Tuesday, August 26, 2008


"Rome is the capital of Italy, you know," she said, lazily stroking the leather Dooney & Burke bag resting in her lap, choosing to stare at its polished wood handles rather than watch me try to force a pair of undersized shoes on her oversized feet.

"Oh yeah?" I tried to feign surprise and wonder despite both being of Italian descent and having successfully passed the fourth grade. "You know, I really don't think you're a size 6."

"Of course I am," she said dismissively, stroking the purse's embossed duck logo like a parent consoling a child after a bad dream. Of course you are, I thought. If you cut off all of your toes. "During the second week, we'll head to the coast to visit Naples. Just like our own country, Italy has both mountainous and coastal regions".

"Wow," I said, giving her heel another optimistic push, even though it would be easier to cram her grown children back into her birth canal than it would be to fit her foot inside this Saucony. She puked out another few paragraphs from her Fodor's guide, this benevolent woman here to educate the unwashed, uncultured associate literally kneeling at her feet.

It happens more often than you'd think, the customers assuming that since I spend my days explaining the benefits of sweat-wicking socks that I rank somewhere between cottage cheese and the cast of The Hills on the IQ scale. Some would express genuine surprise to learn that I don't actually live in the stockroom, making a nest for myself out of an empty New Balance box and eagerly awaiting their arrival each day to keep me posted on the events of the outside world, like whether the Olympics are over (they are, we won), whether swarms of locusts have engulfed the earth (not yet) or whether Elizabeth Taylor is still alive (not sure).

I'm not even supposed to be here, not today, not listening to Carmen Fucking SanDiego explain that the people in Italy speak Italian. I should be in my second day of trekking the Inca Trail--en route to Machu Picchu--with my sister Runtie and my Uncle Dickbag, but I was booted off the trip, a life lesson proving that you can either take a vacation or you can travel with your family. They're separate but related creatures, like Mogwai and gremlins.

(Note: For background on the Peru trip, read this.)

To hear Uncle Dickbag tell it, it's my own fault that I'm straddling a fitting stool with a foot resting my lap, that it's because my "character" was too "weak" for his "team", a finger-quoted sentiment that explains why I've re-christened him with the Dickbag surname.

The truth is that I failed my physical. The guide company that we'd selected needed a physician to sign a number of forms proving that your lungs weren't going to pop like a piece of stomped-upon bubble wrap when you reached 13,000 feet but my paperwork went unapproved, like my credit applications and Facebook friend requests.

My first challenge was finding a doctor. I only have one medical chart, filed alphabetically at the gynecologist's office where I strap into the stirrups once a year for my annual ride in the speculum rodeo, but I eliminated her from contention since I didn't recall her ever cramming any well-lubed metal devices into my chest cavity. It's been at least three U2 albums since I had a 'regular' physician--I vaguely recall getting a flu shot during their PopMart tour--so I had to turn to the yellow pages, where I made a selection purely because my index finger settled on an M.D. whose last name was House, causing me to grasp a nugget of hope that it would be a Method-acting Hugh Laurie practicing without a license in my sleepy two Target town. Instead, Dr. House was a short, squat woman with a single eyebrow and a wardrobe from the Husky Department at Sears.

Regardless, I assumed that after she listened to my heart thump out its timpani-like rhythm and noted my resting pulse rate of, like, four beats per minute, she'd send me to the receptionist with my inspection sticker and a prescription for 30 days of Baconators.

Instead when she pressed the cold tip of the 'scope against my chest, her first question wasn't "Has Timbaland sampled these beats?" it was "Did you know you have a heart murmur?" I did, and it's something that I was born with, along with eyes that are unclassifiable in color and a pair of single A-sized breasts. It's described as an 'innocent' murmur, which makes me picture it sitting alone in my aortic valve, penning a book called If I Murmured, Here's How it Happened. Anyway, this was only one reason I was stamped IRREGULAR, the other being the fact that I'm asthmatic, which made her assume that I would be unable to even pack my suitcase before collapsing in a heap, inadvertently suffocating myself between a stack of neatly packed sweaters and a Costco-sized carton of anti-diarrheal medication.

I tried to reason with her as she sat poised with my chart ready to mark it with a scarlet FAIL. "Look, my heart hasn't given me any problems, ever, and my lungs are super awesome too."

I paused for effect. "I ran the Boston Marathon in April."

Another pause. "In three hours and 23 minutes."

"The Boston Marathon wasn't at 13,000 feet", she responded without looking at me. I knew I should've kept scanning the yellow pages. Perhaps my index finger betrayed me--fucking Pontius Pointer--before landing upon the name of the more lenient Dr. Huxtable.

"I going to make you an appointment with a pulmonologist", she said, standing up to let me know that there would be no argument. I stood up too, to let her know that I had no insurance.

I walked out of the clinic, dejected, down $107 and no closer to being approved by a doctor. I called my uncle to tell him the news, which was met at first by silence, then by agitation. "So do you have another appointment today?" I told him that I didn't, that the expensive-sounding pulmonologist wasn't for another couple of weeks. "You shouldn't accept the first opinion. Go find another doctor this afternoon." I explained that I needed to be at work, slinging enough shoes to pay for said doctor and his tone changed. "We're going to have a team meeting to discuss this. I'll be in contact with details."

When I got home from the store, I had a tersely worded email festering in my inbox explaining that the "team"--he and Runtie--would be meeting me at a Cracker Barrel later that night, albeit one 65 miles out of town. I wouldn't walk across my living room to eat at the Cracker Barrel so I was less than pumped at the prospect of driving an hour so I could be scolded over a plate of limp-looking okra.

Things weren't any better in person. A waitress whose apron was emblazoned with five stitched-on stars--making her the Cracker Barrel equivalent of Douglas MacArthur--led me to our table in a crowded corner of the restaurant beneath a wall decorated with antique farming implements. Uncle Dickbag already looked pissed, staring at me with a pinched expression as he selected items for his vegetable plate. After General MacArthur took our order, he pulled a number of papers out of an accordion file, moving the golf tee logic puzzle out of the way to spread them on the table. "We're here to discuss your indiscretions," he began. I looked across at Runtie who looked both embarrassed and terrified. "Your sister and I already have our physicals done and have the forms signed. Now you're telling us it's going to be another two weeks before we find out if you can participate?" He was serious. I think he'd heard Machu Picchu described as 'The Lost City of the Incas' and assumed that he was being sent there to find it.

"Look, it's a heart murmur," I said as an overeager waitress refilled the one sip I'd taken from my glass of sweet tea. "I've had it since I was a kid and it's not exactly like I can will my valves to close simultaneously".

"Let's cut it with the attitude," he said, staring at me like I was something he'd just squeegeed off his windshield. "You're going to take this seriously, or you're going to take a hike." I gnawed the inside of my cheek, the only thing that kept me from pointing out that yes, we were all going to take a hike, through the mountains of Peru.

Admittedly, we didn't know Uncle Dickbag well. He'd been notably absent from most of our childhoods, save for holidays when he would shower us with expensive gifts and imported chocolate. It's only been in the past couple of years that we've seen him on days that didn't involve roasting a turkey and more recently still that we've figured out what he did for a living, having only been half-kidding when we joked that he was a trained assassin. For the better part of two decades he's lived high on his inheritance, leaving his home deep in the mountains only to go climb, hike, or sleep on other, more remote mountains.

When the idea for this trip was hatched, one March night as Runtie and I lazily painted our names on Easter eggs, we were shocked that he'd want to include us, since he was essentially Lewis and Clark and we were less Sacagawea than SacofLipGlossesandMaybeHalfOfAKudosBar. This side of him--this biting sarcastic side--was still completely unexpected, like biting into a Whitman's sampler expecting fondant creme and instead getting battery acid.

"Maybe you need some incentive to get back on track. As the team leader, I'm fining you $250." He crossed his arms and waited for me to protest.

Which I did.

"Dude, I make $8 an hour. There's no way I have an additional two bills lying around," I said, because I really do talk like that. "Besides, if I did, I might splurge on food that I didn't have to split with my dog. You're being unfair." This conversation came at the end of a week when I'd purchased my groceries at the Exxon station because that was my only credit card that hadn't been cancelled. Despite the side order of misery, it was nice to have a meal that hadn't spent the day gestating under a heat lamp or rotating lazily on a pork-filled Ferris wheel.

"Unfair? UNFAIR?" he said, hitting his fist on the table hard enough to knock over the salt shaker. "Unfair is expecting me to put up with your SHIT." The table beside us--an earnest-looking family of five whose matching hats all advertised a brand of fertilizer--all turned to stare.

"Look," I said, shoving my chair back from the table and hoping if I talked loudly enough no one would notice the quiver in my voice. "You're not going to talk to me like that."

"Are you a big girl?", he said in a mocking sing-song voice, and turning the corners of his mouth down in an exaggerated expression."Because if you're part of my team, you're going to put on your big girl pants and learn how to TAKE IT!". The emphasized words were each punctuated with a fist pound that rattled his plate.

He was interrupted when a man wearing a brown vest and a bolo tie walked to the table. "Is everything OK here?" His nametag simply said 'Manager', which was either his title or an extremely coincidental first name, like if Judge Reinhold had grown up to preside over a circuit court. He leaned in toward the boysenberry syrup and whispered in a voice louder than he spoke, "Because we've received several complaints." Being reported to the manager of this Cracker Barrel--the one that shares a parking lot with a truck stop and a Days Inn--wins the sash and the crown for being The Most White Trash Moment of my entire life, which is extra impressive considering that I once got my ears pierced at the West Virginia State Fair.

"Yep," I said standing up. "I was just leaving." I attempted to toss my paper napkin onto the carcass of my uneaten blueberry pancakes for emphasis, but it fluttered helplessly to the floor.

When I got home, another email was waiting to lick my face. Runtie and my parents were both copied on it, so everyone could learn that I was no longer welcome on the trip. The words "diva bitch" were used--making me briefly think that he'd invited Diana Ross--and he hinted that my "character and behaviors"weren't appropriate for his "expedition". The vitriol covered several scrolled pages, referenced incidents from two Bush administrations ago as evidence of my weak character, and the final sentence said that there would be no further discussion. Two days later, I received a copy of the same letter in the mail, which I promptly used to line Pigpen's crate.

There wasn't a lot to argue with. Regardless of whether my lungs and heart eventually got the thumbs up, he was still the guy in charge since he was funding the trip and I couldn't even afford a weekend in Lima, Ohio. The worst part--other than the fact that my parents are going to have to sort out whose chair will be standing empty at Thanksgiving--is that I'm missing out on clomping through Peru with Runtie, taking pictures that look like we're resting our hands on mountain tops and buying garish alpaca souvenirs to give to people we hate.

I finally convinced her to give the size 8s a shot. She admitted that they felt more comfortable, but still held the box away from her body like it was full of tuberculosis. "Don't worry," she said, taking a step toward the cash register. "Maybe you'll get to travel one day."

"Yes," I nodded. "Maybe I will.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Over the Counter

Knock knock?
Who's there?
Summer cold?
Summer cold who?
Summer cold's going to knock you on your ass, make you crave Campbell's Chicken & Stars soup while alternately shivering, sweating, and watching 976-EVIL parts 1 and 2. You'll stay in bed for two consecutive days, which is not as sexy as it sounds, considering that you won't change out of the pair of Christmas-themed pajama pants you've covered with Pop Tart crumbs and Visine stains. You'll feel like you've been encased in carbonite and left for dead, trapped beneath your unseasonably warm, unseasonably tacky Anthropologie comforter, strung out on Sudafed and considering the purchase of an Ab Coaster. And you'll also be TOO WEAK TO BLOG.

So yeah. This week has been misery. My regular schedule of irregular posting will return tomorrow. I've missed you all.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Let's ignore for a moment why I would've been googling "albino animals" and focus instead on what I found when I fell into a site dedicated to albino squirrels. This bushy-tailed bit of nightmare fuel was waiting for me as I scrolled down the page.
After being thankful that I wasn't forced to stare into his unblinking pink retinas and assuming that whatever he's clutching in his wretched little paws is something he plucked from a human eye socket, I noticed the hard-hitting journalism in the picture's caption. The final sentence says that the squirrel was given the name Snowy "as its appearance resembles the white snow". Hang on, Bob Woodward...there could be other reasons, such as:

---Because 'Snowy' was a better option than 'Milky'. Milky Squirrel sounds like an item you'd see listed in the menu of the run-down Asian restaurant sandwiched in a strip mall between a Dollar Tree and a chiropractor's office.
---Because gnarly snowboarders frequently launch themselves off the squirrel's ramp-like skull in search of gnarly air while attempting to land a gnarly trick called the Gnarlito's Way or Gnarmometer or Gnarwhale or something.
---Because the squirrel cannot be exposed to temperatures above freezing, direct sunlight, or that salty shit that old people sprinkle on their sidewalks from August until April.
---Because more than once a drunken Alpha Sig has tried to piss his name on Snowy's back, both in capital letters and in cursive.
---Because it is actually made of snow.
---Because other squirrels are racist.
I apologize for this. I'm suffering the effects of Olympics Induced Sleep Disorder (OISD*). When given the choice between going to bed at an hour that ended in p.m. OR staying up all night to watch eighteen heats of kayaking, I think you know what door I took. International paddle-based competitions only come around every four years.

*No, that's not the contraceptive ring that some women shove into their utes. That would be an IUD...but thanks for playing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


This morning I ran eight miles then took a quick shower before detaching my dignity, replacing it with my magnetic nametag and heading to work. I was ravenous when I left the house. After a year of running increasingly longer distances, I've learned that the 'runner's high' various fitness magazines mention--two words that may entice you to strap on a pair of sneakers and plod through your neighborhood--is similar to an actual 'pot smoker's high'* because they both leave you craving some paper-wrapped fat bomb stuffed with sausage and remorse.

Obviously, that means a McGriddle.

I GPS-ed my way to the closest McDonalds, golden arches dotting the display screen like mosquito bites on a summer camper's leg. I waited my turn in the drive-thru behind an F-150 with a wolf mural airbrushed on the back window and a synthetic scrotum swinging from the trailer hitch--both items reassuring me that the driver's own, um, McNuggets had been undisturbed since the Reagan administration.

After politely enunciating my order to the weary-sounding woman on the other side of the speaker, I drove around to the first window, my appetite beginning to wither after four minutes of watching a pair of comically oversized balls metronoming in front of me. The visor-wearing toddler working the cash register held my credit card** for less than ten ticks before returning to inform me that it had been declined, rejected like a hastily transplanted organ. AGAIN.

I watched sadly as a unformed arm lazily dangled a still-steaming paper bag out the next window but I had no change, no cash, and no choice but to drive away empty handed, forced to endure a year's worth of red lights beside the guy in the truck who glared at me through a pair of generic orange Oakleys before taking a hearty bite of--of course--a fucking McGriddle.

I got to work in time to check out the employee fridge which was empty save for a half-finished bottle of Propel and a decomposing package of Danimals even Alexander Fleming would've tossed out. Turning my attention to the discard drawer beneath the staff computer, I found a handful of orphaned holiday M&Ms, a partially neutered chocolate rabbit, and a clover-shaped cookie whose iced lettering had smeared and melted so it looked the way I felt every St. Patrick's Day. I settled on the shamrock--which was like eating sugar coated linoleum--but at least it was swaddled in Saran Wrap, potentially unpolluted by the pencil shavings and uncapped Sharpies rolling around beside it.

And that's probably why I only threw up once.

Between Jackson Pollack-ing the employee restroom and repeatedly assuring a customer that yes, it's completely acceptable for your toenails to have the same curve and composition as a handful of Fritos, I was exhausted when I got home.

I summoned enough energy to call my credit card company, waiting for an answer as I thumbed through the stack of unpaid bills withering on the counter beside an equally neglected trio of bananas, wondering if I should start paying them chronologically or alphabetically. I was debating the logic of putting August before May and enduring an instrumental version of a Bangles song when I was greeted by a heavily-accented customer service rep who wouldn't have sounded more stereotypically Indian if his cheerful "Hello!" had been accompanied by bhangra music or the sound of a slurpee machine. He said his name was Steve.

Steve--which is apparently Hindi for Liar--asked for my account number, my mailing address, and the answer to a security question that seemed too subjective. The first name of my best friend from elementary school? Well, that depends, Steve. Are we talking first through third grades until Amanda moved away because apparently her dad was a cheating bastard or fourth till sixth when my new neighbor Brenda and I bonded over a shared love of teased bangs and New Kids on the Block posters? Brenda seemed to be the correct answer, two syllables that made Steve mutter something in a language that we didn't share.

"Have you made your most recent payment?" he asked, clicking away on his keyboard.

"Oh, absolutely," I said, nodding my head as if he were standing in my kitchen. If Steve can lie to me, I can lie to Steve.

He placed me on hold long enough to get an earful of "Eternal Flame"--which I didn't recall having an oboe solo--before coming back to tell me that my account had been flagged because of some soos-peaches charges. I inquired further about the soos-peaches suspicious bits and he told me it was because of the $17 I'd spent at Wal-Mart on Saturday.

After assuring Steve that the only soospeaches part of that transaction was the fact that I'm 29 and buying Mary Kate & Ashley-brand shimmer mascara, he apologized profusely but told me that my account would be locked tight until 12 a.m. "No problem," I shrugged. "McDonald's is open all night."

But I'll be damned if I'm going to the same one.

* Also a runner's high won't make you spend the entire afternoon watching your new screensaver and downloading two hundred dollars worth of Creedence music from iTunes.
** I use my credit card for everything because my bank account is worth less than the average mall fountain. And also there's that unspoken promise that by the year 2400, I'll have enough reward points for a free iPod shuffle.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is That His Secret?

Periodically I'll look in on my sitemeter to see who's dropping by the site and how they found me, an exercise that always ends in tears when I realize that none of my recent guests have googled things like "men who think failure is sexy" or "monkeys with human hands" or "how would I, Hugh Laurie, get in touch with my favorite under-employed blogger so I could make out with her and possibly take her to a nice dinner after?"

This morning, I uncovered this lurking on the last page:

Congratulations, unknown AOL user from Clinton Township, Michigan. You win the "Most Unsettling Search Terms" award this month, narrowly edging out the person who was trying to find a naked picture of Steve Guttenberg, something that--along with Chupacabras and my ever-eroding credit score--I sincerely hope does not exist.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

That Seems Reasonable

I just walked Pigpen the Boxerbeast and the final stop on his "Pee on Everything Within My Weiner's Reach" tour took us past a small Episcopal memorial garden, a tiny fenced square beside a weathered hulk of a church whose late occupants have somehow gained access to the champagne room of cemeteries. I've never seen anyone actually visiting the place--my guess is that it neither serves chai lattes nor has free wi-fi--but this morning there were two women within one tombstone of each other. The older one--who looked like Mrs. Butterworth in human form--was sitting on a small bench, clutching a leatherbound book that was probably stuffed with Psalms or poems. The other--dressed from upturned collar to kicks in Lily Pulitzer's trademark flamingo spooge color palette--was walking a long-haired dog of the decorative variety, the kind of pet you'd unhook from the leash, place on the sofa between the throw pillows and quite possibly replace with every passing season.

As the dog--whose name I never heard but I imagine it ended with an i--pranced from plot to plot, Mrs. Butterworth paused from her reading to say politely but firmly, "Ma'am, there are no dogs allowed in here."

Lily turned around sharply, her face contracting into its best impression of an anal sphincter and replied "She isn't a dog. She's my family member."

I immediately hated her and paused from scooping my own family member's clump of partially digested puppy food to see how this was going to unfold. Mrs. Butterworth closed her book onto her right hand, holding her place as she stood up a bit unsteadily. "Fine," she said, even louder. "But I would prefer if your family member didn't...SHIT on my family member." That word--and tone of voice--seemed to be as unfamiliar to her as pornographic films or women who wear pants. And that made it all the more powerful.

The other woman said nothing in response. She quickly grabbed her dog by its pink leather harness, tucked it into the curve of her arm and stomped out. Mrs. Butterworth sat back down, smoothed her hair, and caught me staring at her. I gave a hesitant wave--even though I wanted to start a slow clap--tugged at Pigpen's leash and kept walking.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Page 90

I've been a long-time subscriber to ESPN the Magazine* and have a closet full of free-with-paid-subscription polar fleeces to prove it. When I opened this week's issue--the one with an an uncomfortable close-up of swimmer Michael Phelps' open mouth on the cover, a photo that shows his bottom teeth jutting out of his gums at irregular angles like houses built on a hillside**--I had no idea that there was a surprise waiting for me inside. And, unlike the last time I found something unexpected in a magazine, this isn't the crushed thorax of what was either a giant locust or an unfortunate fairy.

Actually, let's make this an interactive post. If you have a copy, grab it now. If you don't, either rescue one from the recycle bin, steal it from your dentist's office, or make a trip to your neighborhood Borders, staying only long enough to buy the issue and maybe listen to a lesbian sing an acoustic song about sensible shoes and astrology.

OK. Now all together--NO SPOILERS--let's flip to page 90, the last page of the article about Boston's snack-sized second baseman Dustin Pedroia. There's a crowd shot of a girl holding up a handmade sign that says "Team of Dustin-y", a clever-if-dorky homage to the Sox.

That girl? Me.

Last October, my friend and fellow Soxaholic Texas Gal*** and I USAired our way to Denver to watch games 3 and 4 of the United States and One Canadian City World Series, when our beloved Sawx played the Rockies. As I wrote then:

I was there at the games, waving around a "Team of Dustin-y" sign that neither got the attention of second baseman Dustin Pedroia nor made it on television. It did, however, ensure that I'll spend baseball's offseason alone, eating mini-corndogs and re-enacting scenes from the playoffs with my collection of McFarlane figures.
Almost ten months later, I realize that my sign did catch the attention**** of someone--Mr. Rob Tringali, according to the photo credit--forcing an estimated circulation of two million to gaze uncomfortably at my ridiculous striped sweater.

Confidential to My Sweater: Thank you for making strangers think that I dress like Jack Skellington. While admittedly you look adorable over a tank, under that Boston road jersey you made me look like a failed sequel to the Where's Waldo series, Where's Wanda, Waldo's Sister the Longshoreman? I remember reluctantly pulling you out of my bag after the temperature dropped to a degree hinted at in Coors commercials, when my choice was either to shiver, wear you, or spend the equivalent of a Subaru to purchase an oversized Series hoodie. I'll never forget this betrayal... but I might forget you in the Goodwill drop box at the grocery store.

I've never been in a national magazine before. So far, my only flirtation with celebrity was winning a Captain D's coloring contest when I was in the third grade...and I still think the reason I got that ribbon was less because my burnt umber was the best and more because several of the other participants used boogers.

No one pays attention to these things--other than my parents or Michael from Orioles Insider, who was the first person to pick me out of the crowd--but if I ran into Zoltar, I'd wish I'd been immortalized in ESPN looking less goofy, less stripe-y...less like me. I would've selected this***** shot:

It could be worse though... I could be that dude in front doing the Macarena. He looks like an ass.

* Not to be confused with ESPN the Family of Networks, ESPN the Shitty Cellphone Application, or ESPN the Overpriced Restaurant That Refuses to Serve Potato Skins.
** Subscribers got a slightly different cover. Snarled teeth or not, the entire time I'm watching him in the Olympics, I'll be thinking about what type of dairy products I would like to lick off the broad sweep of his shoulders.
*** The cascading blonde hair beside me? Texas Gal.
**** Despite the fact that there was a WORLD SERIES GAME being played, I still managed to make eye contact with a camera man. I've now successfully earned my Publicity Whore badge. Troop #2494 represent, yo.
***** I stole my head from a New Year's Eve picture in which I replaced my former boyfriend with Hugh Laurie. What's even sadder? If I had a job that required a desk, that Photoshoppery would be on proud display.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Playing the Field

Just when you thought I couldn't throw more words onto the internet, something like this comes along to surprise you like a human hair intricately woven between the crispy chicken bits of your McDonald's SnackWrap...

I am privileged enough to be one of the women writing for Playing the Field, a new site that combines the awesomeness of fifteen XX-ers who know their shit about sports and aren't afraid to bash out 1,500 words to prove it. My first post is up today, in which I've revealed the blog of Saints (née Giants) Tight End/Unhinged Beast/American Hero Jeremy Shockey.

Sunday July 27, 2008
Need to Shockify my new crib so I went to Home Depot to buy some paint. I told the Numbnuts wearing the orange vest that I wanted my walls to look like they'd been basted with the blood of the innocent. He threatened to call store security. Oh boo hoo, you fucking baby. On my way out, I set the garden department on fire.
Posted by Shockey69 at 12:52 P.M.
Clicky for more. And yeah, I've just written a blog post about a blog post that parodies a blog post. Hello, meta.