Wednesday, September 29, 2010

that one time in third grade i got interrogated in a scary dark room: part II

One day, the school counselor plucked me out of class and took me to her office.  Getting sent to the counselor’s office carried some unsavory connotations because back then the only kids I knew who saw the counselor had oppositional defiant disorder or brought pocket knives to school or took their pants off in the middle of the cafeteria. It was like getting sent to the principal but more extreme, because everyone knew that you had not only conduct issues, you also had THOSE kind of issues. 

Her office, lit only by a small lamp in the corner, had all the ambience of a dark womb.  I sat on the standard therapy couch and she began to ask questions.

How are you feeling today? 
Is something making you blue?
Do you ever think about running away?
Are your mom and dad nice to you?

The questions then became more specific. I detected nuances of ABC after school special.

Since her verbal coercion tactics hadn't yet elicited a signed admission that my parents regularly starved me and my brother and kept us locked in a cage at night and in general subjected us to a childhood of torture and neglect, she handed me a piece of paper and drew four circles on it. (I added Maggie.) It looked like this:
 "I want you to draw a face on each of your family members."

WTF, lady? This just got Freudian.

I handed her this:

She asked me if my dad was ever mean to me. I said not really. Then there was silent staring. The kind of silent staring that makes the last person to speak feel obligated to say more words, any words, because the conversational ball is still in their court and it is not socially acceptable for two people to be staring at one another in a dark room not saying any words. 

"Sometimes he changes the channel when I watch TV."

Let's just say that if one were to create a flow chart out of the next 30 minutes, each box would be followed by a series of arrows and they'd all lead to one giant box labeled "OMG CHILD ABUSE CALL CPS!!!!!!1" 

While she talked more about feelings and how everyone has them and they're OK to talk about and this is a safe place and would I like a lollipop, I embellished my family portrait with crayons until it looked approximately like this:

Puppies! Rainbows! Even the sun is smiling! WE ARE SO DAMN HAPPY!
I never figured out what was behind my surprise visit to the counselor's office, but I also forgot about it later that day because I was eight and possessed the attention span of a gnat. 

Turns out the answer has stared me in the face all these years and I was too blind to see it until now. It hit me at once via a mid-afternoon highway epiphany.

Miss Cecil told the counselor I was emotionally disturbed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

that one time in third grade i got interrogated in a scary dark room: part I

You know those trivial events in elementary school that you forgot about right after they happened until one day you're driving 19 years later and a major epiphany punches you in the temple and you're like, "OH! NOW I GET IT!" and then you almost drive off the 163 overpass?

I have enormous respect for teachers, especially because when I worked as a substitute I got a fleeting glimpse of how hard it is. It was still hard even when I knew I didn't have to do it again tomorrow, or again ever if I didn't want to. Teachers are superheroes!

But my third grade teacher Miss Cecil* was mean. So very mean. She was M-E-A-N written in  pitchforks oozing with blood and she hated all but two of the students in our class, a boy and a girl. Outside the elite two, the rest of of us were ostensibly inbred leprosy-ridden half-orangutans that left a constant trail of clown drool behind us. She was one of those teachers that made you wonder why the hell she chose to be a teacher in the first place.

I remember scratching my head brainstorming careers I thought she'd enjoy more than teaching, like being an astronaut, a doctor, or a Girl Scout troop leader, i.e. the only other professions that existed in the world. Gauging from her bitter factor alone, you would think she was a 70-year-old spinster with silver hair and lipstick on her teeth. But she was actually 26, 5' feet tall and blonde. Her fiancé was a really nice man who used to bring our class cookies... cookies!

I can't truly convey the soul-crushing, miserable and heartless B unsavory educational experience that was Miss Cecil's classroom, but do allow me to share a few of the more memorable behavioral gems, including her habits of:

  • Reading everyone's spelling test scores aloud without missing a beat until she'd get to a remedial kid. "Timmy 98, Susie 102, Johnny...  hmmm Johnny, are you sure you want me to read it out loud?" Guess what everybody? Johnny failed. This was the perfect opportunity to have him explain dyslexia to the rest of the class.
  • Calling my parents in for a conference during which she hinted to them their daughter might be functionally illiterate after one time I underperformed on the writing portion of a standardized pretest. We were supposed to describe an elephant, but I had a 103 degree fever and did not care one iota about describing this elephant or its sharp mollusks or cascading trunk. I just wanted to live. Miss Cecil expressed shock a few months later when I won the class spelling bee. "Well, I never thought I'd see the day you'd beat [boy contingent of elite two] in spelling!"
  • See first item and substitute "spelling test scores" with "personal weight." I wish I was making this up. I think it was Presidential Fitness Test Week and we were about to get judged on our push-up and toe-touching skillz, which I was actually decent at since I am a freak of nature whose arm span makes Inspector Gadget's go-go gadget arm look like a pygmy stump. Anyway, nothing motivates plump kids to get moving and snack on carrot sticks like calling more attention to their size, especially when there's only one plump kid in the class. Hey, that's not obvious. "Sure you want me to read this out loud, Sally?"
  •  Confronting me in the girls bathroom demanding an explanation as to why I hadn't invited a classmate to my birthday party. I stammered through my reasons, which I felt were valid enough... at first: "I only invited two girls from class... My parents said I could only have eight people... I went to a different school in second grade, I still have ummm, friends there... lostinthemail?"  Miss Cecil: "You know you were wrong to exclude her." Me: [overcome with guilt. tears]. 
Stay tuned for the climax of "That One Time In Third Grade I Got Interrogated In a Scary Dark Room."

*All names extremely changed for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

that time i accidentally conducted a physics lab in my elevator

I waited until the last possible minute of my senior year in high school to take physics, and I didn't retain a whole lot of any knowledge except: A) that the immaculate conception MUST have really happened because I somehow ended up with an 89.5 and therefore an exemption from the final through prayer alone and B) the definitions of velocity and momentum.

Actually I'm not sure I remember the definitions verbatim. E = mc² may or may not be relevant to one or both, but who cares? What I do know is that Mr. Velocity and his lady friend Mizz Momentum both played a significant role this morning when my keys fell through the elevator crack and into the hereafter.

I first noticed that the crack in our building's elevator is really effing wide soon after we moved in. If most cracks leading to elevator shafts look like this:


Ours looks like this:
It's so gaping that I trip/stumble/faceplant over it on average twice a week. The most memorable such occasions are, of course, when fellow residents whose feet, groceries or small dogs I've accidentally stepped on during the tripping process, bear witness to the folly and then ride with me for ten more floors, because what fun is eating tile if nobody sees it?

So I'm standing in the elevator this morning headed down to 5P when I realize I left something important. Back home I go. I kneeled down to zip my bag after thinking, "Hmm, I better zip my bag, wouldn't want anything to fall out!" (Foreshadowing?) When the door opened, I was still messing with the zipper. I took a giant leap forward à la Neil Armstrong in a doomed attempt to keep it open.

I was still mid-stride as my keys, my precious keys, the keys to my home, my car, the mailbox, the magic clicker that opens the gate, the other magic clicker that grants access to the pool, my gym, the threadbare Miami University keychain that's held my life together since I was 20, my Spicy Pickle swipey, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MY SPICY PICKLE SWIPEY, plummeted out of my jeans pocket and slipped through the cracks into wherever it is that elevator shafts stop. 

Which guess what, is somewhere really far away because I'm pretty sure six minutes elapsed between the keys' initial descent and the faint, echoing crash I heard somewhere way, way below. I'm all stunned for a second, talking to myself out loud asking, "Did that just happen?" Once I determined that that had, in fact, happened, I set out in search of Chuck the maintenance guy. The idealist in me said, "Don't fret, pet! It can't be that hard to break into an elevator shaft! I'm sure Chuck will save the day!"

The idealist in me was wrong.

Chuck said that to gain access to the elevator shaft, the elevator company itself would have to come out from Manitoba or something and shut off the whole city's power and plumbing and we would have to ration food for months and nuclear war would break out between PB and OB and then Glee would get canceled! A watered down version of this, anyway. He told me that a couple of other unlucky souls lost their keys the same way over the past month or so, and they're still waiting to hear from the elevator people. In other words, don't hold your breath. 

So onward I must go. Although I mourn the loss of my keys and especially my beloved Miami keychain, I'm amazed at the show of support from friends, some of whom have apparently lived in fear of what would happen if they dropped their keys into an elevator shaft. Some text messaged responses:

Mom: "That's been my greatest fear in life."

LMack: "AHAHAHAHA, only you would do that."

Anonymous: "I hold my breath and clutch my keys to my chest every time I step into an elevator."

Wes: "I always wondered if that ever happened to anyone."

Well Wes, it does happen, and there's life on the other side... I'm just not sure how I'm going to get back into my apartment.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

rodeos, outhouses, five star hotels, and beatnik bookstores

We couldn't leave our little slice of trailer heaven without stopping next door at the branding competition.

We took "the fast way" out of the mountains per the advice of our new mustache-y cowboy friends. This speedy escape included a separate 9,600 ft. highway pass with zero guardrails, i.e. I held my breath for two-and-a-half hours while debating whether it would be scarier to drive off a 9,600 ft. elevation traveling uphill... or downhill? Jury's still out.

We stopped in Bodie, and by "stopped," I mean off-roaded up four miles of tire-piercing rocks. It was pretty much the coolest thing I've ever seen. Heard of it?      

Bodie (rhymes with "body") was a bustling mining camp that once had 10,000 residents at the height of the gold rush. It's been abandoned for eons but now it's a California State Park, which means its  hundreds of buildings aren't allowed to fall over because the state says so dang it! The interiors of the buildings are all untouched. We saw a brothel, a church, a jail, a mortuary, tons of outhouses, gambling halls, a full gymnasium with swingy acrobat rings, and dozens of normal people homes. We loved Bodie!

We drove back to San Francisco that afternoon and got lucky with a last minute rate at the Ritz which included a surprise upgrade... club level! And then for the next two days our view looked like this:

City Lights Books, owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the last living Beat poet.

The lesson to extract from our weekend is that if at first you don't plan well and spend the night breathing in possible aesbestos at a skeevy mountain dive, dust yourself off, go to Bodie, drive back to where you came from and have faith that the Ritz offers military discounts. It worked for us.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Won't you be my neighbor? Labor Day, Part II

Truth be told I was surprised when MP was all "YEAH!!!" about staying here considering it was sketchy and we hadn't yet trekked through the dark, starving cat-populated alley to check it out/make sure there were no varmints/roaches/dead hookers in our home for the evening. Also, you could easily hide a dead person there for a long time but hey! It's called faith. And hunger. And it hurt. Wanted burger. Beer. I asked Innkeeper Jean if this place had a physical address, should we misplace the hand-drawn mapkin. This did not sit well with her. Touchy subject, I suppose?

After inhaling dinner we decided hey, why quit now? There was a honky tonk down the road crawling with real cowboys in ten gallon hats and Wranglers and boots and epic handlebar mustaches I wanted to touch and ask questions about. Like, how long did it take to grow? Do you have "bad 'stache days?" How often do people come up to you and ask "who wants a mustache ride?" If someone cut it off in the middle of the night while you slept because they were mad at you, would you be devastated? So in we went. They were in town for a cattle branding competition. We made a couple of new cowboy friends and were all "Now THIS is America! Could this trip get any better!? WE LOVE BRIDGEPORT, CALIFORNIA!!!!!!!"

Then we went "home." Tee-hee.

Turns out our home for the night was not only situated between two trailers, yes ladies and gents, but was itself a close relative of a double wide from circa the Eisenhower administration. Care for a walking tour?

Curb appeal!
First we have the furnished living room. This plush couch is an example of the Native American-meets-"Full House" design motif. Bonus: You can push me a couple of feet to the left as a barricade against the front door, in case the deadbolt has been forcibly removed. And it has.
Tons of natural light! The sagging, sans-ring curtain is a cutting edge trend in window treatments.
A personal VHS library for your convenience. The thick layer of dust coating the collection is is all you need to rest assured that A) these tapes are in barely-used condition, and B) No one has stayed here for a long, long time.

The TV doesn't work, but go ahead, take home "Boys on the Side." ;-) We won't tell. Whoopi Goldberg's finest hour.

 Onto the kitchen. Upon testing the non-functional stove, the corpse of a spider may fly into your face... Don't worry, this is normal.

The autumnal cabinet appliques are from Pottery Barn's new line,  "Grandma's Fall Harvest." Really takes you back, huh?
As we enter the master bedroom, keep in mind that this rare painting is in no way an attempt to hide a large gaping hole in the wall behind it.
You may choose to sleep fully clothed on a palette of towels, like these guests did -- and that's OK.**

Tons of storage! Free mop.
Stunning views.
 **At the time these photos were taken, the bathroom was not camera-ready. This day marked the first time these particular guests dry-heaved at the sight of a bathroom sink.

But wait, it's not over. Third and final installment forthcoming.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Labor Day: Part 1

Last-minute road trips are basically my reason for living, so when Southwest DING-ed in Friday morning with SAN - SFO sub-Greyhound fares, my Labor Day weekend equation was clear: MP off until Wednesday + I work in pajamas = God himself affirming His will that we SHALL fly to San Francisco tomorrow morning and drive an economy-sized rent car eastward through the Sierra Nevada! MP liked this.

The only glitch in our my plan is that Yosemite took a long, long time to drive through -- all of it beautiful, of course, but, well, LOOOOOOOOOOONG, especially since we entered the park at 5ish in the afternoon. Long drives are awesome except when I'm hungry. And I was. So very, very hungry. MP was hungry too of course (insert fact that he's gone through POW training where he ate only leaves and bugs whilst getting punched in the eye sockets for lots of consecutive days and OMG I'm starving just typing this, my husband is titanium steel). We were all, please Lord, give us rest.

And this wasn't so much a function of fear of starving to death as we didn't want to drive two more hours to Carson City to eat and sleep. Because, hunger > safe overnight accommodations.

We gave up in Bridgeport, CA pop. 817, starving and tired. Most of the hotels said "No Vacancy" in obnoxious neon lights, but there was this one place! Clearly "vintage," but who cares!? WHAT IF WE COULD STAY HERE AND THEREFORE EAT A HAMBURGER SOON!!? We walked into the smell of 1885 and a sign on the door that said "Knock Here." The rest was straight from the movies. Have you ever seen "Funny Farm?"

Jean, the innkeeper, walked out to the lobby to greet us barefoot in a nightgown. We asked if she had vacancy and she said while the actual hotel was booked that night, she did have a "house" she rented out... "back that way," she said, pointing toward the pitch black alley-within-an-alley behind the hotel, and she'd even give us a special rate. Hallelujah. She took a special liking to Mike and touched him whenever possible.

Jean's selling points:
  • "It's got a TV!"
  • "And a bed!"
  • (My self-observation of next door restaurant, somehow still open. People eating burgers. Salivation.)
  • "Now, it's nothin' fancy, ya hear?"
We'll take it.


To be continued, but first, a preview:

"I'm gonna draw you a map now... Pay attention or you'll get yerself lost!"
"It's between the white trailer..."

"and the yellah trailer."

Part 2 is unspeakably glorious, the yin to Saturday night's yang. Until then....