth shut.

I always got hit on by some drunk guy in the bridal party. I managed to avoid bad situations by making sure I parked near other guests and always made trips to my car when other people were around. It was a definite downside to the job, I had to be extremely careful.

The best weddings were the ones where my boss worked with me. Phil became a close friend and it was always more fun when he was around. He loved the MC Hammer song – “U Can’t Touch This” and we always stole a dance when the DJ played it.

This song always puts a smile on my face (unlike that hell cat “Going to the Chapel”) and makes me think of my friend.

 

 

Of Course, Me too.

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Of Course, Me too.

“Me too” is trending on social media right now. It’s a way for people (mostly women but not exclusively) to identify that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted at some point. At the risk of sounding trendy, this is a tinder box of triggers for a lot of us.

Where to start…..early y’all I grew up in the 70’s when women were definitely not seen as equals. I was a kid – probably 5 the first time someone tried to get fresh with me. We were visiting a friend of my mother. It was a family but the guy and his offspring were overly sexual. I remember seeing boob mugs and a novelty lady parts on the guys desk. His son, a few years older than me, kept trying to get me naked. I was 5 years old. I refused to get naked for him despite his relentless requests.

Fast forward to me at 7 years old, living in New Jersey. There was a teen boy that lived by my babysitter. He got me to make out with him in a fort. What teen wants to make out with a 7 year old? He was definitely a predator in training. I remember him telling me how we would get married when I was 16. Even at 7, I knew he was full of shit.

Leap to my teen years and I wasn’t making great life choices. I had a brief stint with drugs and alcohol which lasted about 18 months. It was the early 80s and there were times when I was stupid enough to hitch hike, sometimes alone. One time in particular, the driver took me to a remote location. I knew I was in trouble and my teen brain was in overdrive. I liked to think I was cool but I was very inexperienced and afraid. I talked my way out of an assault by making up a story about a boyfriend in South River that had ties to the mob. I rattled of names of guys and streets that were completely fabricated. The driver must have believed me because things didn’t escalate. That was a really close call.

Fortunately I stopped drinking and using drugs at the age of 15. I got sent to an adolescent rehab which was a fairly new concept in 1983. Ten months later, I was in a sexual relationship with the man who was previously my counselor in rehab. I have tried to convince myself that this was consensual. It was in some ways but it wasn’t a level playing field. He was 32, I was 16. If a 32 year old man shows any interest in my daughter when she is 16, there will be hell to pay.

When I started working, harassment was just another thing you had to deal with on the job. I was a cashier at a grocery store for several years in my late teens. One older man in the dairy department insisted on hugging all of the girls and then he would make comments about their breast size. I hated this and mentioned it to management. The hugging stopped but I was looked at as a trouble maker from that point on. “Oh, it’s no big deal, he’s just old and likes hugs” my co-workers would say. “Really” I would retort, “he just commented on your cup size.”

I worked for a large corporation in the early 90s. I was good at my job and got consistent promotions. I was there about 4 years when one of my former managers heard that I had ended a relationship. The next day a box from Victoria’s Secret was on my desk. It contained two camisole nightgowns with matching robes and two pairs of thigh high stockings. It cost a small fortune and instantly made me feel uncomfortable. This man was no longer my manager and we rarely spoke. And if that wasn’t enough, his wife worked for the same company. So I handled it in a way that would leave him some dignity. I thanked him for the gift and said “I’m sure you only meant this as a friendly gesture but it makes me uncomfortable”. I requested that he take it back, he refused and I let it drop. By this point, I had learned the importance of deescalation.

I remember going to a sober get together with male acquaintances that said they would not give me a ride home unless I blew them. I started walking and they eventually caught up with me to give me a ride but I didn’t feel safe. Even sober, I could not escape creeps. There was one man in particular that would go to the same weekly AA meeting as me, he harassed me every time he saw me. Every. Single. Time. The kicker was that he sponsored my sponsor’s husband. She had a fit when she witnessed his behavior one night. She had not idea he treated me that way. To me he was just another asshole that I tried to ignore. It didn’t even cross my mind to tell her about it.

I will say these things don’t happen with the frequency they once did. I’ve been married for 15 years and I am self-employed. I’d like to think the world is starting to change but it is more likely that I have aged out of the target zone. Now my focus is preparing my children for the situations they may encounter. Time to make “me too” the exception instead of the norm, it’s beyond time.

 

 

Last Call

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Last Call

I encountered a situation yesterday that was a first in my ten years as a hospice volunteer. A couple of days ago the Volunteer Coordinator sent out an email asking for a volunteer. She gave a summary of the case including the town, first name of the patient and a description of the requested visit. The patient was in my town so I responded immediately that I would like to help this family. The next day a secure email was sent to me with the patient name, address and contact information.

Last night I called the patient’s wife to schedule the visit. A woman answered the phone and I asked if it was Helen, my contact. “No”, the shaky voice replied. I explained the reason for my call and a slight sense of dread was building. “No need to visit, he died about an hour ago. He’s still on the floor waiting for the funeral director to get him.” I could hear the tears in the voice on the other end of the phone and then it clicked, I know this person.

“Jan, is that you?” I asked, sure that I knew the person on the other end of the line. “Yes” she replied. I gave my full name, said how sorry I was and asked if there was anything I could do in that moment. There wasn’t anything to do, except to express my deepest condolences which is what I did. She thanked me for the call and we said good-bye.

I could picture my acquaintance on the phone. Tears, that keep coming when you think you’re all cried out. I could feel her concern for her newly widowed mother. I wondered if she ate dinner or if she would sleep over her parents home to ease the adjustment of that awful first night. I imagined a fitful night with not much sleep, except for an hour or so when the emotional exhaustion just overwhelms your body and forces you to rest despite your mind’s best efforts to keep you up. I could sense the headache, the nasal congestion and the scratchy throat, remnants of many tears shed. I felt her grief and I took a little piece with me. I still have it.

Facebook has me in a Jam

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Facebook has me in a Jam

I accidentally got into a Facebook fight with a local guy who sells jams. I know it sounds ridiculous, this guy has been caustic since day one. I volunteer for a local non-profit and a few months ago we had a vendor event. I was doing promotions on FB for it when I get a  – “why wasn’t I invited” in the comments from this guy. I never heard his name before but I respond politely give him the details and he joined the event. He donated a total of $3. to the non-profit. I let it go.

Things are going fine. I liked his jam related posts and we have some mutual local business friends that collaborate with him. Great, I support local businesses. Then in August things went off the rails. He posted something which asked a question, I answered. Things spiraled from there.

I logged off and went to bed and soon after, he started a sh*t storm on my personal Facebook page. Some of my friends defended me and took screen shots of the whole sordid affair. Most of the offensive comments were deleted by the time I checked in the next morning. Just a few traces of a rough night with people messaging me the details. My friends were demanding a boycott of his business. I urged them to let it go, he does make a good product. Just brush it off. Then I unfriended him because I don’t need the drama.

A month later he’s at it again. He makes random comments on the Facebook page for the non-profit for which I volunteer. We are collecting items for an auction. He comments that he wants to donate but never responds to messages with the details on how to do so. Then he comments again on other pages, acting like he wanted to help but I was unresponsive. I see it for what it is and I handle it with class despite our history.

Ok this is boring why am I wasting your time….here’s the funny part….my husband loves this f*cking jam. The one he likes reminds him of childhood summers spent in Italy. How can I deprive him of that? I can’t. But I don’t want to order this stuff online and have Jam Man see my name on the order – he’ll probably poison the jar. And I definitely do not want him to have my home address.

So in an ironic twist, filed under things you do for love……I am driving around the county going into small businesses looking for this stupid jam. I bought another variety at one store a few days ago, husband gave it the thumbs down. I go back two days later for the beloved flavor, they don’t have it. Damn it.

This morning my husband sends me a text “good jam” – meaning please get me the stuff that reminds me of childhood summers spent in Italy. My first reaction was “You’re on your own dude, Jam Man was at it again yesterday.” Then I look up other stores that might carry it and find a local venue. I found it!!! So yes I bought the stupid jam because I love my husband more than I dislike the Jam Man.