Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Memories of Mexico (Mexico City, Mexico)

I've been back at home for a couple of months, but I keep thinking about Mexico. This is what I remember -- with a little help from my notes -- from this past summer:

Spending time with my daughter. Seeing her fall in love with the colors, the sounds, the people of this beautiful, vibrant country.

Hundreds of shawls and scarves  (I stop counting at 400)  draped around the altar, over huge candlesticks, and what looks to me to be a giant gyroscope. Traditional serapes snuggling up to belly-dance be-dangled hip wear, all hanging from the branches of candelabras and the arms of the larger-than-life Jesus, who is dressed in a full-length, purple and gold-cross embossed gown with white lace collars and cuffs. A neon-pink, fringed shawl is folded over one of his arms, while a white, wool and polyester blend is slung jauntily over a shoulder. I don't know the background, but the sight of El Senor de los rebozos at the Church of Santo. Domingo is quite impressive.

I only eat two  of my  four churros with the hot, dark chocolate at El Moro. Of course, I want more, but it wasn't I who belly danced for several hours; I am with family and friends of Miriam, who had invited me to witness her baile arabe performance.

Not many United Statians stay at the Hotel I., but I am delighted to meet Stephen, a professor of English as a Second Language who carries out his project of recording street musicians, so that they can sell and profit from the CDs he then gifts them.

Lots of Mexicans think that I am French, but I am especially flattered when a bunch of Parisians think that I am one of them -- after I've spoken to them in their langue.

Ingrid and I debate the advantages of sex vs. chewing gum to achieve weight loss. We practically shoot wine out of our nostrils, an action which might serve (if done regularly) to help lose pounds, too.

Museo de la Chancilleria (The Museum of Historic and Artistic Patrimony of the Secretary of Foreign Relations):  Exhibit of contemporary artists' views of nature, including industrialization vs the environment, and questions of religion and philosophy that go beyond nature. The building itself is fascinating, especially the weird little baby angels with their bulging, vacuous eyes, that ring the cupola. (

The Design Museum's show, featuring photographs of Mexico as it is or as the photographers wish it to be. Lots of landscapes and faces, those of the elderly particularly tender, emotive, and provocative. (

: Built as a church in 1594, the Secretary of Public Education is housed in a Baroque-style building, reconstructed in the mid-17th century. The most notable features are the 200 or so Diego Rivera murals on the ground and third floors (or what would be called the 2nd floor, here in Mexico). Themes encompass various types of work (farming, baking, etc.), Mexican people and traditions (from dances to festivals), and critiques of capitalism. (Especially witty is the scene of the wealthy dining on plates of coins, a little boy crying as he eyes his serving). Rivera depicts some of the leaders of Mexican revolutionary struggles, such as Emiliano Zapata, as saints or religious figures. I make two visits here, the second to make sure I didn't miss any of the murals, as the first time I flew through too quickly.

Not only are hundreds of different breads, pastries, cookies, muffins, and more for sale at the main branch of the Ideal Bakery, but the second floor brims with fantastic cakes (in a variety of styles and colors, some  unknown in nature) for weddings, quinceaneras, births, graduations, and other occasions. (

In my on-going search for a place in which to take lessons in Mixtec, I am directed to the Club de Periodistas. Unfortunately, the only indigenous language taught was Nahuatl, but -- even worse news -- the instructor died recently. I visit the institute for indigenous languages that I'd found on line, but it's a mere shell of a building. Maybe next time....

An impressive exhibit of crafts at the Palacio de Cultura Banamex, produced by 450 artisans from throughout Latin America (22 countries), entitled Grand Masters of Popular Art. This is an extraordinary, breath-taking look at crafts made of wood, clay, metals, gourds, skins, stone, paper, and textiles, intended for daily or ceremonial\ritual use, or for mere (or not so mere) decoration.

I make numerous walk-bys and walk-throughs of  the Zocalo. Because of the recent elections, this is the first time in years that the plaza isn't obscured by white tents hosting exhibits. For the first time, I view the spectacle of platoons of soldiers marching to the center of this huge plaza, playing martial music, saluting, lowering, and folding the Mexican flag with great solemnity and ceremony.

Dancing in the Salon Hidalgo, the Salon de Convenciones, and Ciudadela Park. Salsa, cumbia, and son cubano with known and unknown partners. I learn a couple of new steps, flub a number of fancy moves, and almost land on my ass when a particularly jubilant guy thinks that I am more advanced than I am and simultaneously throws, spins, and drops me. I leave one of my partners open-mouthed and empty-armed when I flee his obnoxious attempts to manhandle me. I thwart the uninvited onslaughts of drenched-in-sweat, over-zealous guys, men who hold me as if they want to stuff me down their shirts,  and youngsters looking for a mommy or a cougar or just a ticket to the US. Also reject the come-ons of an elderly gent who confides that he's a politician from Guanajuato, out on the town in a place where he can "have fun" without being recognized. And then there are the majority of men with whom I dance: friendly, polite, and fun.

Food and drink: A tasty mushroom omelet at Cafe Dzeb; Chinese buffet (yay, vegetables!); a vegetarian multi-course lunch where the torta of nopales (sort of a thick, eggy pancake with cactus paddles)  in a light tomato sauce and the chewy, nutty whole grain roll are standouts; yogurt with fresh strawberries, honey, and a dusting of granola on days when I eat lunch; the huge breakfasts, now with cornflakes and milk (too, too much! I can't!), in addition to vegetable soup, fruit salad, eggs (rancheros or Mexican style), roll, chilaquiles, and cafe con leche at Cafe Rex; rotisserie chicken to go; addictive, salty, roasted pumpkin seeds and the spicy broad beans that I've turned Ingrid onto, also; tinga (shredded chicken in tomato sauce) as the main course in one of my greasy spoons; aguas (flavored fruit waters) of lemon and tamarind; chicken in peanut and almond sauces.

At the Parque de la Ciudadela, I say adios to my dance partners and acquaintances while changing from my strappy dance shoes to my comfortable, but ugly, walking shoes. I am distracted by the people approaching to give me a hug and/or ask about when I'll be back. Finally, I head for the metro. Halfway there, I glance down at my feet and notice that I'm wearing a clodhopper on one foot and an inch-high heel on the other. I am laughing so hard that I attract the interest and mirth of people seated on nearby benches.
Ingrid and I go out for  ice cream on my last night. It pours as we go back to the hotel, so I use the paella pan I just purchased to protect myself and my cup of chocolate nut deliciousness from the rain. My back is soggy and the dessert is semi-melted by the time we reach the lobby, but I still enjoy the bittersweet treat.

I remember all this and more. Is it any surprise that I always want to return?

Monday, October 29, 2012


I don't think I told you about the first fire, the one that my poor friends-cum-emergency contacts were getting multiple calls about from the alarm company. The one that had them leaving frantic calls for me to get in touch with them and with the fire department. The one that had them suggesting that I find other emergency contacts.

Well, after picking up their 30 messages on my cell hone, I flew home to find a note from the fire fighters on my kitchen table. The note explained that they had answered the call, entered the house through a second-story window, thoroughly investigated, and found..... nothing.

I called the Chief to thank him and to get more details, because there was a definite smokey smell that greeted me when I wandered through the house. After explaining that, despite using the most up-to-date equipment (including thermal imaging and, no doubt, giant axes, helmets, and big boots) and despite the fact that there really had been a fire that his men could not locate, he admitted to being baffled.

"It smelled to us like burnt hair. Did you use a curling iron this morning?" he asked me.

"You've never seen me," I said, "or you would know the answer to that question.I don't own a curling iron because I come by my curls and frizz naturally." I didn't tell him that I don't even own a comb....

"Well, did you roast some meat?" he asked.

"I'm a pseudo-vegetarian," I said. "I sometimes cook poultry or fish, but usually not in the morning."

It was later that evening that I began to sniff whiffs of what started out smelling like a barbeque (hold the sauce) and, within a few days, swelled to the stench of a week-long garbage strike in Manhattan or a month-long power outage in a busy morgue. Quite quickly, M. and I came to the conclusion that a critter had bit the dust by biting a live wire in the wall.

The odor worsened  and  persisted for quite some time. It seemed to emanate from the stairwell. If you saw me during this time, you might have wondered why my nose looked so red, and now you know what happens to someone who has to pinch her proboscis over  a protracted period.

In time, the house returned to its normal homey odors and life went on, as unusual.

Then, last week, the fire alarms went off at 4:20 in the morning. I slipped on a particularly fetching pair of undies. (My mother always told me to make sure that my lingerie was clean and attractive, in case I should end up in a car crash or a house fire and the EMTs have to cut through my clothes). I pulled on the first pair of jeans I could grab, a tattered t-shirt -- what difference would it make if they might have to slash through it, anyway? -- and some ratty sneakers.

What else did I pick up as I tore out of the smoke-filling bedroom, down the staircase, and out the front door? No priceless and irreplaceable photos of my beloved son as a baby and toddler nor of my long-deceased and much loved parents or of the even longer-dead and un-labeled relatives. None of the semi-precious jewelry I've collected nor the treasures I've accrued in my travels. Not my favorite blouse. Not a single thing to wear to the office or to salsa in. I grabbed only one valuable (i.e., my passport) and a purse bulging, as I soon discovered, with cap-less pens, half-used lipsticks, wadded-up tissues, a dollar bill, and a couple of pennies.

Some of the same firefighters who'd previously visited stopped by again, along with some first-timers, in four shiny firetrucks. To make a second story short, this time there was, indeed, a fire. Luckily, it extinguished on its own, before the firefighters got there.

"Do you cut hair?" the biggest fireman asked me.

"Not even my own," I replied. "Why do you ask?"

"We found some long, singed hair up in the attic," he told me. This, just in time for Halloween!

M. kept the evidence: a reeking patch of blackened skin and, burnt-to-a-crisp, yet still-curly, hair. He showed it to the insurance adjuster, who, with a contractor, found some bones (critter number one?) in one of the dead ducts leading from the air handler.

 Perhaps the racoons that had long frolicked in the attic, but from whom I hadn't heard a peep or a  squeak  in about half a year and whom I haven't ever seen hide nor hair of, have finally left my house --  along with their hides and their hairs. In the meantime, and as repairs are being made, I'm insisting that M. put up a trap and install new fire alarms. And I'm making a generous donation to my friends at the fire department.

Friday, August 3, 2012

First Class (Mexico City, Mexico)

I feel like I'm in a vacuum tube or something. Very little news of the world outside reaches me. I´ve heard that it's sweltering back home. No surprise: it's August! I heard about the shocking shootings at the midnight screening of the new Batman film. I saw a newspaper today that said that Obama maintains a lead in popularity polls in the swing states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. I read that there's severe drought in some of the farm states, so food prices are sure to rise. I catch the Olympics on TV from time to time, so I know that Mexico has scored medals in diving and that many athletes have done the US proud. I'm certain that more is being reported -- most of it bad -- and that I'll learn more than I want to know once I get back to the States.

Meanwhile, I spend my days in awe of the industriousness and creativity of Mexicans, who utilize every nook and cranny of buildings, alleys, sidewalks, and metro stations and cars,  to sell everything and anything to passersby. I wander about, stopping from time to time to gaze up at a magnificent building, to visit a museum, or to buy a bite or a meal from a street vendor or in a restaurant. In the evenings, I dance my daily calorie intake off, arrive at my hotel early, wash my clothes in the sink, and sink into bed. I turn the TV on and wake up, between two and four in the morning, to the same shows I was watching when I fell asleep.

These are my last couple of days in Mexico City, and I  already feel sad as I say farewell to friends and acquaintances I may not see again. This morning at one of my regular breakfast spots, an employee greeted me  with a giant smile, a bear hug, and a big, fat kiss on the cheek. As I told her goodbye, the waitress told me how she always looks forward to seeing me and put down her armload of plates to embrace me.  I left the banana that the obnoxious owner placed on my table as a "gift." I passed my friendly neighborhood tacos de canasta guy and waved hello, knowing that I probably won't have time for another taco before I go.

I've got most meals planned out for the rest of my time here:  Saturday's breakfast will be a hearty buffet -- fresh fruit and juice, eggs, breads and sweet rolls, chilaquiles, perhaps a guisado (a main dish -- but only if it's poultry or fish, no more other meats for me!), and cafe con leche bien cargado  (a super-charged latte). I'll need the sustenance, as I'll be skipping lunch before heading to my favorite park to dance most of the afternoon away. I might take some food to eat in my hotel room  (roasted chicken from the rotisserie; a thin, crisp, whole grain flatbread, and a gelatina with a prune, a chunk of canned peach, and a walnut from a nearby bakery) before I ready myself to attend a Middle Eastern dance presentation in which a friend will be performing. I'll get a freshly squeezed oj, a cheese and mushroom omelette, some black beans, tortillas, and the requisite cafe con leche from one of the small, humble restaurants that is open on Sundays. Eating out options are always more limited on this, most people's day of rest, so I don't know if or what I'll eat before heading out to a museum and to my last evening of dancing. My last full day will be Monday, so I might eat a tamal of rayas con queso (a tamale with cheese and green pepper strips), a chocolate atole (a corn-based drink with the consistency of a thin gruel) , and some papaya and mango chunks from sidewalk stands and catch up on my vegetable quotient at a Chinese buffet or a vegetarian restaurant. Perhaps a glass of red wine later in the evening in the company of my friend, I, along with a handful of salty, spicy peanuts with fried, whole garlic cloves and hot peppers. Maybe a little bag of addictive, toasted and salted pumpkin seeds. Before I leave town on Tuesday morning, I´ll grab a filling breakfast at another buffet to keep me satisfied until they feed me lunch (!) on my plane. 

Lest you think that I'm kidding, I have to report how sorry the airline was  to inform me that there were no seats in Coach or Business Class or Under the Fuselage, so they had to put me in First Class for every step of each of my flights to and from Mexico. Oh, well. If someone has to bear the indignities of having more leg room than I would need if my legs were twice as long as they are, of having more elbow room than I would need if my elbows were twice as what? sharp? bent? outstretched? as they can be, of being served a meal, snacks, and beverages that are twice as good (although they're not great...) as what are offered in the fast food airport locations -- and which are already included in the price of my flight  -- well, that someone might as well be me! I´ve already learned from my experience in getting here, that First Class is about a gazillion times better than other classes. Not only did I get on and off my flights sooner than everybody else, but the planes seemed to arrive at their destinations faster and smoother.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"The Sex Capital of the World" (Mexico City, Mexico)

I'm sitting in the front of a Chinese restaurant.Traffic streams by. The noise level is high. There's the sound of dishes clinking and the steady murmurs of the diners surrounding me. There's the constant thud, thud, thud of bass, waves of roiling techno music that never change or stop. Only later am I able to understand the incessant blare of a man's voice over a loudspeaker, touting  the cleanliness of the nearby public toilets.

The front of the restaurant is completely open to the street. As the wind picks up, it works  its way into the plastic Waldo`s bag I had placed on the table, making the handles sway seductively.

I look up from my heaping plate of garlicky string beans, grilled chicken, and broccoli, and realize that I have a direct, perfect view across the street and into "The Sex Capital of the World."

Perhaps your imagination is wilder than mine is -- or your experience broader -- but I am stumped by what I see: long-sleeved, plaid shirts, Michoacan ice cream, baseball caps, cell phone accouterments, and Betty Boop umbrellas. These everyday items don't fit with my concept of sex, but to each his/her own, right?

I am probably watching too many shows on the Travel and Living (TLC) Channel, because I decide to visit "The Sex Capital of the World"  after lunch.

In the meantime, a sudden dive in temperature presages a downpour. Of course, I've left my raincoat in the hotel room, so as the clouds let go, I am forced to dawdle over the remains of my seafood soup, Chop Suey, octopus, jello, mango, and papaya.

The young woman  who has been sashaying back and forth in front of the restaurant to entice passersby inside, shelters in the doorway. She's still showing off  the enormous, photo-heavy menu, but as she shivers in her ditsy-bitsy, backless mini-dress, she seems less suited to promoting the world's largest Chinese buffet than "The Sex Capital of the World,"  which I will herein refer to as "The Big C."

As the rain dies down, I pay my bill, then sprint between cars. I note, but do not heed, the message printed on the side of a little Coke delivery truck: "As hard as it might be, maintain your distance." I am committed to seeing "The Big C" with my very own eyes, and nothing will dissuade me.

As is the case with many multistory buildings in Mexico City, this edifice houses the equivalent of a mini mall. There are hundreds of shops, booths, and stalls occupying almost every inch of space, save for the narrow corridors that allow you to visit each one. I pass the displays that I had already glimpsed from across the street, making my way inside with a certain wariness.

Look! Here's a display of Pampers wipes and another of socks embroidered with Minnie Mouse, Ernie, Bert, and Cookie Monster. Huh?

Then I come across a huge "exhibit" of boxer shorts, frankly, the most unsexy I've every beheld. The colors are neon -- orange, green, and red -- and words, such as "strangled," adorn them. Huh??

Next, I see the toys: Transformers, Captain America, and Batman action figures.  I'm already well into the bowels of "The Big C," and completely baffled.

Okay, hold your horses!  Now we're talkin'! Next to the shop selling "Instant Lunch" ramen noodles, Boing fruity sodas, and beautiful, hand-sewn Barbie prom gowns is XAVIERA'S SEXY LINGERIE SHOP.  A male mannequin, listing at the entry, is dressed in what I believe must be a (plastic) gladiator costume: a studded collar and a skirt. Hanging above his head are little, plastic French maids' outfits,  teeny, plastic nurses' uniforms, and a plastic leopard-skin bustier with garter straps. Hot!!! I mean, wouldn't the plastic be hot? Everything looks like a super-cheap Halloween costume.

I move along to LOVER'S SEX SHOP. Here, I see packages of "Beer Garden Babe," "Santa's Favorite Elf," and "Bad Apple Snow White" costumes. They also sell computer parts.

The acrylic nail shop next door is draped with thongs, padded jock straps, and fancy hair pins. No nails, acrylic or otherwise.

I decide not to ascend the staircase to tour the rest of "The Big C." I didn't know what to expect when I entered, but it was rather a disappointment. Although the mango with chili ice cream pop I bought from the Michoacan franchise was really, really hot.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sick and Tired (Mexico City, Mexico)

Was it the mutton for breakfast? The  taco stacked with steak that I tasted last night? Is it all the street food I`ve devoured? The greasy spoons I`ve so enjoyed?

I don't know and I don't care, but I'll tell you something: It really stinks to be shivering, achy, and nauseous and to suffer from Moctezuma's revenge, especially when I have to run down a corridor to use the bathroom. Plus, it is really clammy and cold today. The rain pours through the glass ceiling and into the hallway. I worry about slipping as I sprint down the hallway. 

I can't drag myself to the Internet cafe to communicate with family and friends. I don't have the strength to go down to the hotel lobby to find out from I. when she wants to go out walking tomorrow. 

Don't want to dehydrate, so I down as much water as I can. Bathroom run. More water. And so on.

I watch one show after another on TV. One  is an interesting travelogue about Perth, Australia. I don't have any idea what the others are, as I keep falling in and out of sleep. I turn off the tube when Perth reruns. 

At about 4:00 a.m., I pop a couple of Pepto Bismol tablets. I drink more water. My tongue turns black. 

While I am here, I resolve not to eat any more meat; I don't think my system can handle it. I'm not swearing off of anything else, though. Except, maybe, late-night television.   

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Eyes Have Had It (Mexico City, Mexico)

It's hot tonight in the Salon de Convenciones dance hall. No, I lied; it's sweltering. There's  no air conditioning, and the ceiling fans are working so hard they're running out of steam.

But not so the fans of dance. A thousand or so people cram into two huge rooms, one featuring a live band playing mostly danzon, the other showcasing a group playing salsa and cumbia covers. It's 7 :00, already too late to find a table untaken, a seat un-sat-in.

I pick my way through the salsa room, looking for people I know and a place to stash my sweater and Japanese fan and to change into my dancing shoes. A male acquaintance shepherds me  to a table where two women are waiting patiently to be asked to dance. As I swap my footwear, we introduce ourselves. Then I'm off to salsa.

The place has been renovated since I was here last year. The formerly cracked and pitted  linoleum floors are newly tiled in shiny white and black, and the ceilings are hung with some sort of sculpted black and white architectural forms. Everything looks fresher and cleaner -- except for the dancers, myself included, who are dripping like sea lions just up from the ocean.

In addition to six or eight old and young dance buddies, I've attracted a new, sweat-soaked partner who helicopters five feet around my table, trying to catch my eye. I take frequent trips  to the ladies' room, to escape his steady, sweaty gaze.

Whenever I'm not dancing or escaping, I spend time inching  around the peripheries of the dance floors, searching for my daughter and her friend and his friends, who may or may not be coming to meet me. Along the way, and despite my honest protestations that I really do not dance danzon, I end up danzoning part of the evening away, anyway.

I tell everyone to keep an eye out for my daughter.

¨What does she look like?¨ they all ask.

¨She´ll be the prettiest woman you see,¨ I tell them. ¨Long, thick, black curly hair; coffee-colored skin; dark brown eyes...¨ I haven´t even finished, but they're all on the look-out and can´t wait to meet her.

I stop to watch the best dancers do their moves. Five gay guys are putting on an electrifying show. Energetic, sexy, creative, acrobatic, they´re putting everybody else to shame. I want to ask them where they learned to dance. I want them to teach me. I want to dance with them. They don´t ask me to. 

One of my young friendboys grabs my hand. We locate a spot in the corner, under a fan, where we actually have room to maneuver. He´s fun to salsa with, and I´m really getting into the swing of things when I suddenly discover why this coolish corner is relatively empty.

Friendboy flips my hand so that my back is facing him and my face is facing the men's room, to which there is no door. This ¨open-door¨ policy yields a direct view into  private moments that nobody should be privy to. As I catch sight of a line of huge, hairy bellies, I thank fate for contact lenses that have not restored my vision to 20\20. Still, truly horrifeyed, I fight my partner´s lead in an attempt to turn around and away.

Friendboy wants another go-round, but I want to move out of the line of sights. I also realize that FB has been dancing with me a little too often, smiling at me a little too much, looking into my eyes a little too intently. I send him off to find a younger partner. When  he returns, after  just one number, I tell him to ask the two women at my table to dance. One at a time.

It´s 9:00. My daughter and friends have not showed, or they are lost among the pulsating crowds. I head for the subway, in the company of several of my friends.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Car Sick (Richmond, VA)

I (almost) run into a colleague as I'm pulling out of a parking lot. "Whoa!" he shouts. "Your tire!"

Apparently, it's the belt. Even I can see that the tire looks like it's wearing a gauze bandage, although if that's a belt, call a style doctor!
Belt or bandage, this is really bad news. Within a  week after replacing tires on my previous two cars, they passed into Auto Heaven. They died of different causes, too sad and too fresh to write about right now, but they were both completely and irrevocably dead.

"You can't drive on the highway like that," my Harbinger of Doom warns me. He advises me to go to Costco, where they'll put on a new tire and rotate it --isn't that what one does when one drives one's car???--  for a good price.

The price is very good for Costco, but it ain't that great for me. I don't think my car is worth $108 at this point, especially since it's likely to join its predecessors before it rotates its belt too much.

Do I really need a shiny, new tire? I think not.

I head over to a shop that features retired tires. A fellow pops one on within about 15 minutes. I don't think he rotates or balances, but a smooth ride would be an alien experience and with the potholed roads I regularly travel, it probably wouldn't last  the short lifetime of my car.  I think that my car IS probably worth $30.00.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

High Anxiety (Richmond, VA)

I hate to fly. Surrendering control to somebody who might have suffered a bad night's sleep, who might have a hangover or be taking meds (Warning: You may become drowsy. Do not operate heavy machinery or even think of piloting a plane within four months of taking this medication), who might be revisiting a heated argument with a spouse, or who might be holding a grudge against employer or colleagues or the the world, does not put me at ease. I know that I'm statistically safer on a Boeing than in a Buick, but call me irrational -- I still think that if I am already on the ground, rather than diving into it, I'll have a better shot at walking away from a crash.

So, during take off and landing and anytime I'm conscious in-between, I'm white-knuckling it. Sweat trickles down my back. My hands are clammy. My face is ashen.

 I always listen attentively to the flight attendant's instructions. I securely fasten my seat belt. I note the exit doors in front of and behind me. In case the lights along the aisle do not come on, I count the rows to the nearest and next-nearest exits (because if the nose of the plane meets a mountain, the closest doors might not open). I mentally rehearse the steps to adjust the mask that will drop down if we experience a loss of cabin pressure, which would, by its very dropping, precipitate my rapid, panicked breathing which would, in turn, surely suck up every molecule of oxygen in the airplane and probably the universe. I try not to focus on that remark about  the oxygen bag not inflating, but I can't help but imagine my face reddening and my eyes widening as I gasp myself to death, should it malfunction. I resist the urge to check if that is really a flotation device or if it's just a seat cushion, made of cheap fabric. I refrain from removing it to test its float-ability in the toilet, although I have an overwhelming desire to do so.

As  my uneasiness turns to queasiness, the person sitting next to me is requesting a change of seat. This is a shame, because if he would only speak to me, I would feel better and most likely not dig my fingernails into the fleshy part of  his forearm.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Worse Carma -- Give me a break! (Richmond, VA)

I usually leave my daytime job and stop for a while in a bookstore en route to my second job. But I find myself closer to home this afternoon, so I head there, thinking that I'll try to catch a short nap, eat, or relax before re-jumping into the fray.

Instead of taking the highway, I choose surface streets through residential neighborhoods. I'm enjoying the thought of my impending rest-stop, as I stop at a stop sign. I look both ways but don't catch sight of the school bus hiding behind the hedge in the middle of the median strip until I almost hit it. I hit the brakes, instead. With the sounds of the students' curses ringing in my ears, I take a deep breath to calm my shakes and carefully make my way home.

I'm at the laptop for about half an hour when someone starts banging on the door. When I look out the keyhole, I spot a school bus parked on the corner and a cop on my porch.

"Oh, my God," I'm thinking. "I didn't run the stop sign. The bus didn't have its signs out or its lights flashing. I can't believe they'd come after me for "almost" having an accident!"

I'm shaking as I open the door.

The officer greets me with, "Is that your car, Ma'am?"

The bus driver was turning the corner and took off the front bumper and headlight of M's car. I don't have a key and I'm going to be late for night school.

I give the officer M's phone number and insurance info, and drive off to job #2.

Traffic is bad. I figure I better move to my right long before I need to exit. A car towing a flatbed trailer, full of lawn care equipment and supplies, slides in ahead of me. I turn to make sure I've got enough room to change lanes and begin to move over. When I look back, the trailer is stopped directly in front of me. I hit the breaks and miss the trailer by about six inches.

Will somebody please pick me up from work tonight?????

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bus, Stop! (En route to New York City)

The left side of my backside is numb from sitting beside a 300-pound woman whose bottom spreads onto my seat the way the tide sends tendrils of water into the nooks and crannies of a sea-level cave. I think that I'm actually sitting on her lap. I'm so dwarfed by her that I worry that she'll tilt me back and stick a bottle in my mouth.

Every few minutes, but with no discernible pattern or warning, she flicks the filmy fabric that covers her head and upper body. Flick. Flick. Flick. It lightly brushes my arms and face, making me itch.

There are no vacant seats. There is no escape.

Feet block the aisle leading to the on-board restroom, which boasts neither rest nor room and not even a working sink, much less toilet paper. Trying to use the facility is anything but facile; as one attempts to lower one's pants, one is batted about, slammed into the wall, threatened with tipping headlong into the reeking, bottomless toilet, ricocheted around like a marble spinning, churning, smashing along its frenzied zigzag through a pinball machine maze. In order to avoid this experience, I refuse all liquids for hours before and during my trip. So now I'm head-achy, grouchy and nauseous. And I have to use the foul WC, anyway. I might never make it out. If I do, I might die of dehydration.

Maybe I should hope for a bottle, after all!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bad Carma (Richmond, VA)

A friend advises me to get a Mercedes, but if you can't afford to fix it, you can't afford to buy such a vehicle. I can't and I don't. Sure it'd be swell to find myself behind the wheel of a cute little Mini, a shiny Jaguar, a sporty convertible. But the truth is that looks have to take a back seat to practicality. I need a car that will take me where I want to go. Style is not the top priority.

But I've been going to the garage in my not-so-new Nissan more often than I've been going anywhere else. I've replaced more parts than the human body has bones. Still, there's a whining sound when I turn the steering wheel, there's a bucking feel when I try to pick up speed, and every week the tires seem to be more -- well, tired.

I've added oil and some thick gunk that will plug the hole in the oil tank but will lead -- in time -- to the demise of the vehicle. I've added steering fluid to stop the whining and some gunk to plug the leak from its container and/or hose. I'm toting around more fluids and stop-gap liquids in my trunk than a hypochondriac has medicines in his bathroom cabinet. I might as well buy stock in Autozone because I've already purchased half of what they stock.

So, last week I park in front of the health food store. I run in to pick up a few items. As I get back into my car, I spot an acquaintance I haven't seen in ages. We chat for a minute, he leaves, and I start the car. I put it in reverse, but I can't back up. The car is running, but it isn't going anywhere.

I run back into the store and hunt down my buddy. "Do you know anything about cars?" I ask him.

"No," he replies -- quite honestly, I will learn in short order -- , "but I'll see what I can do."

He tries his hand and foot at the wheel and the pedal, respectively. The car doesn't respond. He throws open the hood, stares thoughtfully at the inner and outer workings of the engine, and asks if I have Triple A.

I do.

I call for help. The tow truck guy sprays some stuff into the engine, when he arrives, explaining that sometimes something [insert technical name here or just use a term such as "floo-flah"] gets full of dirt and won't do what it needs to. My car doesn't respond to spray or explanations such as these.

My mechanic -- whose children I'm helping to put through college -- puts one of his helpers on it. This guy cleans the dirt out of the floo-flah flap, drives the car around for 15 minutes, and pronounces it cured. I breathe a sigh of relief, as the cost will be no more than that of one exceedingly thin college textbook.

The next day, I start the car up in the morning, but it refuses to move. The tow trucker tries to start it, but no dice. I tell him I just had the floo-flah flap fixed, but he's flummoxed. My car and I are towed to the garage, where the guy who cured it the day before is able to start it up with no problem.

My mechanic says they need to take a closer look. This time it's the fuel pump that needs to be replaced. I am now paying for his children to go to Harvard.

Somebody, please help me figure out how I can get a new-isher car for nothing -- the exact amount I have on hand to buy one. At this point, I'm even willing to drive something that advertises a product. Even a product I don't like. Floo-flah flaps, for example.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Failures (Richmond, VA)

I'm proud of my successes, when I can come up with them. But there's something about my failures that really sticks with me.

Failed ballerina: Boy, that tutu looked good on me, an earnest five year old lacking rhythm, grace, and the knowledge of when to quit. I can't recall how many years I passed envisioning myself twirling and leaping when, in fact, I was wobbling and teetering on weak ankles, while hopelessly anticipating word that I had graduated to toe shoes. Alas, I never passed the barre.

The upside? Mr. Bruce's studio continued to receive financial support from my family for as long as they held onto the misguided dream that I would succeed on stage and en pointe.

Failed babysitter: Taking care of an 18-month-old boy, whose vocabulary of vulgarity exceeded my own by about 400 words, was an experience I'll never forget. When he pooped in his pants, I freaked. I had, up until then, neither viewed that particular part of the male anatomy nor changed a diaper. I stuck myself multiple times with safety pins, the screeching, flailing, foul-mouthed little hellion cursing me all the while, before I called my mother and pleaded for help. We lived across the street, so she came to my rescue. After bandaging the wounds the little pricks had left me, she laughed at my inability to change the delightful, smiling angel who allowed her to clean and clothe him without uttering a single f-word. She handed him, gurgling and dimpling, to the amazed 15-year-old me. Sap that I was, I found him suddenly adorable, as he puckered his tiny rosebud lips and slurped from his little sippy-cup.

Once my mother left, however, the devil returned. As if someone had wound him up, the little sucker launched himself out of my arms and rocketed from room to room. I chased him from kitchen to hallway, from guestroom to den to dining room, and, finally, into the living room, where he headed straight for the ornately framed wall-sized oil painting leaning against the painting-sized wall. Devil-child careened into the work of art. Hot on his heels, I slid to a halt and reached up to shield him from the falling artwork. My heroism saved his life; he scooted out, unscathed and cackling, as the painting landed on me. I crawled out from under, b bruised and scathed. Devil-child loved it!

And yet, somehow, both of us survived.

The upside? I waited many years to have a child. Fortunately, he was (and remains), if not always an angel, a really excellent human.

Supermarket cashier: As a high school senior, I worked in the neighborhood market, a job which one of my teachers noted would make me realize that "the world was not such a nice place."

She was right: I witnessed people stealing, was treated as if I were a complete idiot, and was accused of trying to cheat people when I charged the recently passed sales tax on their purchases. The worst was yet to come, however, when I was assigned to cashier in the Express Lane.

I noticed the five-times-my-size pit bull of a woman hulking behind the man requesting a pack of Marlboro's. My speed-walk to and from the locked cabinet in which cigarettes were stored was apparently not speedy enough. The pit bull was raging. While ringing up the man's order, I noticed Pit Bull's overflowing shopping basket and sweetly reminded her of the 10-item limit; she sneeringly replied that she only had a few things and she was correct. There were only five enormous bags of -- what else? -- big-dog dog-food. By the time I began to enter the prices, she was growling, and I was shaking. She barked at me to hurry up and then threatened to kill me for being too slow. I stopped the transaction, removed my apron, stepped out from behind the counter, and said, "You'll have to find me first." She was howling as I walked to the office and tendered my resignation.

The upside? I was no longer working in the supermarket when the manager held it up -- at gunpoint.

Waitress: Despite my inquiries at every office and retail business in my little hometown, I couldn't find a job that fateful summer. Walking forlornly along an unfamiliar stretch of roadway, I happened upon a tiny, rundown bar, neon lights lazing, in front of an equally seedy motel. Entering the darkened interior, I asked the buxom blond with cotton-candy textured hair piled atop her heavily made up head, if there were any jobs available. She gave me the once-over and giggled. In a breathy, little-girl voice that I, in my naive, 19-year-old wisdom, judged totally inappropriate for what I later came to believe was a centerfold come to life, "Candy" told me to take a seat, poured me a Coke, and told me she would call "Joe." Within minutes, "Joe" came out of a back room, stared hard at me and asked my age.

"Eighteen," I replied, although people usually mistook me for 12.

"I hire you and I'll have the police on my tail every five minutes," "Joe" said.

Somehow I convinced "Joe" that I would be an exemplary employee and that he wouldn't have to watch his tail. "He" told me I could start work the following week.

Elated by my success, I informed my family that I'd snagged a job just as soon as I arrived home. When I told my father the name of the place, his face turned ashen. Within an hour he had secured me a job as a waitress in a downtown deli.

My admiration for competent servers is boundless, because I never was able to command the skills necessary to be one. Balancing a tray was beyond me. Holding multiple plates on my arm was unrealistic; my arms are, apparently, only long enough to accommodate one plate -- on a good day. The only things I had going for me were that I was at least 45 years younger than the other waitresses and I was extremely friendly.

Although the dry cleaning bills I had to pay to remove the pickle-juice smells and potato-salad stains from my customers coats consumed most of my paychecks, I earned more working that deli lunch shift than I did working my first full-time office job. One middle-aged man would come in, order an omelet and a cup of coffee for a grand total of $2.50 and leave me a $5.00 tip. The veteran waitresses warned me not to bother with teenagers, but I always treated them well and they responded with generosity. I couldn't charm everyone, though.

One lunchtime, a woman sat down in my station and requested an egg salad sandwich. "I only have half an hour, so make it quick." she said. The place was bustling, and everyone else was equally pressed to eat and run, but I promised to deliver her food as soon as possible.

I darted around the room, refilling coffee cups, sloshing pickle juice, and serving up roast beef, corned beef, and tuna salad sandwiches at record speed. Every time I glanced up, I felt the woman's stare-turned-glare as she pointedly pointed to her watch.

I already had a plate of BLT and fries balancing precariously between shoulder and elbow and one filled with pastrami on rye with onion rings and coleslaw wobbling on my forearm when one of the sandwich-makers placed the the long-awaited egg-salad- hold-the-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich atop the high counter. As I reached above my head to grab the dish, I flicked my wrist. Half the sandwich went flying off onto the floor. A businessman promptly stepped on it, unwittingly delivering it, gloopily clinging to the underside of his loafer, out of the door and onto the pavement.

I couldn't look her in the face as I ran up to the waiting woman's table. Placing the half sandwich in front of her, I said, "They knew you were in a hurry, so they made this to get you started. The other half will be out in a minute."

That might have been my last meal.

The upside? I saved hundreds on dry cleaning.

Failed archeologist: After spending a week spooning away the tough, unforgiving soil of southern France, after suffering hours in the scorching sun with sweat-soaked, dust-encrusted clothes, after experiencing multiple and unrelenting attacks of giant, face-chewing flies, after unearthing nothing more than splinters of pottery shards that I didn't even recognize as such, after realizing that I couldn't distinguish one layer of dirt from the next, I finally acknowledged that I was unquestionably unqualified and unsuited for my chosen profession. The professional archeologist in charge of the excavation noticed this, too, and exiled me to the on-site museum.

The upside? I spent the remainder of the month ensconced in the cool, comfortable little museum, in the company of the companionable curator, identifying the paltry finds of those who were not fortunate enough to share my fate.
The uppest side of all is that I have learned so much from my failures! As a matter of fact, I have never repeated a single one, preferring to look for new and improved failures in my never-ending quest for success -- whatever that is and however I define it...